Herbert Alois Wagner
was an Austrian scientist who developed numerous innovations in the fields of aerodynamics
Aerodynamics is a branch of dynamics concerned with studying the motion of air, particularly when it interacts with a moving object. Aerodynamics is a subfield of fluid dynamics and gas dynamics, with much theory shared between them. Aerodynamics is often used synonymously with gas dynamics, with...
, aircraft structures and guided weapons. He is most famous for Wagner's function describing unsteady lift on wings and developing the Henschel Hs 293
The Henschel Hs 293 was a World War II German anti-ship guided missile: a radio-controlled glide bomb with a rocket engine slung underneath it. It was designed by Herbert A. Wagner.- History :...
Wagner attended the Austrian Naval Academy from 1914 to 1917 and served as an Ensign in the Austrian Navy during World War I. He survived the sinking of his ship after it was struck by an enemy torpedo. After the war he returned to his studies, earning a doctorate from the Technical University of Berlin
The Technische Universität Berlin is a research university located in Berlin, Germany. Translating the name into English is discouraged by the university, however paraphrasing as Berlin Institute of Technology is recommended by the university if necessary .The TU Berlin was founded...
when he was only 23. His doctoral thesis entitled "Origin of the dynamic lift of wings" contained the solution of one of fundamental unsteady aerodynamics problems concerned with lift force on wings that are suddenly set into motion. The result later became known as "Wagner's function".
In the mid 1920s he worked for Rohrbach Metall-Flugzeugbau
Rohrbach Metall-Flugzeugbau was an airplane factory located in Berlin, Germany, and founded in 1922 by Dr.-Rohrbach was a pioneer in building airplanes based on the metal stressed skin principle....
on new designs for flying boats. During that time he also invented the so-called Wagner beam
, a method of constructing aircraft structural components from sheet metal. Following a short stint as a professor at the Technical University of Berlin, he returned to industry at Junkers Flugzeugwerke
Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke AG , more commonly Junkers, was a major German aircraft manufacturer. It produced some of the world's most innovative and best-known airplanes over the course of its fifty-plus year history in Dessau, Germany. It was founded there in 1895 by Hugo Junkers,...
, helping to design aircraft and aircraft engines working together with Hans von Ohain
Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain was a German engineer, one of the inventors of jet propulsion.Frank Whittle, who patented in 1930 in the United Kingdom, and Hans von Ohain, who patented in 1936 in Germany, developed the concept independently during the late 1930s...
. There he played an instrumental role in the development of the first jet engines. He left Junkers following a disagreement with the management and settled at Henschel Flugzeugwerke
Henschel & Son was a German company, situated in Kassel, best known during the 20th century as a maker of transportation equipment, including locomotives, trucks, buses and trolleybuses, and armoured fighting vehicles and weapons....
Wagner helped the computer pioneer Konrad Zuse
Konrad Zuse was a German civil engineer and computer pioneer. His greatest achievement was the world's first functional program-controlled Turing-complete computer, the Z3, which became operational in May 1941....
as an intermediary concerning orders that Zuse got from the Reich Ministry of Aviation.
While at Henschel, Wagner began to study remotely controlled aircraft. In July 1940 he began work on a prototype glide bomb
A glide bomb is an aerial bomb modified with aerodynamic surfaces to modify its flight path from a purely ballistic one to a flatter, gliding, one. This extends the range between the launch aircraft and the target. Glide bombs are often fitted with control systems, allowing the controlling aircraft...
that could be used to attack thinly armored warships and merchant ships. This ultimately evolved into the Hs 293 guided missile, used with considerable effectiveness in late 1943 and early 1944. Several notable successes were achieved, including the first sinking of s ship by a remotely controlled weapon, the destruction of HMS Egret
HMS Egret was a sloop of the British Royal Navy, the lead ship of her class. She was built by J. Samuel White at Cowes, Isle of Wight and was launched on 31 May 1938....
on 27 August 1943. Another notable success for the Hs 293 was the sinking of transport HMT Rohna
His Majesty's Troopship Rohna was a troop ship carrying U.S. troops that was sunk by an air attack of the Luftwaffe during World War II, on 26 November 1943...
with the loss of over 1000 soldiers, sailors and crewmen.
However, the Allies developed several countermeasures against the Hs 293 and other radio guides weapons, such as electronic jammers. Those and the increasing Allied air superiority prevented the Hs 293 in the later war years to have any significant impact.
He also designed the Henschel Hs 117 Schmetterling
surface-to-air guided missile.
After the war, Wagner was the first of many German scientists brought to America as part of Operation Paperclip
Operation Paperclip was the Office of Strategic Services program used to recruit the scientists of Nazi Germany for employment by the United States in the aftermath of World War II...
, arriving at Frederick, Maryland on 18 May 1945 with seven large cases of blueprints and other technical data. Wagner and his team were moved to the Special Devices Center, a U.S.-Navy run research unit housed at the Castle Gould and Hempstead House, the former estate of Daniel and Florence Guggenheim at Sands Point, Long Island. There he supported U.S. efforts to deploy glide bombs against Japan.
Wagner then moved to the new Naval Air Missile Test Center
Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu or NBVC Point Mugu is a military airbase located in Point Mugu, Ventura County, California, United States. Due to realignment actions which occurred in 2000, the base is now part of Naval Base Ventura County , a consolidated organization that also includes...
in Point Mugu, California, the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy’s research into guided missiles. There he helped develop the control mechanisms for advanced missiles, several of which remain (in upgraded forms) in service today. A formerly classified FBI counterintelligence report describes his approach to his work:
An excellent German scientist of good character and who is not interested in politics… He has given no evidence of being either pro-Nazi or pro-Communist and is disinterested politically... Once belonged to the German SS for a four week’s instruction course but dropped out of same on his own volition… Is an opportunist who is interested only in science and does not subscribe to any political ideology… Since the death of his wife, Wagner has been drinking considerably but is not a drunkard.
Wagner left government service and formed his own technical consulting firm, HA Wagner Company. He sold this company to Curtiss-Wright
The Curtiss-Wright Corporation was the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United States at the end of World War II, but has evolved to largely become a component manufacturer, specializing in actuators, aircraft controls, valves, and metalworking....
in 1957 and returned to Germany to take up a position as professor of Technical Mechanics and Space Technology at the Technische Hochschule
Technische Hochschule is what an Institute of Technology used to be called in German-speaking countries, as well as in the Netherlands, before most of them changed their name to Technische Universität or Technische Universiteit in the 1970s and in the...
(Institute of Technology) Aachen. He continued to serve as technical advisor to several U.S. defense companies during this period. Wagner died 82 years old at 28 May 1982.
- Bollinger, Martin J. Warriors and Wizards: The Development and Defeat of Radio-Controlled Glide Bombs of the Third Reich. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010.
- Knausenberger, George Emil and Wagner-Fielder, Monica. Herbert Wagner. Monterey: Martin Hollmann, 2003.
- Knausenberger, George Emil (Ed). Herbert Wagner: Documents of His Work and Life. Bonn: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V., 1990.
- Lasby, Clarence G. Project Paperclip: German Scientists and the Cold War. New York: Atheneum, 1971.