For many years I owned a business that sold model airplanes.  In 1969 during a trip to Germany I met Alexander Engel who owned a model airplane company in Germany.  We became friends -- dear friends.  We cooperated on new products in the model airplane field, and we became partners in a new business in the USA; we fought; we argued; we made up; we did all those things that friends do. Alex’s biggest competitor in Germany was the firm Graupner.  Even though this was Alex’s competitor, Alex drove me to the Graupner company and introduced me to the export manager Mr. Bartenbach.  And then Alex WAITED in his car in Graupner’s parking lot for four hours until I came out. How many friends like that do you have?

The following was a short article I wrote for a model airplane publication that asked me about the history of one of Alex’s and my project airplanes.

Alexander Engel and the Telemasters

The Telemasters were the creation of my friend Alexander Engel of Germany. I guess that the first Telemaster was designed and kitted in the early 1960's, but this is just a guess. The airplane had some design similarity to old free flight airplanes which had lifting stabilizers and quite far aft centers of gravity. The Telemasters flew exceptionally well but that was to be expected as they were almost free-flight designs. Alex did not design them: Karl-Heinz Denzin did as an employee of Engel's. But Alex owned the name and the design. Language experts will notice that the name "Telemaster" has no German root words in it whatsoever -- tele from the Greek and master from English. This is because Alex Engel was a great lover of the United States of America and the English language. I met Alex in 1969 at an international pattern flying contest in Bremen, Germany.

Business -- hell, life itself for that matter -- is uninteresting without people. Alex Engel was one of those people who fills out your life by letting you see how far humanity has evolved. Alex continued to be a major part of my life until he died. He had been in the German army and was a radar operator in Sicily with a small outfit that watched the sea for a possible invasion by the Allies. From this point on I only hope that I'm not exaggerating the story because as I've told it over the years I've tended to embellish it and have lost control over the portions that are pure fact. One night Alex noticed on his radar screen blips that appeared to be incoming ships -- a lot of ships. In 1944 radars needed interpretation as they were simple horizontal line cathode ray tubes and the objects that the radar sensed were just vertical spikes sort of like what you see on a printout from an EKG. Alex awoke his CO and showed him the radar tube. The CO said that the blips were caused by weather, not ships, as there were too many blips to be accounted for by ship returns. Alex opined that they were ships but the CO told him to go to sleep because it was weather not ships. When dawn came the Germans used binoculars to actually see the largest assault force of ships up until that point in WW2. It was not weather -- it was ships. The tiny radar detachment knew that they were about to be overrun and wanted to surrender as soon as the attacking force got close enough to see the little outpost. The officer in charge of the little detachment called Berlin for instructions and was ordered to hold the position "at any cost." The officer was a Nazi and took his job seriously and told his little group that they were expected to defend their position until death -- 25 men against about 10,000.

At this point in the story Alex simply said "apparently there was sniper fire from the ships and our officer was killed, so we made surrender flags out of clothing." Sniper fire from the distant ships? Well, I guess it could happen that way. Somehow their CO ended up dead. Then the German soldiers attached white underwear to their rifles and waved them back and forth frantically as they watched the largest amphibious landing in history take place in front of them. Alex said that the American troops were green -- none had been in battle and they were very nervous. The Germans were very frightened of them and tried to not make any quick movements. Alex did, however, have the foresight to shoot himself in the foot. His reasoning was that this would get him more gentle treatment and prevent him from appearing to be a threat. He was right. The Americans took him prisoner and sent him to a military hospital in North Africa. From North Africa Alex was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Nebraska.

It was in Nebraska that Alex became an American in every respect except citizenship. He had acquired half of an English language dictionary. It went from A through K and Alex became proficient in the A through K portion of English. His knowledge of English helped him avoid the physical labor jobs that he hated. As long as I knew Alex he resisted any physical exertion. In the Nebraska prison camp they farmed sugar beets and gave Alex a hoe. He described to me his shock at seeing the row that they assigned him to hoe: "In that numbingly vast beet field you could see the curvature of the earth as the rows of beets went over the horizon. There was no way that I would hoe those beets." So, when the camp needed a dental assistant to work with the American dentists Alex volunteered. The young American officers who were dentists had better things to do than dentistry on the prisoners, so they taught Alex how to do virtually everything they did to peoples' teeth and Alex took over the camp dentist office. His English improved steadily and at the end of the war the Americans asked Alex to stay on for a year or more to help with various translating tasks. Alex helped but he was homesick for Knittlingen, his home town a few miles north of Stuttgart and he eventually got back home where he started a model airplane business.

Alex died a few years ago and not a day goes by that I don't have a warm memory of him.

Jim Martin

My friend, Alex Engel

Above: Me,  Alex’s daughter Sascha,  Alex