Walter Mittelholzer

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Walter Mittelholzer as a military pilot (around 1918)
A Junkers F 13 over Tehran (Image from: Walter Mittelholzer, Persienflug . Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich, 1926)
Walter Mittelholzer monument by Rudolf Wening in Kloten on the Butzenbühl hill east of Zurich Airport

Walter Mittelholzer (born April 2, 1894 in St. Gallen ; † May 9, 1937 at Hochschwab in Styria ) was a Swiss aviation pioneer . He was a pilot, photographer, travel writer and one of the first aviation entrepreneurs.

life and work

Walter Mittelholzer was the son of a family of bakers. After secondary school he did an apprenticeship as a photographer and then moved to the recruit school in Dübendorf . He was assigned to the Mountain Brigade 18 in the new air force .

His first flight took him from Dübendorf to Kloten in a Farman double-decker . Mittelholzer's assignment was to photograph battery positions on Holberg near Kloten from a height of 1000 m. A year later he became the head of the photography department as a non-commissioned officer. Several flights in the vicinity of Zurich made him want longer flights. A first Alpine flight, which he undertook on behalf of his commander, failed due to an engine breakdown. A second attempt succeeded and Mittelholzer returned with successful recordings. This flight was followed by numerous more, resulting in an extensive collection of aerial photos from almost all areas of Switzerland.

In 1917 Mittelholzer acquired a civilian flight license and a year later he completed his training as a military pilot.

On November 5, 1919, he and his military colleague Alfred Comte founded Mittelholzer and Co., an aerial photo publishing company and passenger flights . In 1920 this company merged with the more financially strong Ad Astra Aero . Mittelholzer became director and chief pilot of Ad Astra Aero, which later became Swissair . Even Max Cartier flew for the airline.

On behalf of the Junkers factories , he flew the new lines to Danzig and Riga from Berlin. Planned supply flights from Spitsbergen for Roald Amundsen's North Pole expedition were obsolete because of a breakdown in Amundsen's plane in Alaska. Instead, on the Junkers-Spitzbergen expedition from July 5 to 8, 1923, four sightseeing flights were undertaken over Spitzbergen, the longest of which led over a distance of 1000 km to over the 80th parallel. While Arthur Neumann was flying the Junkers F13 , Mittelholzer was responsible for filming and photography. This is how the first aerial photographs of Svalbard were taken. A possible pole flight was omitted due to technical problems with the aircraft. In the winter of 1924/25 Mittelholzer flew to Tehran on behalf of the Persian government , which he reached a month after taking off from the Zürichhorn .

In 1927 Mittelholzer was the first to fly from Europe to South Africa in a seaplane : on December 7, 1926, he took off with his machine , together with the Swiss geologist Arnold Heim , the Geneva writer René Gouzy (1877–1952) and the mechanic and copilot Hans Hartmann of the Merkur type from the Dornier works in Zurich . The expedition led via Naples and Athens to Alexandria and with landings at a total of 23 stage stations, including Luxor and on Lake Victoria , in 76 days to Cape Town , where the plane arrived on February 21, 1927. Mittelholzer covered 20,000 kilometers in the plane on float in two and a half months. For the return trip he had the aircraft dismantled and shipped to England on a cargo ship.

From February 17 to March 6, 1928 Mittelholzer circled the western Mediterranean in a Junkers F 13 (CH 94) and took over 100 aerial photos . The main flight stages were Zurich - Rome - Tunis - Algiers - Madrid - Marseille - Zurich. The total flight times were 47 hours and 20 minutes with a total distance covered of 6370 kilometers.

On January 8, 1930, he was the first to fly over Kilimanjaro . Among other things, he took aerial photographs of the Kibo crater from a height of around 6,200 meters , which were published in magazines and caused a sensation.

In the winter of 1930/31 Walter Mittelholzer took another flight to Africa, via Morocco and Algeria to Lake Chad. On the return flight he met the German pilot Elly Beinhorn on her first flight to Africa in the desert at Cape Juby .

In 1931 Walter Mittelholzer became technical director of the newly founded airline Swissair . In 1934 he flew to Addis Ababa to deliver the Fokker machine he had ordered to Emperor Haile Selassie himself. This was his last flight on long, unknown routes. However, Walter Mittelholzer continued to take aerial photos in Europe and Switzerland. His more than 100,000 photos from around 9,000 flights are of great historical value today: Around 18,000 images, including 13 × 18 cm glass plates , are now in the ETH Library's image archive . Walter Mittelholzer published the pictures and stories of his long international flights in books, which achieved high circulation. The multimedia marketing of his international flights also included documentaries that Mittelholzer produced as a co-founder of Praesens-Film AG.

Walter Mittelholzer and his rope team fell to death in 1937 on a climbing tour on the southwest face of the Stangenwand in Styria , probably caused by falling rocks. He was led by Ulrich Sild (1911–1937), the eldest son of Cenzi von Ficker and Hannes Sild . Third of the mountaineering team was Liselott Kastner, née Lorenz († 1937).

The In Memoriam Bider / Mittelholzer / Zimmermann cooperative was named in his honor.


  • In the plane towards the North Pole. Junkers auxiliary expedition for Amundsen to Spitzbergen 1923 . Orell Füssli Verlag , Zurich 1924.
  • A bird's eye view of Switzerland: 274 illustrations from the Walter Mittelholzer collection . Eugen Rentsch, Erlenbach-Zurich 1926.
  • Persia flight . Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich 1926.
  • Africa flight . Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich 1927.
  • Alpine flight . Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich 1928.
  • Mediterranean flight. With 120 aerial photos by Walter Mittelholzer . Rascher & Cie. AG, Zurich 1930.
  • Kilimandjaro flight . Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich 1930.
  • Lake Chad flight - With the three-engine Fokker of Swissair through the Sahara to Lake Chad . Swiss Aero Review, Zurich 1932.
  • Abyssinia flight . With the three-engine Fokker to the court of the Negus Negesti . With a foreword by Federal President (Marcel) Pilet-Golaz , Aero-Revue, Zurich 1934.


  • 1924: In a Junkers plane over Spitzbergen
  • 1934: Abyssinia
  • 1947: pioneer of the skies



  • Walter M. Borner: Switzerland from then, 1917–1937. 350 historical recordings by Walter Mittelholzer. Weltbild-Verlag, 2005
  • Kaspar Surber: Walter Mittelholzer Revisited. From the photo archive of Walter Mittelholzer . Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2017, ISBN 978-3-85881-543-9 .
  • Alfred Waldis: Six Swiss Aviation Pioneers (= Association for Economic History Studies, Volume 46), Meilen 1987, OCLC 885132021 .

Web links

Commons : Walter Mittelholzer  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ralf Forster: Junkers on Spitzbergen. Target shifts of expedition trips in the twenties . In: Cornelia Lüdecke, Kurt Brunner (Ed.): From A (ltenburg) to Z (eppelin). German research on Spitzbergen until 1914. 100 years of the expedition of Duke Ernst II of Saxony-Altenburg , Neubiberg 2012 (= series of publications by the Institute for Geodesy , issue 88), pp. 109–116.
  2. ^ Walter Mittelholzer: In the plane towards the North Pole. Junkers auxiliary expedition for Amundsen to Spitzbergen 1923. Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich 1925.
  3. ^ Walter Mittelholzer: Persia flight . Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich 1926.
  4. ^ Hans Zulliger: Mittelholzers Persienflug. Bern Week 1926, accessed on May 7, 2020 .
  5. Alan Cobham carried out the first flight over Africa in an airplane in 1926.
  6. Eugène Pittard: René Gouzy. In: Le globe. Revue genevoise de geographie, 1952, pp. 24-25.
  7. Walter Mittelholzerstrasse, Arnold Heim, René Gouzy: Africa flight . Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich 1927.
  8. ^ Walter Mittelholzer, Gustav Erhardt: Mediterranean flight . With 120 aerial photos by Walter Mittelholzer. Rascher & Cie., AG, Zurich 1930.
  9. Over 1000 pictures of this flight on Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved May 24, 2017 .
  10. Marc Tribelhorn: In the realm of the Negus Negesti. Walter Mittelholzer's wonderful trip to Abyssinia , NZZ on February 1, 2014
  11. Uli Sild , in: Österreichische Alpenzeitung, volume 1182, June 1937, pp. 142–145.
  12. Historical Alpine Archives of the Alpine Associations in Germany, Austria and South Tyrol , Uli Sild personal folder, signature: DAV PER 1 SG / 2041/0 (PDF file; 859 kB), from:, accessed on November 15, 2017.
  13. Mittelholzer, Walter ( Memento of the original from January 29, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Swiss Photo Foundation - Index of Photographers, accessed on January 29, 2016. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  14. Bridge builder : The << Götti >> expected more from us , January 11, 1984
  15. In the Junkers plane over Spitzbergen on YouTube - filmed in 1923