The first engine-powered, steerable, rigid airship - developed by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917) had his successful maiden flight on July 2, 1900 over Lake Constance at the site where the MTU Plant 2 stands today. The flight of the LZ 1 lasted 18 minutes and reached a height of 400 meters. The LZ 1 was powered by two Daimler petrol engines, each providing 9 kW of power (12 hp). Wilhelm Maybach built the engines.
© Archiv Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH
On August 5, 1908 the airship LZ 4 had to make an emergency landing in Echterdingen near Stuttgart due to engine problems. A downdraft then ripped the airship from its moorings and caused it to catch fire. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin then received around 6.25 million gold marks in donations from the German people. With this money, he founded Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH on September 8, 1908 and then established the Zeppelin Foundation on December 30 to promote aviation and aeronautical science. The company then moved to Friedrichshafen where zeppelin hangars and further zeppelins were built over the next few years.
After the destruction of the LZ 4 in Echterdingen, Wilhelm Maybach (1846-1929), 'King of Designers' and father of the Mercedes, the first modern automobile, wrote to Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin on August 22, 1908. He referred to an engine design developed by his son Karl (1879-1960) and emphasized its reliability. Graf Zeppelin took up the proposal and on March 23, 1909, Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau GmbH - based in Bissingen an der Enz - was founded. The purpose of the company was "the construction of engines for airships", linked with the option of also using these engines "for power-driven vehicles on land and water". The first engines constructed by Karl Maybach were designed and built at the Grotz machine factory in Bissingen. Karl Maybach was head of technology of this first forerunner of today's MTU Friedrichshafen.
The first airship engine reached the test bench as early as the fall of 1909: Type AZ (107 kW or 145 hp) – a six-cylinder engine precisely matched to aviation requirements with a superb power-weight ratio. It was designed so that pistons, cylinders and valves could be replaced easily during the journey when the engine was switched off. The engine was first used in 1910 in the LZ 6. The first zeppelin to launch with three AZ engines alone was the LZ 10 "Schwaben." Scheduled passenger flights were carried out with the LZ 10 from 1911 onwards.
In 1911/1912 the company relocated to Friedrichshafen to the site where MTU Plant 1 stands today. At that time it directly adjoined the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH site. In May 1912 the company changed its name to Motorenbau GmbH. Production continued to consist of airship engines.
In 1916, Motorenbau GmbH developed the Type Mb IVa over-dimensioned aircraft engine, the first series-production aircraft engine with an output of 260 hp. The six-cylinder Otto in-line engine was tested at a height of 1800 m above Mount Wendelstein in Bavaria. The loss of performance in aircraft engines as air density dropped was offset by a greater cubic capacity and higher compression – so the engine was "over-dimensioned" and "over-compressed." Up until 1918, this aircraft engine was installed mainly in G and R aircraft, as well as reconnaissance aircraft and airships.
On May 18, 1918 the company changed its name from Motorenbau to Maybach-Motorenbau. A new company logo, a curved triangle with double M, was created to represent the new name. The site grew significantly until the end of World War I due to high demand for aircraft engines. Numerous buildings were added and over 3000 people were employed.