By lex, on November 16th, 2010
So, today I received in the email queue my weekly Barnstormers.com e-flyer full of Unobtanium that is nevertheless candy for the aviator’s eye. This week’s flyer included an airplane I had never before seen, the Bucker Bestmann.
I had heard of the Bucker Jungmann before, a World War II era biplane trainer that is reportedly a delight to fly, but the Bestmann required research. Another Luftwaffe trainer, you might not be surprised to learn.
Which in turn led me to a story I had never before heard: That of German aviatrix Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg.
The Gräfin (countess) was the daughter of a Jewish furrier who had converted to Protestantism while still young. The future test pilot graduated cum laude from the Technische Universität München with an aeronautical engineering degree in 1927. She was released from the Luftwaffe in 1936 because of her Jewish ancestry, but by 1937 she was one of only two women in Germany to be certified as an aircraft captain.
Melitta Schiller gained the title Gräfin by marrying historian Alexander Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg in 1937. (Alexander was the brother of Claus von Stauffenberg, rendered famous through history for his role in the 20 July 1944 assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler.) When the war broke out, Jewish ancestry notwithstanding, the Luftwaffe ordered Melitta back to test pilot duties, where she excelled – with moral reservations as a German patriot with no love for the Nazis – by performing Vne testing on German warplanes. Because of her value to the war effort, the Gräfin was able to protect her Jewish relatives from deportation to concentration camps.
She was arrested with the Von Stauffenbergs after the plot to kill Hitler was uncovered, but survived the fate imposed upon Claus and Berthold, her other brother-in-law: Execution. While the rest of her husband’s family remained in custody, Melitta was freed to continue her work in September that same year, but was shot down by an American fighter pilot while ferrying the Bucker Bestmann in April, 1945. She successfully crash landed the aircraft, but died of wounds received in the shootdown.
Two points: First, no matter what your antecedents, it’s better even in a dictatorship to have an important skill than to have an important title. Second, why hasn’t this been made into a movie?
And yes, Hollywood: If you need technical assistance or casting advice, I’m available.
I’m thinking Natascha McElhone.