Rimowa/Junkers F-13: Useless and I Don't Even Care

When someone asks: "What makes airplanes fly," the running joke is to answer: "Money." While a lot of people and companies are able to earn a living in aviation, there's no doubt that it's expensive. We're doing a lot to try to reduce the costs of flying because we're worried that the pilot population is shrinking too much. We're using new regulations and new technology to make aircraft more efficient and it's absolutely paying off.

However, everyone once in a while someone decides to throw economy and advancement out the window and do something wild with aviation. The example I just ran across is the luggage company, Rimowa. They're going to resume production of the Junkers F-13. In this day and age, that airplane is almost completely useless...and I'm thrilled by what they're doing!

Rimowa's video bills the Junkers F-13 as "the world's first all-metal passenger aircraft," and notes some of the aircraft's impressive achievements. It was absolutely a revolution in its time and we're still flying aircraft with designs influenced by the F-13. However, it's stats won't impress when compared to any mainstream aircraft these days:

  • Open cockpit
  • Taildragger
  • Radial engine (P&W R-985, 450 hp)
  • Cruise speed: 95 kts
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 GPH
  • Crew: Pilot, Mechanic (!), 4 passengers

Aviation has mostly abandoned radial engines thanks to a long history of reliability issues. At the very least, they require a lot more care & feeding than our horizontally opposed Lycomings and Continentals. My C-170A is a slug in cruise, but it flies faster than the F-13 for just of one third the fuel burn. The open cockpit means the airplane is VFR-only. As a taildragger, it'll be less comfortable for passenger boarding, and it'll be harder to find and insure pilots for it. The Rimowa website doesn't list a price for the F-13, but I'm guessing it falls into the category of: "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."

In a world where profit margins are thin, the pilot population is shrinking, and composite construction rules, this airplane makes no practical sense. Thankfully, that's not the point.

The F-13 is going to be gorgeous. It's going to have to stand up tall on those main gear to keep the Hamilton Standard prop out of the dirt. That radial engine is going to sound wonderful against the buzzing of the IO-everybodies out there. Since it'll be limited to fair-weather flying, we'll be more likely to spot it while it's in the air.

I expect the price is going to be over a quarter of a million dollars. Maybe a half-million is closer. However, for those who can afford it, this is going to be a fun and beautiful airplane. I hope Rimowa finds enough buyers to keep their production line open. I hope I get to see one. I sure wouldn't pass up an offer to fly one either.

Rimowa's website estimates first flight this March and expects certification and first delivery just two months later. (Benefits of it being an existing design.) I'm looking forward to seeing it fly!

And to the lucky first owners: May means you'll definitely have your airplane in time for Oshkosh. Just saying....