Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Luggage Executive’s Highflying Sideline • Rimowa’s Dieter Morszeck built a replica of a Junker F13, the first all-metal aircraft

Dieter Morszeck shows off his newly built Junker F13 at the recent airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Only about 300 Junker F13s were made in Germany between 1919 and the late 1930s. For his replica, Mr. Morszeck sourced aircraft aluminum made in 1906 by German metallurgist Alfred Wilm.

The Wall Street Journal
July 29, 2015 11:34 a.m. ET

Like many boys, Dieter Morszeck, chief executive of luxury-luggage company Rimowa that is known for its corrugated-aluminum hard cases, always dreamed of being a pilot.

“My first flight was with my mother on a propeller aircraft, when I was maybe 6 years old,” the 62-year-old German-native recalls. “I saw the first jet in my life, a Caravelle, in the 1960s, and was completely amazed. It became my life’s dream to be an airline captain.”

Mr. Morszeck got his pilot’s license when he was 30. He began by flying U.S.-made Pipers and then purchased an Embraer Phenom as the company jet. “I pilot the plane during all of the flights I take within Europe,” he says.

Building a plane wasn’t on his mind until he flew over the Atlantic in a Junker Ju 52, a tri-engine plane introduced in Germany in 1932 and still in commercial service in the 1980s, to the annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin in 2012. The particular Ju 52 he was in was nicknamed “the flying suitcase” because, like Rimowa’s luggage, it was made of corrugated metal. “It was fantastic to see Greenland during one of our three stopovers. And in Oshkosh, we got a lot of attention,” he says.

Mr. Morszeck then sought a bigger challenge: building a Junker F13, of which only around 300 were made between 1919 and the late 1930s. “We didn’t have drawings, so that was a hurdle,” he says. Only a handful of the planes are held in museum collections, and Mr. Morszeck got permission for his team to go to Paris’s Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace and scan the plane to make 3-D computer visualizations. Mr. Morszeck made a few tweaks on the 1919 model. He used a 450-horsepower engine, for instance, which he considered safer than the original 310hp. The team sourced aircraft aluminum made in 1906 by German metallurgist Alfred Wilm. The material “is extremely lightweight and really durable. In fact, in 1919, the Junker F13 was the first all-metal aircraft in the world,” Mr. Morszeck says. Its range is less than 400 miles, so crossing the Atlantic won’t be possible.

Mr. Morszeck’s F13 was recently completed, crated and shipped to Oshkosh for the air show there last week. It seats two pilots and four passengers, and its maiden flight, its owner hopes, will be early next year, once the plane gets flight certification. “It’s real flying, like riding a wild horse,” he says. If all goes as planned, Mr. Morszeck says he intends to build more F13s for commercial sale.

Mr. Morszeck is the third-generation chief executive of Rimowa. When he looks at his hand-built plane, he says he thinks of his grandfather, who in 1898 created leather travel trunks for steamship travel, and of his father who, in 1937, introduced the corrugated-aluminum suitcase, allowing travelers to venture to tropical climates where weather warped the old trunks.

“Our luggage to me is not a mass product. It’s a piece of design, an innovation, something that makes travel pleasurable,” Mr. Morszeck says. “The F13 plane is the same. It gives the feeling that there is an adventure just waiting to happen.”

Story and Photos:

A view of the cockpit of the Junker F13 Mr. Morszeck recently completed building and displayed at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, air show.

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