Schempp-Hirth Flugzeugbau GmbH is one of the major manufacturers of sailplanes, or gliders, today. It holds an estimated 30% of the world market in sailplanes, but at every major glider event about 50% of the contestants fly Schempp-Hirth. This is mainly attributable to the excellent performance of their gliders. At the latest US Standard Class Nationals (held from May 15, 2001 to May 24, 2001) three out of the top four contestants won their ranking flying a Schempp-Hirth Discus 2a or 2b.

At the moment Schempp-Hirth annually produces about 100 gliders with a staff of 100 people. More than 50% of the gliders it produces are exported to other European countries, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA.


Schempp-Hirth started out in 1935, manufacturing gliders in the building yard of the company Martin Schempp set up in Göppingen, Germany. In 1938 the company was relocated to Kirchheim unter Teck, where the company grew out to a staff of about 300 workers at the start of the war. During the pre-war period the company produced, among others, the single-seater GOe-1 'Wolf' and the famous GOe-3 'Minimoa', designed by Wolf Hirth, and the two-seater GOe-4 designed by Wolfgang Hütter.

During the war the company was forced to produce components for, among others, the Messerschmitt ME-109, the backbone of the German fighter command and the main foe of the English Spitfires. The company also kept up work in its own field of expertise and designed a few sailplanes in this period.

In the years following the war, up until 1955, Schempp-Hirth kept itself alive with the manufacture of a number of different products, including suitcases, leg prostheses, furniture and military jet mockups. When the manufacture of gliders was once again permitted in Germany, the company quickly picked up the pace again, building the glider Matteson M-1, as well as aircraft like the Binder Aviatic Emerald and Smaragd, and parts for the Klemm Kl-107 and the Dornier Do-27 and Do-28. This, together with the manufacture of the glider Standard Austria, was what kept the 50 men working at Schempp-Hirth occupied until 1965. In that year Schempp-Hirth tried to regain a foothold in the world market of gliders again, producing the SHK, which enabled Rolf Kunz to win third place at the World Championships held in South Cerney, England.

In the following period the changeover from "wood" to "fiberglass" took place in the glider world, at Schempp-Hirth led by Klaus Holighaus. In January 1967 his first fiberglass glider, the Cirrus, had its maiden flight. Followed two years later by the maiden flight of the Nimbus-1. In 1970, George Moffat won the World Championship held in Marfa, Texas, USA.

From here on in, Schempp-Hirth continued to produce some of the most beautiful and high-performance gliders in the world. Their gliders have often been featured high up on the rankings at championships and competitions the world over.

One other aircraft built by Schempp-Hirth deserves mention here, the Janus. This glider first flew in 1974, and was the first two-seater built using fiberglass. Going through a number of enhancements, and a number of designations ranging from Janus to Janus CT, this glider was in production for more that two decades, until 1996. A very sophisticated design that includes flaps, the Janus is a demanding, but rewarding glider to fly. It is also very beautiful with its forward sweeping wings and sleek design. Its excellent performance also makes it very suited for instruction cross-country flights.

Sources: - with some frustrating help from Babel Fish


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