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Encyclopedia > Gerhard Neumann

Gerhard Neumann was a famous and legendary aviation engineer. This Manual of Style has the simple purpose of making things easy to read by following a consistent format — it is a style guide. ...

Gerhard Neumann was born on October 8, 1917, in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany. He grew up under strict traditional Prussian discipline. The lifestyle was "First the work, then the pleasure." His parents Siegfried and Frieda were non-practicing "Jewish Germans."


Neumann apprenticed as an auto mechanic. In 1935, he entered the well-regarded technical college Ingenieurschule Mittweida.


The winds of war were growing in Germany, and alliances were murky and shifting. Neumann had heard that Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek needed engineers to fight the Japanese invaders. Neumann decided to leave his family and embark on a long journey to the British colony of Hong Kong in May 1939. But upon arriving in Hong Kong, he found that the company for which he was to work for had disappeared. Fortunately, his skills as an auto mechanic were in great demand.


A few months later, Germany invaded Poland. The British in Hong Kong considered any German citizen a potential "fifth column" and revoked his passport. No embassy would talk to him.


Luckily, Neumann had a chance meeting with W. Langhorne Bond of the Chinese National Aviation Corporation. The company arranged for him to enter China without a passport. He flew to Kunming, capital of the remote Yunnan province, and there he contacted the Chinese Air Force. Soon after he met Colonel Claire Lee Chennault, who had established the Chinese Air Force with Madame Chiang Kai-shek.


As the war with Japan progressed, the Chinese Air Force became the American Volunteer Group, also known as the "Flying Tigers." Neumann helped the effort against the Japanese in many important ways. He led dangerous supply convoys, he performed all types of mechanical repairs on P-40 aircraft, he translated to and from Chinese, he assembled a working enemy Zero from crash parts to assess its flight characteristics, and he even directed bombing attacks from the ground while disguised as a Chinese coolie.


Eventually Neumann was dispatched to Washington, where he met Clarice, who would later become his wife. Yet for all of Neumann's spectacular heroism in China, as a German he was still considered an enemy combatant. It took an act of Congress to correct this. After the war, he was finally permitted to work for Douglas Aircraft Research.


In late 1946, Chennault offered Neumann an engineering position with Chinese National Relief and Rehabilitation Airline, a new airline Chennault was forming using war-surplus C-46 transports. Neumann accepted, and on their way to China he and Clarice were married.


In the year that followed, the Chinese Communist army was taking over China. The Neumann's had no choice but to attempt to return to the United States. They chose an unusual route. Instead of flying or sailing across the Pacific, Clarice suggested that they drive over the Asian continent towards North Africa. Thus began an incredible journey to Tel Aviv, after which they were able to conventionally return to New York.


In March 1948, Neumann began work as an engineer for the General Electric Aircraft Gas Turbine Division, located in Lynn, Massachusetts. He made many innovations in jet engine design, creating jet engines that could reach air speeds of Mach 2, as well as heading entire departments at GE. The famous J79 and J85 engines were developed under his leadership. Yet even as a Vice President of General Electric, he flew jet fighters during the 1960s to personally understand the engines' performance.


A major success for GE was his guiding the design and development of the huge fanjet engines that now power the largest aircraft.


He retired from GE on January 1, 1980, after 32 years of service.


Active even in retirement, Gerhard Neumann developed leukemia, and he passed away on November 2, 1997. The Gerhard Neumann Museum in Niederalteich, Germany, honors his contributions to aviation.


His autobiography "Herman the German: Just Lucky I Guess" [1] chronicles his life.


 
 

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