Elly Beinhorn

Elly Beinhorn (30 May 1907 28 November 2007) was a German pilot.

Elly Beinhorn
Elly Beinhorn (center) with Bernd Rosemeyer and Ferdinand Porsche
Born(1907-05-30)30 May 1907
Hanover, Germany
Died28 November 2007(2007-11-28) (aged 100)
Ottobrunn, Germany
Spouse(s)Bernd Rosemeyer (19091938)
(m. 19361938)
(his death)


Early life

She was born in Hannover, Germany on 30 May 1907.[1]

In 1928, she attended a lecture by famed aviator Hermann Köhl, who had recently completed a historic East-West Atlantic crossing. This lecture is described as the spark that ignited her interest in aviation.[2][3]

At just 21 years old, with funds from a small inheritance (against the wishes of her parents) she moved to Spandau in Berlin where she took flying lessons, at Berlin-Staaken airport, under the tutelage of instructor Otto Thomsen. She soon made her solo flight in a small Klemm KL-20. With her money running out, it was suggested that she give aerobatic displays on the weekends. She found this financially rewarding, but personally unsatisfying.[4][5][6][7]

Long-distance flights

Long distance flying was her real passion and in 1931 she seized the opportunity to fly to Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) West Africa on a scientific expedition. On the return journey, engine failure resulted in a crash-landing in the Sahara. With the help of nomadic Tuareg tribesmen, Elly joined a camel caravan to Timbuktu. She subsequently returned to the crash site to recover parts of the plane.[8] Word of her plight reached the French authorities and they sent a military two-seater plane to collect her.[9][10]

In April 1931, fully recovered, she was able to fly herself back to Berlin to a warm reception from the crowds.[11]

Soon after this, she embarked on another flight, her Klemm monoplane developing mechanical problems near Bushire, Persia. She found Moye Stephens, another pilot, in Bushire, who helped her fix the problem on her Klemm. Stephens and travel-adventure writer Richard Halliburton were flying around the world in a Stearman C-3B biplane that they called the Flying Carpet. She accompanied them on part of their flight, including the trip to Mount Everest. She flew on to Bali - and eventually Australia. In the process, she became only the second woman to fly solo from Europe to Australia, after Amy Johnson.[12] The foreword of her book, Flying Girl (1935), was written by Richard Halliburton (whose English publisher, as hers, was Geoffrey Bles); it includes a photo of Moye Stephens repairing her plane. Barbara H. Schultz' Flying Carpets, Flying Wings - The Biography of Moye Stephens (2011) contains Stephens' own account of their meeting which was first introduced in Halliburton's bestselling The Flying Carpet (1932).

Having landed in Darwin, Northern Territory of Australia, she headed down to Sydney, arriving in March 1932. Her plane was dismantled and shipped to New Zealand, then Panama where it was reassembled. There Elly resumed her flight, following the western coast of South America. She was presented with a medal in Peru. An ill-advised trip across the Andes followed. The plane was dismantled once more in Brazil and shipped to Germany. Elly arrived in Berlin in June 1932.[13]

Now famous but in debt to the tune of 15,000 marks or more, she was pleasantly surprised to be awarded the Hindenburg Cup, 10,000 marks and several other monetary awards from the German aeronautical industry which enabled her to continue her career. She also continued to write articles and sell photographs of her travels to raise funds.[14][15]

Free of debt, she took off for Africa using a Heinkel He 71, flying down the east coast, then back up the west coast.[16]

The following year, Elly shipped the plane to Panama, then flew through Mexico and California before crossing the United States to Washington DC and Miami. Elly and the plane returned to Germany by ship, arriving in January 1935. She was now a true German heroine.[17]

Bernd Rosemeyer

On 29 September 1935 Elly attended the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix, held in the town of Brno in Czechoslovakia, at the invitation of Auto Union (she happened to be in the country on a lecture tour, by now a regular source of income). She congratulated the winner, Bernd Rosemeyer, who seemed smitten with her. They danced together that night and were married on 13 July 1936. A true celebrity couple – an adventurous aviator and the fearless racing driver – they were the toast of Nazi Germany. Heinrich Himmler ordered a reluctant Bernd to become a member of the SS.[18][19]

They had a son, Bernd Jr., in November 1937, but just ten weeks after his birth his father was killed while attempting a speed record in his Auto Union Streamliner. As a national hero he was mourned by much of Germany. Elly received condolences from prominent Nazis, including Adolf Hitler, but requested a simple, non-political funeral ceremony. These wishes were ignored and several Nazis gave speeches at the graveside. Some accounts suggest that Elly walked off in protest at the Nazis claiming Bernd as their own and taking over what was a personal occasion.[20]

Second marriage and post-war life

In 1941 Elly married Dr. Karl Wittman and they had a daughter, Stephanie.[21]

After World War II she briefly took up gliding due to the ban on powered flight in Germany. But she soon moved to Switzerland to continue flying planes.[22]

In 1979, at the age of 72, she surrendered her pilot's licence.

Later years and death

In her later years, Elly Beinhorn lived in Ottobrunn, Bavaria, near Munich. Her son, Dr. Bernd Rosemeyer, lives in the same area and has enjoyed a successful career as an orthopaedist.[23] He married Countess Michaela von Castell-Ruedenhausen, who died 8 August 2011, and they have two children.

Elly Beinhorn died on 28 November 2007, at the age of 100.[24]


  • Alt, John H. Don't Die in Bed: The Brief, Intense Life of Richard Halliburton. Atlanta: Quincunx Press, 2013. Chapters on Elly Beinorn.
  • Chris Nixon & Elly Beinhorn-Rosemeyer: "Rosemeyer!", Transport Bookman Publications 1989, ISBN 0-85184-046-9
  • Beinhorn, Elly, Flying Girl (Geoffrey Bles, London, 1935).
  • Halliburton, Richard, The Flying Carpet (Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis and New York, 1932).
  • Max, Gerry, Horizon Chasers - The Adventures of Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney (McFarland Publishers, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2007).
  • Schultz, Barbara H., Flying Carpets, Flying Wings - The Biography of Moye Stephens (PlaneMercantile, 2011).
  • Frilling, Christoph: Die Pilotin und der Rennfahrer – Elly Beinhorn und Bernd Rosemeyer auf Gratwanderung im Nationalsozialismus. Verlag W. Dietrich, Reinhardtsgrimma 2009, ISBN 978-3-933500-10-6.
  • Laurence Arthur Rickels: Into Africa. In: Nazi Psychoanalysis - Vol. 2. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 2002, ISBN 978-0-8166-3698-3, p. 82–87.
  • Commire, Anne: Beinhorn, Elly (1907–). In: Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Gale, 2000, ISBN 978-0-7876-4061-3.
  • Dimitrova-Moeck, Svoboda: Women travel abroad 1925-1932 : Maria Leitner, Erika Mann, Marieluise Fleisser, and Elly Beinhorn : women's travel writing from the Weimar Republic. Weidler, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-89693-534-2, p. 209–243.


  1. birthdate, location Archived 19 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Köhl's transatlantic crossing
  3. lecture inspiration Archived 19 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  4. learns to fly in Berlin
  5. taught by Thomsen Archived 26 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Klemm KL-20 Archived 26 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  7. weekend aerobatic displays Archived 4 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  8. According to Halliburton, she met Moye in Timbuktu and he helped her to fix the plane and they flew together to meet Richard Halliburton. The Flying Carpet, Garden City: Garden City Pub. Co., 1932, pp. 255-56. He had high praise for her: "there were very few men pilots who could compare with her. That flight of hers all alone from Berlin to Timbuctoo, over a route nearly twice as long as our own, was one that demanded, for a solitary woman, extraordinary courage." p. 256.
  9. flight to West Africa Archived 26 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  10. engine failure over Sahara Archived 4 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  11. return to Berlin Archived 4 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  12. Bali and Oz Archived 4 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  13. Oz to Berlin Archived 26 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  14. famous but in debt, awards Archived 26 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  15. articles & photos sold to raise money Archived 4 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  16. Africa E & W Archived 26 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  17. Panama to Germany Archived 26 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  18. lectures as source of income
  19. Grand Prix, Bernd, marriage, SS, reluctant Nazis
  20. death of Bernd
  21. second marriage, birth of Stephanie Archived 26 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  22. gliders and Switzerland Archived 26 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  23. lives in Ottobrunn
  24. Elly Beinhorn gestorben
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