By Rob Arndt



One of the most obscure of the early German disc designers was a World War I wartime comrade of Adolf Hitler himself - Dr. Franz Philipp who kept in touch after the war and whose research into solar powered flight craft granted him special authority at the facilities he used in Berlin once the Second World War started. The Führer himself had issued Philipp a pass giving him sweeping authority over special projects relating to his field of research.

But Dr. Philipp’s story starts well before the war when in the 1930’s he began to envision an alternative to the early rockets being tested by Germany using liquid propellants. His early rocket designs proposed a radical concept that even today has not been achieved - a light conversion power plant. Specifically, Dr. Philipp was determined to develop a rocket propelled by sunlight converted into power. From 1934 forward he concentrated his research efforts into achieving a shot at the moon with a solar powered rocket. A launch was attempted using a rocket resembling an early von Braun A-series rocket but covered in flat solar panels. Although Philipp claims that his rocket achieved flight in his postwar book “German Space flight since 1934: A Very Troublesome Book” it is doubtful that the rocket even approached the upper atmosphere.

Nevertheless, Dr. Philipp then proposed by September 1938, a full year before World War II, a series of radical disc and cylindrical craft powered by what he termed a “Sonnenstrahl Triebwerk” (Solar ray Thrustwork) that could power these strange shaped craft as well as further rocket development. He called his odd craft FRALI and designed a series of at least six of them over a period of time.

For his first attempt at space flight the FRALI-1 was designed. It was football-shaped like a small airship with  dart-like nose cone and rounded cockpit on top and rounded lower body below. The craft was covered with round solar panels on each side of the body and the craft ended with a pair of small tailfins, like a fish.

Designs 2-5 are not known but FRALI-6 was an even stranger cylindrical craft with a layered conical nose, long extended tube-like body that ended with a rather square tailfin. The body of this craft was also covered by flat solar panels.

The only designs not bearing the FRALI name were two. One was called the Greif (Griffon) and was very similar to the Lenticular Disc designed by Henri Coanda during the war for the SS. However, the Greif was to be powered by four aft solar rockets protruding from the outer rim of the craft, each rocket similar to early A-series rockets but with flat solar panels covering them.

Philipp’s last saucer, the Sonnenflieger (Sun Flyer) - his best design was for a combination Sonnenstrahl Triebwerk and Magnetic Field propulsion system carried by a wide diameter large glass-domed disc with large flat solar panels around the rim of the machine plus a three layered bottom containing Magnetic Field units. The craft sat very high on lunar-lander type telescopic legs.

Very impressive for the times but the war prevented Philipp from actually constructing any of his designs. Hitler had him stay close in Berlin working with the SS on the infamous “death ray’ which in reality turned out to be a very crude form of microwave weapon designed to disable Allied bombers. One prototype was shown to a delegation of Japanese diplomats near the end of the war.

As Berlin fell and Hitler committed suicide in the bunker, Philipp was captured by the Russians. He was not treated harshly, however, due to his knowledge of foreign languages - fluent Russian being one of them. Instead, he was taken to the USSR along with his research and staff to work first as a “camp screener’ for various German scientists allocated to various Soviet weapons programs, and then to further develop his “death ray” for the Russians before returning to Silesia years later.


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Dr. Philipp claimed that as a camp screener he turned away many prominent German scientists in an effort to deny the Russians progress on their weapon systems… but he himself later confessed to being forced to further refine his microwave weapon into a working system for the Russians.

It is perhaps beneficial that Hitler did not allow Philipp to pursue his light conversion power plants. Postwar it was estimated that his rockets would have been able to achieve perhaps Mach 7-15 if he could have perfected them. The same would apply to his disc designs, making them excellent reconnaissance craft.