Most people equate the development of the true helicopter as an

In 1937, while the Focke-Achgelis Fa 61 was making its impressive test flights, Flettner
began developing the Fl 265. This was a small helicopter, compared to its only
contemporary, the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223
Most people equate the development of the true helicopter as an
American achievement, not realizing that the first rotary winged
aircraft were developed in Europe, and that the process was long and
tedious. Although there were Americans who experimented with rotary
winged aircraft, the first successful types were developed by Cierva in
Spain. His autogyros, which were rotary winged aircraft that used a
conventional engine to provide forward thrust, and rotor blades which
freewheeled in flight for lift, began with conversion of World War I
trainers, notably Avro 504 trainers with wings removed and replaced
with rotor blades.
Later, Cierva developed original designs and autogyros, while never
completely successful in a commercial sense, were used during the
thirties in small numbers. American producers of autogyros include
Pitcairne and Kellett. At least one Pitcairne, owned by the son of the
designer, is still flying today. Others are preserved in various places.
The transition from autogyro to pure helicopter, which provided an
aircraft that could actually hover and make vertical takeoffs and
landings, involved the efforts of the German Focke Wulf firm, and the
designing genius of Heinrich Focke. In the early thirties, Focke Wulf
contracted with the Cierva firm to build under license C.19 and C.30
autogyros. Over thirty were built, and based on the experience gained,
Focke decided to try to build a true helicopter.
In 1935, Focke designed and built a prototype of an autogyro which
competed in the Luftwaffe contest to develop a utility and liaison
aircraft. The winner was the Fieseler Fi-156 Storch, and only one FW186, which was essentially a FW-56 Stosser advanced trainer fuselage
with a single rotor assembly and a modified tail and landing gear. This
provides the basis for another kit conversion, but not here.
After the FW-186 project, Focke decided to concentrate on the
helicopter. In true Germanic fashion, he took an engineering
approach, and formulated basic requirements for his aircraft, which
included controllability, reliability, simplicity of control, adequate
performance including reasonable cruising speed, and ease of
maintenance. With these factors in mind, he set about to develop a
pure helicopter, and aircraft with the primary power geared directly to
controllable rotor blades, which provided both lift and thrust.
After the concept was established, Focke test flew a scale model of
the design, and in 1934, this model achieved an altitude of 59 feet,
which was equal to the altitude record for previous manned
unsuccessful experimental helicopters.
Focke selected the Focke Wulf FW-44 Stieglitz as the basis for his
design. In fact, the prototypes were actually conversions of FW-44
fuselages, with wings and tail removed and new equipment installed.
The configuration chosen was two rotors located on each side of the
aircraft, far enough apart to avoid aerodynamic interference. This also
solved the problem of rotor torque, which on single rotor helicopters
required a tail rotor to achieve stability. A 160 hp. Siemens SH 14a
radial engine was located in the nose to provide power for the rotors,
and a small fan was mounted in the usually position for engine cooling
only. The location of this fan was construed by many to be a means of
thrust, and this argument t was used by Sikorsky supporters to claim
that his VS-300, which flew four years later, was actually the first
helicopter. Not so! The FW-61 was the first successful
The first FW-61 prototype, D-EBVU, made its first tethered flights in
early 1936. On 26 June 1936, the aircraft made its first free flight with
test pilot Ewald Rohlfs in control. By 1937, the aircraft had set an
altitude record of 1200 feet, and at that point, Rohlfs cut the throttle,
disengaged the clutch, and made the first autorotational descent to
landing. Later the FW-61 was flown to 8000 feet, setting another
record, and the same day an endurance record of 1 hour and 21
minutes and
a speed record of 76 mph were set.
Later in 1937, famed German woman pilot Hanna Reitsch began
flying the aircraft, setting distance records before her startling
demonstration flights inside the Deutschlandhalle area in Berlin, where
she displayed the helicopter in free flight indoors in an arena area of
100 by 250 feet in front of thousands of people. Films of these flights
were shown in the
United States, stimulating the development process in this country that
led to the Sikorsky helicopters several years later.
A second prototype, E-EKRA, was completed in 1938, and this
aircraft set several records, including a 143 mile straight line distance
flight and an altitude record of 11,243 feet on January 29, 1939.
Due to questions of political unreliability and distrust by the Nazi
Party , Focke left the Focke Wulf firm, but after the Luftwaffe realized
the significance of his work, he was eventually allowed to form
another firm, Focke-Achgelis, which developed the twin rotored Fa
223 transport helicopter, that was produced in small numbers during
World War II.
The origin of this project began when, many years ago, I obtained a
Pegasus 1/72 scale Focke Wulf FW-44 Stieglitz training biplane. It was
a little crude, even by the standards of the day, so I held on to the kit,
hoping that something better would come along. When Huma released
their FW-44 kit a few years ago, my problem was what to do with the
old Pegasus
kit. It did have some good points, but it really was fairly crude by
modern standards, although the fuselage offered some promise. Then
I got the idea of converting it to the FW-61 helicopter prototype, since
the FW-61 was, in essence, a modified FW-44. The basic problem was
research, since there was little information available on the FW-61.
Fortunately, the internet came through, and I was able to find a
pretty good selection of photos, data, and even a small three view of
the helicopter described as being a “factory drawing”. It wasn’t all
that helpful, as it seems that the FW-61 went through several
configurations, with the rotor assembly remaining constant while the
braces and strut assemblies changed from time to time. The only
solution was to pick a photo of the aircraft taken at a particular time
and use that as a guide.
Two good sources for information, besides the photos I turned up on
the internet, were Heinz Nowarra’s GERMAN HELICOPTERS, 19281945, a paperback published by Shiffer Military History, West Chester,
PA, (ISBN 0-88740-289-5) published in 1990, and an article in WINGS
(date unknown) by Mal Holcombe entitled “Vertical Lift: A Little
Known Look
At German Helicopter Development Through the End of World War II,
Which Preceded Our Own By Nearly Two Decades”. I suspect that the
issue was published before 1990, but the copy I have has no
documentation. Both sources have a lot of information, and the
Nowarra book has a number of three views, including that of one
configuration of the FW-61, purporting to be of “:factory” origin.
The Pegasus is not really that good a kit, but it is more than adequate
for this conversion. The fuselage needs some cleaning up, especially
on the inside, as the modifications include revising the cockpit since
the FW-61 was single seat. Once the interior is smoothed out, the
interior can be constructed. I simulated the steel tube structure with
rod plastic,
adding details such as throttle and other controls.
The major problem was getting the right lengths of the various struts,
and this was done mainly by trial and error. I scaled up the three view
drawing to 1/72 scale, and went from there. The engine from the kit
was useless, so I found another one from the spares box, although I’m
not sure which kit it was from. It looks good, though, and that’s what
counts. One thing I did forget to do was to weight down the nose, as
the aircraft sits tail heavy, although the existence of a tailwheel shows
that the aircraft sometimes could sit in that position, even though I
couldn’t find a photo that shows it that way.
The rudder is straight from the kit, but the “T”: tail is scratch built. It
was completely movable, and was not hinged as most elevatorhorizontal stabilizer arrangements. Actually, it functioned more as a
trim tab than as an elevator. The struts were all from plastic rod of
varying thicknesses, but the main rotors were the biggest problem.
After examining photos, I found that a pair of props I have in my spares
box worked perfectly. They were from an old kit I built years ago of the
Tupelov TU-2, the props of which were so bad that I replaced them.
Going on the theory of never throwing anything away, I now found
that the hubs worked perfectly for the rotors on the FW-61. I trimmed
off the prop blades and replaced them with card plastic with suitable
airfoil shapes. These were strengthened by short lengths of piano wire
and super glue. I gave them a slight “down” angle, as that is what
shows in the photos. The propeller in front, actually a cooling fan, was
cut down from a two bladed unit from the spares box. It is painted a
wood color.
Finishing was relatively simple. The airframe was basically silver
with schwarzgrau 66 top decking. The fin and rudder carried the
typical red banner with the white disk and black swastika common on
all German civilian aircraft of the period. Markings are typical MicroScale German code letters. Paints were Testors’ Model Master colors
covered with glosscote lacquer.
I haven’t entered this model in any contests, but I was entirely
satisfied with the result. It is a model of a historically significant
helicopter, one that I would not otherwise have in my display cases. It
does attract attention mainly because of its unusual appearance. And I
am even happier to know that I salvaged a kit that I probably would not
have built otherwise. Now the only question is, what can I do with the
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