A Breakneck Landing
Image Source: Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung
A Small Airfield in Germany
Today, we are on one of the oldest airfields in the world: Stölln on the Gollenberg, about 77km northwest of Berlin, Germany. The small airfield with its 840m long grass runway served from 1894 as a gliding training area for the German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal, who was the first person ever to perform gliding flights according to the “heavier-than-air” principle. During the First and Second World Wars, the airfield was used by the German Luftwaffe as a training area for gliding, and from 1953, the area was opened for sports flying. Even if the history of this small airfield would be exciting enough in itself, today, the site is famous for something else: An Ilyushin Il-62 named “Lady Agnes”.
October 23, 1989. Germany is still divided. In the east lies the German Democratic Republic GDR, in the west, the Federal Republic of Germany FRG. At that time, nobody in the East knew that their world would change in a few days. The state airline in the GDR was called “Interflug”. It was founded in 1958 with its headquarters at Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport. From there, it served 39 destinations around the world when it ceased operations in 1991. The Interflug consisted of a fleet of 7 Ilyushin IL-18, 19 Tupolev TU-134, 9 Ilyushin IL-62, 6 Let L-410, 3 Airbus A310, and 1 DHC-8. But this post does not go any further into the history of Interflug, which is itself extremely fascinating. Perhaps this will be made up for at a later date. Instead, we dedicate ourselves to only one IL-62, the DDR-SEG named “Lady Agnes”.
In 1991 the festival “100 years of human flight” was to be celebrated in Stölln in honor of Otto Lilienthal. The East German Interflug, which was in the process of replacing the first of its IL-62s with modern Airbus A310s, decided to donate one of its aircraft to the airfield for the occasion. And so in 1988, the preparations for a daring flight began. From Berlin, the 53m long and more than 70’000 tons heavy aircraft was to be transferred to Stölln, where it would land on the 800m long grass runway. Heinz-Dieter Kallbach, chief pilot of the Interflug IL-62 fleet, was to deliver the aircraft safely to its final location. Now it is probably thanks to the Soviet construction technology that this flight could succeed. The IL-62 was an extremely robust aircraft. Many experts agree that such a landing would not have been possible with an Airbus A320, for example. And yet, when the plane took off on 23 October 1989, nobody knew whether the landing would succeed. Never before has anything similar been attempted. But the exact preparation was very worth it. And so “Lady Agnes”, named after the wife of Otto Lilienthal, landed on a sunny autumn afternoon on the simple grass road, captured on video.