Who invented the helicopter?

Henrich Focke

First leaps in the air

Henrich Focke was born on October 8, 1890. Even as a high school student, he was already involved in flight technology. Focke builds flight models with which he makes his first jumps in the air on the banks of the Weser.

He undertook his first flight attempts with a glider of his own design, later he fled to the Neuenlander Feld parade ground, where Bremen airport is still located today.

Focke builds his first aircraft in a small shed - the first powered flight works in 1912. His friend Georg Wulf helps him develop the aircraft. The completion of the first model by the two aircraft designers was prevented by the beginning of the First World War.

Henrich Focke studies mechanical engineering at the Technical University in Hanover and graduated in 1920 with a diploma. At first he found a job as a designer for water gas systems at the Francke works in Bremen. Then he and his friend founded "Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG" in Bremen.

From airplanes to helicopters

The company's first small airliner went down in history as the earliest known rescue aircraft. During a storm with strong thunderstorms, an injured person is flown from the island of Wangerooge to a Bremen hospital with this machine.

The Focke-Wulf A16 goes into series production in 1924 and is used successfully by many airlines. Various constructions of small aircraft followed: In the 1930s, the training aircraft "Stieglitz", "Stößer", "Weihe", but also the twin-engine fighter aircraft "Falke" reached larger numbers. By 1933 the aircraft company had produced around 140 aircraft of various types.

Under pressure from the Reich government, Focke-Wulf takes over the "Albatros Flugzeugwerk" in Berlin. The company becomes a major military concern. But Henrich Focke refuses to build large-scale warplanes for the National Socialists and is therefore forced out of the company. He specializes in the development of helicopters.

Henrich Focke takes over the license to build the Cierva autogiros: a mixture of airplane and helicopter, which can only be used to a limited extent. They still need long distances to take off and land, and they cannot hover in place.

A legend learns to fly

The German designer finally achieved his breakthrough in the mid-1930s: on June 26, 1936, the Fw-61 took off for the first time with test pilot Ewald Rohlfs. It is the first helicopter in the world that can take off vertically on its own and without aids and that stays in the air for a few minutes.

The Fw-61 is a curious flying machine with a fuselage. The rotors are arranged to the left and right of the fuselage, rotating in opposite directions and providing the necessary lift.

The small propeller only serves the purpose of cooling the engine. The flight angle and flight inclination of the Fw-61 are controlled by the pilot via the inclination of the rotor blades.

After the first flight, important aviation pioneers such as the American Charles Lindbergh and the Russian Igor Sikorsky come to Bremen to study the technical marvel. The Fw-61 sets a new long-range helicopter world record with more than 109 kilometers.

With a flight time of one hour and 20 minutes, the helicopter can reach a height of 2439 meters. A new chapter in aviation history begins with the Fw-61.

The Focke-Achgelis company in World War II

The Focke-Wulf-Albatros-Werke developed into a major military enterprise, so that Henrich Focke often felt restricted in his work. Together with the German aerobatic master Gerd Achgelis, he therefore founded a company in 1937 at the location of the old margarine factory in Hoykenkamp near Bremen.

The Bremen Senate awards him the title of professor for his successes and Focke teaches at the Technical University in Bremen. In 1938 he begins building the "Hornet" - a helicopter that can be used both civilly and militarily.

It is equipped with an 800 HP engine and can carry a load of 1000 kilograms. The first prototype is already in front of the assembly workshop a year later.

With the outbreak of war, Focke received instructions from the Reich Aviation Ministry to intensify work on a version of a military helicopter. The Fa 223, also known as the "Dragon", has a closed pulpit for the first time and is to be used for transports, for submarine hunting, as well as for rescue and reconnaissance.

Due to ongoing bombing, only 20 machines are completed. After the end of the war, the Allies found two more helicopters that could fly.

One goes to the USA dismantled, the other is the first helicopter to be flown across the Channel to England. For many years the Fa 223 has been the largest, most viable and fastest helicopter in the world.

After the war abroad

Focke's work is expropriated by the French allies and he is brought to Paris as a prisoner of war. As a consulting engineer, he then works on new helicopter projects in France. Among other things, he developed the original model for the later successful "Alouette" - an observation helicopter with a turbine engine for up to four passengers.

After intermediate stops as a high-speed helicopter designer in France, Brazil and the Netherlands, Henrich Focke returned to Germany, his place of birth, Bremen.

Together with the automobile manufacturer Borgward, he developed the "Kolibri" travel helicopter, which was supposed to take traffic off the streets and be faster than a car - a helicopter for private individuals.

The first German post-war helicopter does not go into series production because the Borgward Group has economic difficulties and eventually has to file for bankruptcy. In addition, the German materials industry is not yet in a position to deliver individual pieces for the "Kolibri".

Fockes wind tunnel

At the age of 70, Focke built a wind tunnel with the help of his wife and sons. He designed the aeronautical laboratory based on the model of his facility destroyed in the war. He spends almost every day in his new wind tunnel to devote as much time as possible to open questions about aerodynamics and new findings.

Fockes tools are thin plywood, stove pipes, curtains, kitchen scales, tea caddies, twine and wire. He does his calculations without a computer. With the motor and propeller behind the plywood, wind speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour are generated.

The kitchen scales are used to measure the forces acting in the wind tunnel, stovepipes steer and curtains unravel the air flow. Henrich Focke used his wind tunnel until 1975. He dies on February 25, 1979.

Fockes wind tunnel was not discovered until 1997. It is exactly as it was when Focke left it in the mid-1970s. Focke's drawing utensils and slide rule are still on the desk as if he wanted to continue the work he had started the next day.

Today schools and universities can carry out scientific experiments in his wind tunnel.

Thanks to Focke's work, Bremen developed into one of the most important locations for the European aerospace industry. Today this offers several thousand people jobs in the companies that emerged from Focke-Wulf.