Gone West — Me-163 Test Pilot Rudolf “Rudy” Optiz (1910-2010)
May 6, 2010 —Rudolf “Rudy” Opitz passed away at his home in Connecticut last week at the age of 99. Born in Germany in 1910, Opitz learned to fly gliders as a teenager, and by the mid-1930s was working as a glider instructor at the Wasserkuppe flying school. After the outbreak of World War II, Opitz was drafted into the Luftwaffe as a glider instructor. He was later assigned as a test pilot to Alexander Lippisch and began working as a test pilot on Lippisch’s tail-less glider designs. In 1941 he was assigned to Project X, the Luftwaffe’s top secret program to develop the Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet, the world’s first rocket interceptor. As Chief Military Test Pilot on Project X, Opitz made numerous flights in Me-163a and Me-163b interceptors. Although he did not fly any official combat missions in the 163, he did become Commander of the Me-163 equipped Second Group of JG400 towards the end of the war.
After the war he was recruited by “Operation Paperclip” - the American effort to bring German scientists to the U.S. - to come to work as an engineer and test pilot at the Aeronautical Research and Development Center at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Opitz later worked for Avco-Lycoming and retired after a 20-year career with the company. In 1984, Optiz was elected and certified by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots as an Honorary Fellow, and in 1994 was inducted into the United States Soaring Hall of Fame by the Soaring Society of America. He served as an FAA pilot examiner for over thirty years, and remained active in soaring in his later years.