The Oberpfaffenhofen airport is located 20 km from Munich, in the region of Bavaria, Germany. It's history is directly linked with one of the most important names in world aviation: Dornier.

In 1935 the Dornier Family acquired an estate of 145 hectares in the village of Oberpfaffenhofen to build an aircraft factory, along with an airport and all needed facilities. In november next year an operating license was granted for Dornier Metallbauten GmbH, and construction of hangars. In 1939 a concrete runway was built measuring 5.085 ft long and 250 ft wide and by 1940 with the second world war raging over Europe, the site was used for repair and overhaul airplanes like Do-17, Do 215, and Do 217 bombers.

In october 1943 the first flight of the new Do-335 fighter was performed at Oberpfaffenhofen. It was an innovative plane that used push-pull tandem engines. By the time the company had at the site a force of more than 2400 employees.

The Dornier plant suffered many bombings during the war, but probably the heaviest was the one carried out the night of March 18 1944 when the 8th Air Force made a raid with 136 B-17s flying fortress over the Munich area. The Oberpfaffenhofen factory was one of the most important targets of the allied incursion. The airport remained operative until april 1945, but was captured by American troops on April 24, 1945.

Immediatelly after the war, the site was designated Oberpfaffenhofen Air Force Depot serving as maintenance base for C-47 Dakota planes, and also was the southernmost airport in Germany for the Berlin airlift between 1948 and 1949. After the lift was over, and during six years there were no airport operations, then, in 1955, the runway was extended to 7.220 feet to allow operation of the Sabre F-86 which moved in that same year.

By the same time, the US Strategic Air Command was preparing one of the most secret operations of the cold war to perform strategic reconnaissance over the Soviet Union and their allied countries. The effort would involve the launch of balloons over the iron curtain, and Oberpfaffenhofen was one of the sites choosen to carry out the launches.

The GENETRIX balloon program

Around July 1955, members of the 1st. Air Division Survey Team of the United States Air Force (USAF), visited the Oberpfaffenhofen airfield, to verify that the facilities were adequate for "Genetrix" a program developed by the Strategic Air Command and other agencies to obtain photographic reconnaissance of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its satellites using stratospheric balloons carrying high resolution cameras. The platform -denominated Weapons System 119L or WS-119L- consisted basically of a polyethilene balloon, to which was attached through a special bar assembly a gondola containing an automatic photographic system, denominated DMQ-l, composed by a duplex camera which had two 6-inch lenses on opposite sides. The camera was capable of obtaining about 500 pictures, covering 50 miles on either side of the balloon path. On the bottom of the box a photo cell turned on and off the camera according to the illumination below. Additional items were a thermal box containing batteries and electronic gear, two ballast boxes and parachutes for descent and recovery.

After launched, the balloon would transit the target zone carried by eastward winds until exiting enemy territory where a signal would be transmited to terminate the flight. While the gondola would descent by parachute it would be catched in mid-air by a specially fitted C-119 plane, or if this failed, the package also could be snatched by that same plane from the water, or recovered later by boat.

In early stages of development of the project, it was considered that all balloons should be launched from Scotland, but aside the fact that surface weather there was expected to be unsuitable for launch activities a large part of the time, a further study of meteorological data indicated that more complete coverage could be obtained if sites were wide dispersed in western Europe.

Thus, taken account of the factors mentioned above and based on studies of trajectory and surface weather, the general areas selected for the location of launch detachments for the project were the aforementioned Scotland, Eastern Norway, West Germany, and Turkey. Then, under responsability of the Command in Chief of the United States Air Forces in Europe the specific sites were selected: Evanton, Scotland, Gardermoen, Norway, Adana, Turkey and two sites in West Germany Giebelstadt and Oberpfaffenhofen. A third german launch site located in Buckeburg was secured for the program in case of need, but finally was never used.

The unit assigned to Oberpfaffenhofen was denominated Detachment 1 and was composed by 7 officers, 119 airmen and 6 civilians. The deployment to the two sites in Germany along with all the material needed to perform more than 500 balloon launches took place between August and October 1955, with a preliminar date to start operations on December that year.

A month later than originally expected, on January 10, 1956 orders were cursed from the control center in High Wycombe, England, to start the balloon launches from all the sites at a maximum rate of ten by day. Several balloons were sent from Adana and Giebelstadt, while the first balloon from Oberpfaffenhoffen was performed a few hours later midnight that same day.

As occured in the rest of the sites, balloons from Oberpfaffenhoffen were launched using a 2 ton 6x6 heavy truck with a superimposed structure -denominated the fisher launcher- from which the gondola was suspended and released. As the two German sites were very close to the "iron curtain" the balloons launched there were pre-programmed to automatic turn-on it's location beacon after 60 hours of flight, which was the estimated time it would took them to cross the soviet territory. Later, that time would be extended to 110 hours to prevent soviet forces to track the signals emmited by the balloons if activation occured too early. Also, the cameras turn on times were to be delayed long enough in each case to avoid the possibility of photographing friendly territory, and allow the identification of the launch site if the balloon was recovered by the soviets.

Below this lines can be seen a map showing an estimated pattern of dispersion of balloons launched from Oberpfaffenhoffen.

The GENETRIX program used two types of balloons, the 66CT and 128TT. The first ones were meant to flight at lower altitudes and so they were more vulnerable and detectable by the enemy. Due to this fact the 66CT balloons were launched from the two German sites so as to penetrate the border during hours of darkness.

Operations from Oberpfaffenhoffen were carried out at good pace, until 23 January. That day the operations were suspended, due to a formal protest to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) by Czechoslovakian Civil Aviation Authority, claiming that the balloon program constituted a hazard to air navigation and as a consequence had grounded all night flights of Czech airlines. The same restriction applied to launches from Giebelstadt.

The Commander in Chief of the United States Air Forces in Europe, through the German Air Traffic Controler (Bundesanstalt für Flugsicherung) notified Czechoslovakia that balloon operations from Germany would be suspeded for 36 hours pending Czech presentation by documented evidence that the balloons were in fact flying at altitudes where they constituted a hazard to air navigation. Launchings from the two German sites were resumed on 25 January, after a 36 hour "stand-down".

Operations in Oberpfaffenhoffen continued during the rest of January, and the next month. Meanwhile in February 4th, the Soviets strongly protested about the operation. As a result President Eisenhower decided to stop the launches and instructed accordingly to the Air Force to halt the operations. Operations at the airfield were terminated at once. The last two balloons flown from Oberpfaffenhoffen were launched with an hour of difference in between in the afternoon of February 3. Althought these balloons succeded to enter Soviet Territory none reached the recovery zone.

Since February 6, the launch team at Oberpfaffenhoffen stood on alert in case orders could arrive to resume operations, but instead, informally on 29 February and by message on 1 March 1956, USAF directed termination of the operational phase of the project and on 26 March 1956, by Headquarters USAF directive, lst Air Division and Strategic Air Command relinquished operational control of operational units to parent commanders, thus starting the return of each detachment and disposition of surplus material.

A brief review of the numbers from Oberpfaffenhofen follows:

  • Total of balloon launches performed: 107
  • Succesful balloon launches: 88
  • Failed balloon launches: 19
  • Balloons surviving transit and entering the recovery zone: 7
  • Total number of gondolas recovered: 6
  • Total feets of films exposed from Oberpfaffenhofen recovered gondolas: 3.441
  • Total photo frames obtained from Oberpfaffenhofen recovered gondolas: 3.967

Balloon launches by DLR

After the end of the Genetrix program, the airport suffered new modifications including in 1957 the construction of a control tower, and the opening of the air station as a "special airport". In the upcoming decades, Dornier would assemble and test there many innovative airplanes like the Do 27 single-engine STOL aircraft, the Do 29 STOL aircraft with tilt propellers and the Do 31 VTOL transport jet. However, soon balloons would fly again from Oberpfaffenhofen, but this time with a scientific objective.

In 1965 a "Working Group For Space Exploration" was formed in Munich by inititative of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) and the former German Laboratory for Aviation (DVL). From that group would emerge in 1969 the Mobile Raketenbasis better known by their acronym MORABA, which located their headquarters at the German Space Center in Oberpfaffenhofen.

First MORABA rocket missions were carried out for several atmospheric, auroral and microgravity studies from places like Scandinavia, Greece and other places. Althought the group had some participation in balloon launches campaigns in the United States in 1975, was in 1977 when MORABA decided to build up a balloon launch capability to augment its rocket launching activities. As a result, three small balloons were launched from Oberpfaffenhofen during the summer carrying a diagnostic gondola payload aimed to extend their experience into systems operating at float altitudes. Other balloon flights were carried out in 1978 and 1979 for important projects like THISBE (Telescope of Heidelberg for Infrared Studies by Balloon-borne Experiments) or validation measurements with a balloon gondola for the Limb Infrared Monitor of the Stratosphere experiment onboard the NIMBUS 7 satellite.

All launchings from Oberpfaffenhofen were carried out at night because of a limitation by air traffic control owing to the proximity of the then very active Munich-Riem airport.

List of GENETRIX balloons launched from Oberpfaffenhofen

DateHourFlight DurationExperimentPayload landing place or cause of the failure
1/10/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/11/1956~ 02:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon developed a leak and failed during ascent
1/11/1956~ 02:00 utc123 hWS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadEstimated termination position: 100 miles at sea E of Honshu, Japan. Payload never recovered
1/11/1956~ 04:00 utc117 hWS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadPayload recovered in mid-air by C-119 plane
1/11/1956~ 04:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon burst during ascent
1/11/1956~ 16:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/12/195619:02 utc127 h 14 mWS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadPayload recovered in mid-air by C-119 plane
1/12/1956~ 21:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/12/1956~ 23:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/12/1956~ 17:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/12/1956~ 22:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon developed a leak and failed during ascent
1/13/195616:25 utc113 h 53 mWS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadPayload recovered from land by US Army
1/13/1956~ 12:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/13/1956~ 14:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon failure during ascent due to weather
1/15/1956~ 10:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/16/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/16/1956~ 14:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/16/1956~ 18:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/17/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadStray balloon. Failed to enter target zone
1/17/1956~ 05:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/17/1956~ 03:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/17/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/18/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon burst during ascent
1/18/1956~ 03:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon burst during ascent
1/18/1956~ 05:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon failure during ascent due to weather
1/18/1956~ 20:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon failure during ascent due to weather
1/19/1956~ 08:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/19/195610:43 utc90 h 42 mWS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadPayload recovered in mid-air by C-119 plane
1/19/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/19/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon failure during ascent. Unknown reason
1/19/1956~ 04:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/19/1956~ 06:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/19/1956~ 03:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/19/1956~ 02:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/20/1956~ 12:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon burst during ascent
1/20/1956~ 18:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/20/1956~ 16:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon developed a leak and failed during ascent
1/20/1956~ 14:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/20/1956~ 03:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/20/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/20/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/21/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/21/1956~ 02:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon failure during ascent due to weather
1/21/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/22/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/22/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/23/1956~ 13:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/23/1956~ 15:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/23/1956~ 11:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon developed a leak and failed during ascent
1/25/195621:42 utc128 h 22 mWS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon shoot down by a F-86 fighter. Payload recovered from water.
1/25/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/25/1956~ 20:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/25/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/25/1956~ 20:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/25/195623:17 utc128 h 21 mWS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadPayload recovered in mid-air by C-119 plane
1/25/1956~ 22:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/25/1956~ 19:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/25/1956~ 18:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon failure during ascent. Unknown reason
1/25/1956~ 18:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/26/1956~ 16:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/26/1956~ 02:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/26/1956~ 21:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/26/1956~ 02:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon burst during ascent
1/26/1956~ 20:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/26/1956~ 18:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/26/1956~ 17:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/26/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/26/1956~ 22:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/28/1956~ 22:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon failure during ascent due to weather
1/28/1956~ 22:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/28/1956~ 23:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/28/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon burst during ascent
1/28/1956~ 21:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/28/1956~ 17:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/28/1956~ 20:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/28/1956~ 20:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/28/1956~ 19:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/28/1956~ 18:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/28/1956~ 17:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/29/1956~ 21:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon developed a leak and failed during ascent
1/29/1956~ 20:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/29/1956~ 19:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/29/1956~ 19:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/29/1956~ 18:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/29/1956~ 04:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/29/1956~ 17:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon burst during ascent
1/29/1956~ 03:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/29/1956~ 02:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/29/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/29/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/30/1956~ 21:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/30/1956~ 19:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/30/1956~ 18:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/30/1956~ 17:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/30/1956~ 03:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon burst during ascent
1/30/1956~ 20:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon failure during ascent. Unknown reason
1/30/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/30/1956~ 02:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/31/1956~ 18:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/31/1956~ 19:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/31/1956~ 24:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/31/1956~ 17:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/31/1956~ 20:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
1/31/1956~ 21:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
2/1/1956~ 01:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
2/3/1956~ 16:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again
2/3/1956~ 17:00 utc---WS-119L - GENETRIX Reconnaisance PayloadBalloon entered target zone but was never heard of again

List of balloons launched by DLR from Oberpfaffenhofen

DateHourFlight DurationExperimentPayload landing place or cause of the failure
5/31/197823:10 utc6 h 20 mPAYLOAD UNKNOWN--- No Data ---
6/2/197823:41 utc5 h 2 mPAYLOAD UNKNOWN--- No Data ---
7/13/197800:08 utc1 h 12 mLIMS GONDOLA TEST--- No Data ---
7/25/19781:53 utc3 h 30 mLIMS GONDOLA TEST--- No Data ---
7/28/19781:06 utc3 h 30 mLIMS GONDOLA TEST--- No Data ---
5/30/197923:08 utc30 mTHISBE (Telescope of Heidelberg for Infrared Studies by Balloon-borne Experiments)--- No Data ---
7/11/197923:34 utc4 h 19 mTHISBE (Telescope of Heidelberg for Infrared Studies by Balloon-borne Experiments)--- No Data ---