Off the Beaten Track
in Vol. 23 - March Issue - Year 2022
The Flying Hotel
Shortly after World War I, German aircraft designer Hugo Junkers had an idea to develop a large-scale commercial aircraft to be used for both passenger and mail service. His first designs included four-engine and two-engine models that were either abandoned before completion or saw little service. In 1925, he published specifications for the J.1000, a huge 80 to 100 passenger aircraft for trans-Atlantic flights. Its near-flying wing design with twin fuselages proved too far ahead of its time and the project was abandoned when Junkers couldn’t find investors to finance the prototype.
Success finally arrived in 1929 with the very large G.38 model, over twenty-three meters long, over seven meters high, and with a wingspan of forty-four meters. The wing area was about 300 m2 and the skin was corrugated aluminum. It carried a crew of seven and thirty-four passengers at a cruising speed of 175 km/h with a range of 3,500 km. Its service ceiling was 3,700 meters. The G.38 was equipped with four diesel-powered engines with wooden propellers. Its revolutionary blended wing body design and a fuselage ending with a tri-rudder box tail allowed innovative solutions for passenger and cargo spaces that immediately attracted attention from all over the world. By definition, a blended wing body design is a fixed-wing aircraft having no clear dividing line between the wings and the main body. The main advantage of this configuration is to reduce the wetted area, responsible for aerodynamic drag. From his previous J.1000 designs, Hugo Junkers took the very thick wing profile, which measured a height of two meters at its root, and placed windowed passenger cabins and forward-facing observation decks inside the wings. Enclosing the engines completely inside the wings eliminated drag caused by engine bodies and cowlings. There was enough space inside the wings to contain engine rooms where mechanics could service the power plants in-flight. The G.38 had an observation cabin for two passengers at the very tip of the nose, with the pilots’ cockpit placed over it. Other seats, cabins and full-length beds, a smoking room, forward and aft lavatories and storage space for cargo, mailbags and luggage were placed on two decks in the fuselage.
Development of the G.38 took over two years. It had its first test flight in November 1929 and gave numerous demonstration flights over the following year, setting four world records for speed, distance and duration for aircraft with a 5,000 kg payload. These flights culminated in a round trip to several cities in Europe, proving the G.38’s capability as a long-range passenger aircraft. At that time, it was the largest landplane in the world. The only two models produced began commercial passenger service in 1931 on the Berlin-Hannover-Amsterdam-London route. In order to compete with rival Zeppelin airships, passengers on board the G.38 were treated to luxurious service and dining, so much that loyal clients affectionately nicknamed it “the Junkers Flying Hotel”.
In 1936 one of the two models crash-landed during a test flight because of faulty maintenance work and had to be scrapped. The remaining G.38 continued its regular passenger service until 1939, when it was requisitioned by the air force and used for military transportation. It was destroyed on the ground during an airstrike in Greece in May 1941.
By Giovanni Gregorat, Contributing Editor MFN