Alex Imrie via Greg VanWyngarden
up and took off, not worried by the fact the plane didn't even had a compass!
He believed that following the rails, he would find the way. But he lost his
orientation and had to land in order to ask where he was. To his amazement,
he learned he was in Germany and so took off quickly before the police might
arrive. The subsequent flight lasted only a few minutes, as the crankshaft
broke and sudden stop of the engine torn the propeller to pieces. One of
them cut through the wing damaging its inner structure. Willi landed quickly
and found that he was still in Germany, near Woldenberg...
The plane was confiscated, Willi was imprisoned, and the whole issue received considerable publicity to little liking of the Polish government. As part
of the subsequent trial held in 1926, both brothers were banned from flying
in Poland. Another blow to their dreams of aircraft company was the order
cancellation for 50 Farmans yet to be built for the Polish Air Force. That was
too much for brothers. Willi decided to quit flying for good to continue with
the family furniture business 7) while livelier Willi, who could not imagine his
life without flying, decided to move to Germany.
A two-time pilot jobs
The consequence of the night flight home from the celebration. The aircraft was
damaged badly, but the valuable BMW engine stayed unharmed.
Gabriel was ordered to deliver an Albartos D.Va to the airport in Metz, where
the air assembly base (Flugpark) was located. During the flight, however, Willi
decided that as he is already on vacation, he could fly it all the way home.
And home meant some 620 miles (1000 km) of distance to Bromberg! He
had to make several landings en-route to fill the fuel tank but, surprisingly,
nobody asked him for a flight authorisation. His affiliation with the famous
JG I was a sufficient "authorisation" for everyone, except for the commander
of the base in the Bromberg, who did not let himself be outwitted.
Whole the matter was getting through the official military channels and the
final blame was on Göring. As soon as Gabriel returned to the unit, he was
informed by his angry commander, there was no place for somebody like him.
Gabriel was sent him to the Army Flug Park II in Montmédy, where he was
tasked with test-flying the airplanes assembled after rail transport to the
front. As he said later, after serving with the elite Jasta 11, he no longer wanted to join any other unit, so he endured the war there and returned home
immediately after armistice.
Returning home, he found his hometown changed the name. It was no longer
Bromberg, but Bydgoszcz, as Gabriel's birthplace became part of the new
Poland. German citizens could stay, but on condition they accept Polish names. And so, Willi became Jan and Walter, who returned from the captivity,
became Pawel… But the change was only an eye candy to satisfy the Polish
To the advantage of the aviation-bound brothers, there was no ban on aircraft
production in Poland, as was the case in post-war Germany. And, although the
brothers joined the family furniture company (later took over it completely), they also founded their own company called Aeroplan Gebrüder Gabriel
(Aircraft Brothers Gabriel) where they started building their own sports aircraft. Their efforts materialised in 1920 in form of the Gabriel P-V parasol 6),
the first independent Polish aircraft. The Gabriel P-V was powered by Haacke
HFM-2 engine with an output of 22 kW, enough for small and light (just 297lb;
135 kg) aircraft. Its shape resembled scaled-down Fokker D.VIII with one interesting improvement, swivel wing for easier ground transport.
The aircraft was performing well and after a series of various improvements,
the brothers decided to present it at the Poznan Industrial Fair in 1924. Willi
was to fly it over, while Walter took a train. However, the April weather with
very low clouds, rain and fog made flying nearly impossible. Willi did not give
Shortly after his relocation, Willi Gabriel founded the small company Gabriel-Flugzeugbau in Johannisthal and continued with his efforts to become
an aircraft manufacturer. At the same time, he worked as a flight instructor
and was frequently hired for various demonstration or advertising flights.
With the reputation of a Great War ace and former member of the JG I, his
things were a little bit easier at least. In the late 1920s, he introduced his
last aircraft design, a two-seater biplane with folding wings, called the Wespe
(wasp). It turned out to be his most successful, fully aerobatic plane. Willi
took part in aerobatic competitions with it, competing also with Ernst Udet,
his more famous colleague from JG I.
Willi was still very “dynamic” pilot and during one advertising flight for the
movie company, he decided to increase the attractiveness of his performance with reversed flying. But as he rolled back to normal position, the loose
seatbelts and the upholstery of the unoccupied front seat stuck the control
stick in the pulled position. The aircraft raised its nose, lost speed, and went
into the spin. Willi was unable to control the plane, so he crashed into the
roof of the factory. Apart from the substantial property damage the death of
one female worker was much worse consequence… Willi himself remained unharmed miraculously but was temporarily banned from flying until the court
At the beginning of the 1930s, the Luftwaffe, German Air Force, was secretly
getting its future shape, officially introduced to the world in 1935. Number of
“old hands" were recalled for military reserve pilot training and Willi arrived
at Döberitz Airport, where he flew He-51s. During the course, which also
included air-to-ground firing, interesting offer emerged for him. At the time,
Ernst Udet was performing popular performances on air shows called the
“Flying Professor". As his new duties with the Luftwaffe prevented him to carry on, he remembered Willi, who was more than keen to take over the famous
act. After Udet first have seen him in this role, he allegedly declared, "Willi,
you're even more crazy than me!" Gabriel then flew these performances until
the beginning of the war. He also earned the attention of moviemakers who
needed a pilot for an aerial movie with the meaningful title "Pour le Mérite".
One old Fokker Dr.I was overhauled to the flying condition for the filming
purposes, getting a Clerget engine instead of original Oberursel one. Also,
one D.VII was prepared. Willi took over Dreidecker while his old colleague
from Jasta 11 Alfred Niemz flew with D.VII. The Clerget engine had been
resting for some twenty years and so not in the best condition. During the
flight to the filming location in Rechlin, one cylinder of the engine exploded.
Without power and with destroyed engine cover, Gabriel managed to save
the plane with an emergency landing at Berlin-Staaken Airport. He caused
a considerable upheaval there. The old Dreidecker has been repaired and
Willi flew it during all the shooting sequences of the movie, which, by the
way, is available on Youtube, albeit in very poor quality.
Gabriel worked as a movie pilot for the second time in 1941, i.e., during the
war, when he was temporarily released of his duties as a pilot instructor. He
had been working on two movies at the time. He flew his “good old friend”,
the Dr.I used during the shooting of Pour le Mérite for the purposes of propagandistic movie "D.III 88" (it is probably not necessary to explain the meaning
of the number 88), while another overhauled Dreidecker was in the hands of
a test pilot from Rechlin. Willi´s Dr.I was at this time powered by the Oberursel engine, but it did not mean the end of the engine problems. Moreover, as
he later recalled, due to the demanding requirements of moviemakers, flying
for them was perhaps more dangerous than the war flying!
Another movie he was cooperating on during the war was the comedy "Quax,
Der Bruch Pilot" (Quax, the crash pilot), where he allegedly used his own
plane (matriculation D-EMAZ). According to Willi's memories, it was a Klemm
plane, but Udet Flamingo with matriculation D-EMMA flies in the movie…
Second time in the war
Gabriel brothers in front of their G-V design. Willi made emergency landing with
it in Germany.
Willi Gabriel was promoted to Hauptmann der Reserve (Captain in reserve)
in October 1937 (he ended the Great War as Wizefeldwebel, i.e., Sergeant
1st Class). A year later, at the age of 45, he took a training for reserve fighter
pilots in Döberitz and became an instructor. From 1939 he provided retraining
of pilots at the Jüterborg-Damm base, during 1943 he was flying as an instructor with the JG 104 training unit at the base Kiel-Holtenau. Here he trained
new pilots also on two-seater Bf 109G-12. According to unverified data, he
INFO Eduard - February 2021