Step Back in Time: DLBS Junkers Ju52 in Hamburg

Have you ever wondered what it was like to fly in the 1930s? The team at Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung1 do a wonderful job maintaining an aircraft from those days — a Junkers Ju52/3m, affectionately known as Tante Ju. I was able to join them in Hamburg for a scenic flight. Also on the itinerary were visits to the Lufthansa Technik facilities in Hamburg and the Airbus factory in Finkenwerder.

I had originally planned to go up with Tante Ju in October, 2015. About a week before the flight I received an alarming email. Due to a damaged stringer in the fuselage and in the interests of safety, all flights for the rest of the season had been cancelled. Affected passengers could either have their fare refunded or they could choose to receive a credit voucher with three years validity.

As I would be returning to Hamburg at some time in any case, I opted for the latter and a few days later the voucher arrived in the post. The design was appealing and reflected the corrugated duraluminum used in the aircraft's construction.

Despite their best efforts, the team at Lufthnasa Technik were unable to fix Tante Ju in time for the following season and the relaunch was put off until this year. The extra time was used to replace the main spars in the wings. By way of apology for the additional delay and as a sweetener, passengers with credit vouchers were offered either a DVD or a book. I chose the latter.

Eventually I received an email advising that advance booking was now available for voucher holders. Logging on and putting in the supplied password, I was soon able to pick a flight of one hour duration on a suitable date.

In the morning before the flight, I visited the Lufthansa Technik Base2. Lufthansa Technik is one of the most important employers in Hamburg. There are about 7,500 people employed, including around 500 engineers. In the reception centre there is an overview of the plant, some seats from Lufthansa aircraft and an engine from one of the early Boeing 707s. There is also a model of the JU52/3m which is maintained here in Hamburg.

On arrival, visitors had their ID checked before being issued with a visitor card and lanyard. Then a movie was shown, describing the various areas of the Lufthansa Technik business operations, after which a walking tour of the hangars and engineering shops took place.

In the hangars, large commercial aircraft from Airbus and Boeing are completely overhauled or equipped with technical innovations and product improvements. For how long, I don't know as there are plans to move aircraft frame and engine maintenance to Poland, I think it is. A large part of the work is geared towards research and design, everything from the cabin and galleys through to navigation. Lufthansa Technik also plays a leading role in the VIP Customer business. There were a number of aircraft being fitted out for delivery to some well-heeled people in the Middle East, and in another hangar aircraft for the Luftwaffe were being painted.

Unfortunately, It is not possible to take photos during the tour. Still, it proved very informative and although the tour was scheduled to finish at 13:00 I didn't get away until 14:10. The guide obviously was enthusiastic and was able to capture the attention of his audience. It was only when leaving that someone piped up, "we'll see you again tomorrow, as that's the date on the passes."

Following my visit, there was time to grab some lunch in Hamburg Airport before going to the gate. Along the way I spied an Airbus A320, registered as D-AICA, in retro Condor Flugdienst livery.

The e-ticket was also the boarding pass so there was no need for separate check-in. You just proceed through security and go straight to the boarding area. This was down-stairs where a bus was waiting to take the enthusiastic group of passengers to the aircraft.

The bus took passengers past the A/B pier and out to the general aviation parking area near Lufthansa Technik. We passed an old acquaintance: A6-EPA, an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER that I had seen in Dubai a couple of days earlier and which had flown me to Hamburg on a previous trip.

On the stands at the general aviation area, a couple of arrivals from Sylt were taking an interest in a Pipistrel Virus SW, D-MFTG. Parked beside it was D-IOLB, the Cessna 404 Titan II with Sylt Air on which they had flown.

A couple of passengers who needed assisted boarding had already arrived at Tante Ju. As the bus pulled up and the doors opened, the eager passengers made their way to the plane.

A quick photo or three before our pilot, Herr Graumann, welcomed everybody and gave a few details about the aircraft and the planned flight route. He invited everyone to come up to the cockpit during the flight but warned that the pilots might just nod and smile, while not really being able to hear anything said. Then it was "all aboard" as the house flag was taken down.

While boarding, I noticed that a plaque with the names of the crew was mounted on the rear bulkhead. I found a seat on the left, just in front of the main passenger door. This would give me a view to the front over the wing towards one of the three propellors and a clear view to the side.

While the two pilots and flight engineer went through their checks and fired up each of the three nine-cylinder radial piston engines in turn, Lonnes — our Flugbegleiterin — briefed us on the safety requirements. In the seat pockets were the safety cards that included some technical details of the aircraft and featured the corrugated aluminium used in its construction. Passengers were kindly requested not to take the cards with them when leaving.

By now all the checks were done. The Captain and engineer were happy to start and the aircraft rolled forward. Being lower to the ground than on a modern aircraft gave the sensation of travelling at a fairly brisk pace.

As the trimotor taxied out and turned into the runway, was it my imagination that heard Hans Albers singing?

Vom Nordpol zum Südpol ist nur ein Katzensprung,
Wir fliegen die Strecke bei jeder Witterung.
Wir warten nicht, wir starten
Was immer auch geschieht,
Durch Wind und Wetter klingt das Fliegerlied:

Flieger, grüss mir die Sonne,
Grüss mir die Sterne und grüss mir den Mond.
Dein Leben, das ist ein Schweben
Durch die Ferne, die keiner bewohnt.

Schneller und immer schneller
Rast der Propeller, wie dir's grad gefällt.
Piloten ist nichts verboten,
Drum gib Vollgas und flieg um die Welt.

Such' dir die schönste Sternschnuppe aus
Und bring sie deinem Mädel mit nach Haus.
Flieger, grüss mir die Sonne,
Grüss mir die Sterne und grüss mir den Mond.3

After a short roll, the Junkers 52/3m lifted into the air and set course on a path that would take us over the city. All passengers had a window seat and all eyes were fixed to those windows as the aircraft gained altitude. Unlike modern aircraft that typically cruise at anything between 32,000 and 40,000 feet, Tante would be flying at around 1,800 to 2,000.

Tante Ju passed near the Messegelände, where a earlier in the month the G20 Summit was held. No protests today as the sun shone over Planten un Blomen and the Wallanlagen. Then we were offered splendid views of the Binnenalster, the Neustadt and the Altstadt, with the towers of the Rathaus, Petrikirche and Jacobikirche standing proud.

The pilots made sure that passengers on both sides could get decent views before we headed down to the harbour where the shrink-wrap design of the Elbphilharmonie was reflected in the waters of the Norderelbe. It was good to see it finished. At one time, it looked as if Berlin-Brandenburg Airport would open earlier! Then it was past the Hauptbahnhof and the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe as the flight headed out towards Lübeck.

As we headed towards Jenfeld and to Schleswig-Holstein, Lonnes came through the cabin offering to take passengers' photos. That was a nice gesture and ensured everyone would have a memory to share.

The flight engineer moved from his position at the entrance to the cockpit and invited passengers to take turns in going up front. One by one, they did so. It would be a while before my turn would come, given that I was seated towards the rear. Time to take a shot of the propellor and oil guage and of the Doppelflügel (double wing) arrangement.

By now, Tante Ju was passing Großhansdorf, with views towards Ahrensburg. The flight was very pleasurable: generally smooth conditions with just the occasional bump or drop as the trimotor encountered changes in air pressure, wind direction and speed. Soon passengers on the other side of the aircraft were able to see the old Queen of the Hansa, Lübeck. For now, on this side were views of the port facilities on the Trave.

The flight crossed over into Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to fly an arc north of Travemünde. In the port were a multitude of small sailing boats and a four-masted sailing ship. Views of Pötenitzer Wiek and Dassower See opened up as the Junkers headed back toward Lübeck.

It was my turn to visit the cockpit so I made my way forward. The entrance is quite low so you need to crouch down to avoid banging your head and back. The instrumentation looks little like what it did when the aircraft was first built. If this were a stationary museum piece the old equipment could have been left in place. But as Tante Ju is a flying monument that takes on passengers, the instruments need to meet current standards. Still, it is delightful to be able to move up front in flight, something that wouldn't even be considered on most commercial flights today.

Ahead, I could see that we were approaching Lübeck, so I returned to my seat to be able to enjoy the view. The old hanseatic city is completely surrounded by water, and its skyline is dominated by the spires of St. Jakobi, the Marienkirche, Petrikirche, St. Aegidien and the Dom (Cathedral). On an island to the west stands the Holstentor. For many, the principal attraction of Lübeck would be its marzipan.

Leaving the old city behind, the Junkers set course for Hamburg, passing over rich agricultural areas punctuated by ribbons of green along streams and around lakes. The flight path brought us over Rahlstedt Ost, with views towards Barsbüttel, and onwards to Borgfelde with views over the Bille to Rothenburgsort.

Banking right gave a vista over the Oberhafen to the Elbe bridges and the district of Veddel beyond. Continuing to bank, we passed over the Hauptbahnhof once more to see the Binnen- and Außenalster, passing near the Rathaus and Börse, with their green roofs, and the Venetian-style Alsterarkaden edging the Kleine Alster, where white swans gather.

We were coming to the end of the allotted time so Tante Ju passed over the districts of Mundsburg and Barmbek, crossing the Osterbekkanal, as she made her way back to Hamburg Airport. Meanwhile, Lonnes passed through the cabin giving everyone a souvenir badge. Postcards and a DVD were available to purchase.

Lining up for approach to Runway 23, we were just over the airport boundary when the plane suddenly began to lift and bank left. Once we were a bit higher and heading over Weg beim Jäger, the Captain announced that we had to perform a go around due to an unexpected presence on the runway. We would make another circuit of the city and come in to land from the south instead. Bonus!

Gaining altitude, Tante Ju crossed the Alster (at this point a conventional river) and passed over the district of Winterhüde, skirting the Stadtpark with views to City Nord.

Once more we passed along the shore of the Außenalster, with expensive villas and apartments lining Feenteich and the Mundsburger Kanal. Another view over the Binnenalster, Jungfernstieg and the city centre before turning once more for a second attempt at landing.

Again we crossed the Langer Zug, skirted the Stadtpark and the cogwheel-shaped Polizeipräsidium to line up for a landing on Runway 33. This time there would be no go around as the Junker descended, passing the Lufthansa Technik base on approach.

Tante Ju touched down and ran to the end of the runway to turn and backtrack to its stand. Before crossing Runway 05/23 the Junkers 52/3m had to briefly wait for an arriving Eurowings flight to land. It had been a wonderful flight but the day wasn't quite over yet.

Having cleared the runway, Tante Ju taxied to its stand, passing a parked-up Ryanair Boeing and a Fedex ATR42-300 Freighter. Normally on arriving at an airport, passengers are eager to get off the plane, even before the engines are shut down. Not so today. The crew were quite happy for people to stay and chat for a while and to take photos.

I jokingly said to Lonnes that the only disappointment was the lack of an inflight snack.
"I wouldn't fly with them," she laughed. "The onboard service is atrocious."
Meanwhile, the flight crew were busy tying things down and checking oil and fuel levels.

Whichever way you look at it, the Junkers Ju52/3m is an aircraft with character. From its nine-cylinder radial piston engines to the corrugated aluminium hull and wings, there's nothing quite like it. And when the sun is lowering in the sky, it is pleasing to see the light glinting on its surface.

As cameras snapped around the Junkers, a couple of light aircraft came in. The first was a rotorwing, D-HFCM, a Robinson Helicopter R44 Raven II. The second was a Cessna 525 CitationJet CJ1 with the registration D-INCS.

By now it was time to leave. Afterall, the air team and the bus driver also have homes to go to. On the way back to the terminal, we passed D-ATUJ, a Boeing 737-8K5(WL) delivered 16 April 2012, and named Paradiesvogel. Since April 2015 it has been painted in Haribo Tropifrutti livery, a major contrast to the previous yellow and white. Were it not for the airline name on the engine cowling, you wouldn't know it was TUIfly.

As I alighted from the bus and made my way to the S Bahn, Hans Albers was still singing ...

Flieger, grüss mir die Sonne,
Grüss mir die Sterne und grüss mir den Mond.
Dein Leben, das ist ein Schweben
Durch die Ferne, die keiner bewohnt.

Schneller und immer schneller
Rast der Propeller, wie dir's grad gefällt.
Piloten ist nichts verboten,
Drum gib Vollgas und flieg um die Welt.

Such' dir die schönste Sternschnuppe aus
Und bring sie deinem Mädel mit nach Haus.
Flieger, grüss mir die Sonne,
Grüss mir die Sterne und grüss mir den Mond.

The following morning, I walked down to the Landungsbrücken to catch the ferry to Finkenwerder. There I would catch Bus 150, direction Estebogen, and ride to the Airbus Factory4. Appropriately, the ferry was named Finkenwerder and it was a pleasant ride down the Elbe, passing the colourful Sphinx class cruise ship AIDAsol and the three-masted sailing ship Artemis along the way.

Like at Lufthansa Technik, photography is not permitted during the tour, which is a shame as they have an old Super Guppy on site. While some airlines might prefer photos of new liveries not being leaked in advance, I imagine that safety and keeping to the allotted time would be issues. Still, the tour was very enjoyable. The tour leader, a sprightly eighty-two year old former engineer, was fully conversant and was able to deliver information in a humorous manner. He also seemed capable of speaking at least a few words in each group member's language.

I had visited Airbus previously but I found this visit more interesting. The prior visit had been at a time when many people were on annual leave and not a lot was happening. This time it was possible to see sections of the A320 being put together; tests being carried out; A380s destined for Singapore Airlines and Emirates in the paint shop; and, what can I say ... aircraft building is rivetting. 😉

Sadly the tour came to an end but I can recommend one to anyone who hasn't been there. I had thought of taking the bus to Altona and the S Bahn from there, but as it was a nice day I decided to return on the ferry.

After that, I had only a couple of days more in Hamburg before commencing the journey home. I would even get the chance to sit in the left-hand seat of a Boeing 777.

1. For more information on Tante Ju's flight programme visit Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung.
2. For information in English regarding individual bookings see Lufthansa Technik tours.
3. Music by Allen Gray, lyrics by Walter Reisch, from the 1932 released film F.P.1 antwortet nicht.
4. For Airbus Finkenwerder individual bookings see Let's visit Airbus.