Lifting off like a pelican? The SB-2 Pelikan aircraft and its rusty start

During the Second World War, the Swiss government actively included ETH Zurich in its plans to promote an autonomous national aviation industry in Switzerland. The Federal Office of Aviation (now the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA)) commissioned Professor Eduard Amstutz, who had just been appointed to the Chair for Aircraft Statistics and Construction, to develop a special aeroplane tailored to the Swiss Alpine landscape. A research studio was promptly set up at the chair, headed by ETH Zurich engineer Hans Belart. He also handled the design for the small passenger aircraft dubbed SB-2, conducted wind tunnel tests and performed all the mathematical calculations. The research studio was incorporated into the Schweizerischer Flugtechnischer Verein in 1943, which served as the link between ETH Zurich, federal authorities and industry.

The Pilatus SB-2 Pelikan with the pelican logo on the nose
(ETH Library, University Archives, Akz. 2002-2)

As the ETH Zurich staff was frequently on active military service, the construction of the aircraft was delayed considerably. Ultimately, the design was sold for CHF 180,000 to  Pilatus Flugzeugwerke in Stans, which constructed the SB-2. The Federal Office of Aviation chose the letters HB AEP for its registration, which can be interpreted as a nod to the collaboration between ETH Zurich and industry: Hans Belart, Amstutz Eduard, Pilatus.

The SB-2 boasted low-speed capabilities, had a high climb performance and, as a STOL aircraft (Short Take-Off and Landing), was especially suited for use in mountainous terrain where short runways were the norm. This permitted the transportation of passengers and cargo as well as assignments in agriculture.

Drawings for five-seaters and seven-seaters on the SB-2 Pelikan datasheet
(ETH Library, University Archives, Akz. 2002-2)

On 30 May 1944, the first successful flight was completed and the SB-2 was christened “Pelikan” (possibly inspired by the Fieseler Fi 156 “Stork”). However, it never went into serial production as Pilatus Flugzeugwerke was already busy with the construction of the P-2. When the Pelican was caught on a groove in the ground and then overturned during take-off at an air show in Kirchberg near Bern on 13 June 1948, the aircraft was beyond repair – a total write-off.

ETH Zurich’s Institute of Aircraft  Construction also collaborated with the Swiss aviation industry on other projects, such as the construction of the Pilatus Porter PC-6, the training planes P-2 and P-3, on the aircraft “Elfe”, “Diamant”, “Bravo” and the B4 glider.

The ETH Zurich University Archives hold records from the former Institute for Aircraft Construction and the Schweizerischer Flugtechnischer Verein, including type books, construction drawings, the results of wind tunnel and stress tests as well as photographs of the construction phase and the test flights.


The minutes of meetings of the Swiss School Board  on the topic of the Schweizerischer Flugtechnischer Verein:

Monika Burri: Die ETH als aerodynamische Denkfabrik.

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