Converting a military bomber aircraft to a passenger jet plane was not a new idea, and it was the start of what would become the Baade 152. Its design could seat up to 57 passengers, or 72 in a high configuration and It would be used throughout the soviet union, and even be marketed to the west using American-made avionics.

If it went ahead, it would have been a political triumph of the USSR, and cement the east german aviation industry for decades to come.

But it never happened. And to understand, we need to go back to the beginning.

The 1950s was a very different place in Europe. Germany was occupied by the two sides of the cold war, with the west controlling the west side of the country and east Germany under the USSR’s controlling influence.

As part of its ‘stewardship’ of the country, the USSR had eliminated the homegrown aviation industry after the war and deported all the aerospace engineers to work on military projects in Moscow. The country was left without any involvement in aviation and lacked a competitive edge of the world stage.

But these engineers had not been idle. While working in the USSR, they noticed that the soviet bomber project, OKB-1 150 could very well be used for a commercial passenger aircraft. By the early 50s, East Germany had been officially founded, and the German aerospace scientists were allowed to return home – many of which couldn’t shake the idea of the jet bomber turned civil aircraft.

At the same time, the new state declared that it needed a new aerospace company called the VEB Flugzeugwerke based in the city of Dresden. It was initially set to build military aircraft, but thanks for a popular uprising in the USSR the next year, the powers deemed that it would be a civil production facility.

To jump-start product development, the firm hired newly returned engineers like Brunolf Baade, among others. As the whole team had worked on the Soviet bomber, and still very well had the idea to turn it into a civil jet plane, the firm decided to commit to the idea – dubbing it the Baade 152 after the lead engineer.

But what was the Baade 152 actually like?

The Baade 152 was configured with 57 seats in a one cabin configuration, of around 34 inches of leg room, although during to proposal stage several other alternative seating arrangements were created, such as a 72-passenger configuration or a more spacious 42-seater for leasuire routes. Likely the firm also considered a VIP transport option for around 10 passengers.

As the plane was based on the previous bomber, it would share many of the same aerodynamics, including a range of 2,000–2,500 km (1,200–1,600 mi, 1,100–1,300 nmi) (depending on configuration). Arguable this range is very low, and would have led to poor market reach years later, but for the market, it was designed for, it fit the bill.

The plane would have up six crew members to fly it, including three cabin crew and three on the cockpit.

In terms of routes, the design team was promised that it would fly throughout the soviet union as a small shuttle aircraft to link nearby cities.

Local airline Lufthanasa jumped at the chance to buy the home state aircraft with an order for 20 planes.

By 1958, the first prototype rolled out of the workshop, on a very unique looking tandem landing gear and glazed nose for the navigator to look out – common among soviet era strategic bombers but not seen before on a passenger hjet aircraft. The maiden flight was a success and it looked as if the east german state had freed itself from the shackles of being behind the west.

Unfortunately, only a few months later that dream would end forever.

On the 4th of March 1959, the prototype crashed during its 2nd test flight and killed all onboard. Being a political embarrassment, the crash was never fully investigated and hidden until well after the change in government in 1990. It has since been believed that the aircraft had a fatal flaw with the design. When in a steep descent such as coming in to land on a short runway, the fuel tanks got cut off and the engines stalled – leading to a crash.

After three flight test the entire program was grounded. But this wasn’t the reported reason for the cancelation of the program – rather – it was political.

The soviet union in Moscow, who had initally promised that the Baade would fly throughout the USSR, actually stepped in and commanded the east german state to dissolve the entire aerospace industry – shut down all production and scrap the design – including the two prototypes. This was because the USSR was working on its own airframe to compete in the same market, the Tupolev Tu-124.

And with a plane that couldn’t fly, a production that had no orders or funding, and a market that was quickly evolving with the arrival of the Boeing 707 – it looks like the iron curtain would close on the Baade 152 for the final time.

Source: YouTube

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