Rise of a leg­end – the ori­gins of Focke-wulf

The ori­gins of Focke-wulf

Aviation Classics - - CONTENTS -

Hen­rich Focke was al­most the ar­che­typal post­war avi­a­tion pi­o­neer – a First World War vet­eran with bright ideas but lit­tle busi­ness sense. Born in Bre­men, north-west Ger­many, in 1890, he be­came fas­ci­nated by the ex­ploits of the Wright broth­ers as a school­boy and be­gan mak­ing model aero­planes. By the time he was 18 he had de­vel­oped a rest­less urge to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­i­ties of fly­ing and built a glider with his brother Wil­helm – who had al­ready de­signed a pusher aero­plane in 1908 and had one of his de­signs con­structed by the Rumpler com­pany in 1909.

The Focke-wulf com­pany was founded in 1924 by ide­al­is­tic air­craft designer Hen­rich Focke, pi­lot Ge­org Wulf and busi­ness­man Wal­ter Nau­mann. A decade later one of them was dead and an­other side­lined, the com­pany had changed be­yond all recog­ni­tion and there was a new man at the top – Kurt Tank.

Hen­rich be­gan to study me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity in Hanover in 1912 and worked on an­other pusher de­sign with his brother based around an 8hp NSU en­gine they had been given. The lack of power meant that the aero­plane failed to be­come air­borne how­ever. Un­de­terred, Hen­rich came up with a new de­sign based on the same NSU unit, this time with the pro­pel­ler at the front, and worked on it with his friend Hans Kolthoff rather than his brother. The Kolthoff-focke A 4 was a sim­i­larly un­der­pow­ered fail­ure but the friends were then joined by a 17-year-old ap­pren­tice called Ge­org Wulf.

Drawing on their hard-won ex­pe­ri­ence the trio built a sin­gle-seat mono­plane, the A 5, which was flown suc­cess­fully for the first time by Kolthoff to­wards the end of the year. The A 5 be­came the trio’s work­horse and it was al­tered re­peat­edly to test new ad­just­ments and con­fig­u­ra­tions. Wulf taught him­self to fly and af­ter a year of trial and er­ror a sec­ond suc­cess­ful aero­plane, the A 6, was com­pleted. When the First World War be­gan in Au­gust 1914, both Focke and Wulf vol­un­teered to join the Ger­man Army but Focke was ini­tially re­jected af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with a weak heart. A few months later how­ever he was ac­cepted into In­fantry Reg­i­ment ‘Bre­men’ (1 Hanseatic) No. 75 and served briefly on the Eastern Front. With the help of a friend, in 1915 he se­cured a trans­fer to the Ger­man air force as an en­gine me­chanic. He served at Torun in Poland and Kovno in what is now Lithua­nia be­fore com­ing down with malaria and be­ing in­valided back to Ger­many. Hav­ing re­cov­ered he re­joined the air force but less than two years later at Rheims, while fly­ing as a pas­sen­ger aboard a two-seater DFW C.V dur­ing a me­chan­i­cal flight check, he was in­volved in a se­ri­ous crash. A trip to hos­pi­tal fol­lowed and then work with the Ger­man gov­ern­ment’s di­rec­torate of air­craft pro­duc­tion at Ber­lin as the war drew to a close. In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the con­flict, and in the in­ter­ests of strip­ping the en­emy of weapons, the vic­to­ri­ous Al­lies made it il­le­gal to pro­duce aero en­gines in Ger­many. The coun­try’s avi­a­tion in­dus­try all but col­lapsed and Focke took the op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to uni­ver­sity and fi­nally re­ceived his en­gi­neer­ing di­ploma in 1920. He got a designing wa­ter and gas sys­tems for the Bre­men-based Francke Com­pany. The man­u­fac­ture of new civil air­craft was even­tu­ally per­mit­ted but per­for­mance was strictly limited. Types could not ex­ceed 170kph, fly higher than 4000m, go fur­ther than 300km or carry a cargo heav­ier than 600kg. Focke, now re­united with his friend Ge­org Wulf, con­structed the Focke-wulf A 7 Storch (Stork) in 1921 – a two-seater mono­plane that con­tin­ued their pre­war ex­per­i­ments. Un­like those ex­per­i­ments how­ever, the A7 was ap­proved for the Ger­man civil reg­is­ter by the In­ter Al­lied Con­trol Com­mis­sion and re­ceived the reg­is­tra­tion D-264 in 1922. Ini­tially pow­ered by a 50hp Ar­gus en­gine, it was re­built with a 55hp Siemens Sh 10 fol­low­ing a crash. De­spite its ini­tial short­com­ings, the up­graded A 7 im­pressed a group of Bre­men busi­ness­men so much that they agreed to bankroll Focke and Wulf in the estab­lish­ment of a new avi­a­tion firm, the Bre­mer Flugzeug­bau AG on Oc­to­ber 23, 1923. The name was changed to Focke-wulf Flugzeug­bau AG on Jan­uary 1, 1924, and the com­pany shared premises at Bre­men aero­drome with the Deutsche Aero Lloyd air­line. The com­pany’s fi­nan­cial back­ers were led by wealthy avi­a­tion en­thu­si­ast Dr Ludwig Roselius, founder and owner of Bre­men based Kaf­fee HAG – a hugely suc­cess­ful com­pany which had pi­o­neered the world’s first com­mer­cial de­caf­feina­tion process. Roselius’s in­jec­tion of 200,000 marks got the com­pany off the ground but also gave him a very strong say in how it was run. Nev­er­the­less, it was a dream come true for Focke. He be­came the com­pany’s tech­ni­cal direc­tor with his friend Wulf as the test pi­lot. An as­so­ciate of Dr Roselius, Dr Werner Nau­mann, was brought on board as the com­mer­cial direc­tor. The faith of Dr Roselius was re­warded when Focke came up with

the com­pany’s first truly suc­cess­ful de­sign just six months into its ex­is­tence. The mono­plane A 16 was a light pas­sen­ger air­craft ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing three or four peo­ple depend­ing on spec­i­fi­ca­tion. It first flew on June 23, 1924, and a to­tal of 23 were built. While pro­duc­tion was still on­go­ing, an­other de­sign, the S 1 two-seat trainer was built in 1925 and in 1926 a twin en­gine trainer ver­sion of the A 16, the GL 18, joined the com­pany’s sta­ble. Strength­en­ing his grip on the com­pany, Dr Roselius was ap­pointed as chair­man in 1925. By now, Focke-wulf had its own ded­i­cated premises in Bre­men and took ad­van­tage of the space to build a new trans­port air­craft ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing eight peo­ple – the A 17 Möwe (Seag­ull). This was es­sen­tially an en­larged and mod­ernised ver­sion of the A 16. Now Focke was able to in­dulge his de­sire to ex­per­i­ment with tail-first air­craft with the un­usual F 19 Ente (Duck). This mono­plane had its main wings, each with an un­der­slung 110hp Siemens en­gine, mounted to­wards the rear of the fuse­lage near the fin. The ‘tail planes’ were fixed to an ar­range­ment of struts at the end of the air­craft’s long nose – the struts be­ing in­tended to af­ford the pi­lot bet­ter visibility. The F 19 had a crew of two and could carry two pas­sen­gers. It first flew, suc­cess­fully, on Septem­ber 2, 1927. Af­ter 14 more un­event­ful test flights, and dur­ing a demon­stra­tion to show how the type could man­age on a sin­gle en­gine, the F 19 span out of con­trol and crashed into the ground. The pi­lot, Ge­org Wulf him­self, died in­stantly of a bro­ken neck. It was later determined that a con­trol rod had bro­ken in mid-air, caus­ing Wulf to lose con­trol. Stunned by the death of his friend and the co-founder of his com­pany, Focke was nev­er­the­less determined to press ahead and in 1928 an­other light air­craft, the S 24 Kieb­itz (Pee­wit) was pro­duced. A sec­ond F 19 was built in 1930 and the Danzig In­sti­tute of

Tech­nol­ogy of­fered Focke a po­si­tion but he turned it down. Focke-wulf was still only em­ploy­ing 150 peo­ple by 1931, some of them part-timers, and the com­pany had yet to find an­other prod­uct ca­pa­ble of match­ing the suc­cess of the A 16 and A 17. Hen­rich Focke was not de­vel­op­ing the air­craft that Focke-wulf needed to pro­duce to be­come a profit-mak­ing con­cern and the com­pany sur­vived on gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies and Kaf­fee HAG money. Dr Roselius, who had be­come even wealth­ier fol­low­ing the sale of Kaf­fee HAG’S US busi­ness to the Kellogg com­pany in 1928, was dis­sat­is­fied with the sit­u­a­tion but a so­lu­tion was about to present it­self. The global fi­nan­cial crash of 1929 had led to the Great De­pres­sion, which saw the Ger­man econ­omy brought to its knees. The coun­try’s avi­a­tion in­dus­try, which had been per­ilously frag­ile to begin with, was put un­der enor­mous pres­sure. Al­ba­tros, the Ber­lin-based com­pany which had pro­duced so many of the First World War’s best Ger­man air­craft, went bank­rupt. Hun­dreds of skilled jobs that Ger­many could ill af­ford to lose were put at risk. Seiz­ing on the op­por­tu­nity, Roselius had Neu­mann ar­range for the merger of his pet air­craft man­u­fac­turer Focke-wulf with the ail­ing gi­ant. The goals were to res­cue Al­ba­tros, gain con­trol of its huge Ber­lin-based man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties and in­ject some fresh blood into the stag­nant Bre­men firm. As a per­sonal friend of Adolf Hitler and a sup­porter of Ger­man rear­ma­ment, it is likely that Roselius also had other plans in mind for the newly ac­quired Al­ba­tros fa­cil­i­ties. In any case, the move cer­tainly served to trans­form the for­tunes of Focke-wulf and dramatically in­creased its pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity. It also re­sulted in Hen­rich Focke be­com­ing fur­ther dis­tanced from the in­ter­nal work­ings of the firm that bore his name as a large in­flux of per­son­nel from Al­ba­tros ne­ces­si­tated changes to the man­age­ment struc­ture. As Focke-wulf strug­gled to ac­com­mo­date the up­heavals of the merger, not to men­tion the huge down­turn in the Ger­man econ­omy that re­sulted from the global fi­nan­cial crash, Focke with­drew fur­ther to­wards the ex­per­i­men­tal side of avi­a­tion that had al­ways been his pas­sion. The pos­si­bil­i­ties of ro­tary winged air­craft in­trigued him and he ap­plied for per­mis­sion to li­cence-build the Cierva 19 au­to­giro. With large man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties in hand, Roselius’s team set about hir­ing the tal­ent who would de­sign the next gen­er­a­tion of Focke-wulf air­craft. To lead th­ese en­gi­neers and de­sign­ers, a new tech­ni­cal chief was needed. The po­si­tion proved to be an ideal step up for 32-year-old up-and-com­ing designer called Kurt Tank, who had been work­ing un­der Willy Messer­schmitt at the Bay­erische Flugzeug­w­erke.

KURT TANK

Seven and a half years Hen­rich Focke’s ju­nior, Kurt Tank was also a First World War vet­eran, although his front line ca­reer was far more dis­tin­guished. He was born in BrombergSch­we­den­höhe, now By­d­goszcz in Poland, on Fe­bru­ary 24, 1898. His fa­ther, Willi Tank, was a main­te­nance tech­ni­cian at a power sta­tion in Nakel hav­ing pre­vi­ously served as a gre­nadier sergeant in the Ger­man Army. When the war broke out, Willi in­sisted that his son should join a cav­alry reg­i­ment as his own fa­ther had done a gen­er­a­tion ear­lier. Ex­cited by the new field of avi­a­tion, 16-yearold Kurt had wanted to join the Ger­man air ser­vice but his fa­ther re­fused to al­low it. Kurt there­fore en­listed in the army and ended the war as a cap­tain with sev­eral awards for brav­ery. In 1919, he at­tended Ber­lin Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity to study elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing and along with seven other stu­dents formed a group ded­i­cated to the de­sign and con­struc­tion of glid­ers – the only form of avi­a­tion per­mit­ted in Ger­many at the time. They worked on two de­signs, the first was a tail­less mono­plane named ‘Char­lotte’ af­ter the daugh­ter of their pro­fes­sor, Dr Au­gust von Par­se­val. The sec­ond was Tank’s de­sign – a more tra­di­tion­ally shaped shoul­der-wing mono­plane that he called ‘Teufelchen’ (Lit­tle Devil). Con­vinced that his glider was vi­able as a pro­duc­tion de­sign, Tank and his friend Ge­org Gillert took it to Al­ba­tros but the com­pany’s tech­ni­cal direc­tor Robert The­len dis­missed it. Tank was dis­ap­pointed but just 10 years later, fol­low­ing the merger of Al­ba­tros with Focke-wulf and his ap­point­ment as the amal­ga­mated firm’s chief designer, he would later end up as The­len’s boss. Af­ter dis­play­ing ‘Teufelchen’ at a num­ber of events and en­ter­ing it in com­pe­ti­tions, Tank was forced to land it on rocky ground dur­ing a meet­ing to­wards the end of 1923 and it was dam­aged be­yond re­pair. With the re­lax­ation of the rules gov­ern­ing Ger­many’s avi­a­tion in­dus­try how­ever, Tank was now able to earn his pi­lot’s li­cence at the Borne­mann Fly­ing School in Ber­lin-staaken fly­ing an ex-mil­i­tary LVG bi­plane. Early the fol­low­ing year, Tank hap­pened to bump into one of his old pro­fes­sors at a train sta­tion who told him that Rohrbach Me­tallflugzeug­bau (the Rohrbach Metal Aero­plane Com­pany) was look­ing for grad­u­ate en­gi­neers. Tank ap­plied and got the job, work­ing un­der chief designer Ludwig Staiger.

His pi­lot’s li­cence meant that he was able to fly the aero­planes he worked on as well as designing them and soon he was work­ing on Rohrbach’s se­ries of fly­ing boats. Be­fore long, Tank’s dom­i­neer­ing per­son­al­ity had brought him to the fore­front of Adolf Rohrbach’s com­pany and when, in 1925, Rohrbach was com­mis­sioned to pro­duce a new fighter air­craft for the Turk­ish air force, it was Tank who de­signed it – his first fighter air­craft. It was agreed that two pro­to­types of the Rohrbach Ro IX Rofix would be built and if they proved sat­is­fac­tory an or­der for 50 pro­duc­tion ma­chines would fol­low. Tank’s all metal mono­plane de­sign had a long slen­der fuse­lage and the wings po­si­tion on struts above and slightly be­hind the 600hp BMW VI wa­ter-cooled V12 en­gine. The wings of the first pro­to­type had a pro­nounced di­he­dral which gave the pi­lot ex­cel­lent all round visibility – but they also made the air­craft un­sta­ble, with the re­sult that it would ‘tum­ble’ if not han­dled care­fully. It was also dif­fi­cult to pull out of a spin, once one had be­gun. The di­he­dral was re­moved for the sec­ond pro­to­type but it was dam­aged on land­ing af­ter a test flight in Jan­uary 1927. Once it was fixed, tests con­tin­ued on the sec­ond pro­to­type with favourable char­ac­ter­is­tics be­ing re­ported by test pi­lot Ernst Udet but on July 15, 1927, an­other for­mer fighter pi­lot Paul Bäumer got into a spin from which he was un­able to re­cover and crashed the Ro IX. His death prompted se­ri­ous ques­tions about Tank’s de­sign and the Rohrbach com­pany was called upon to ex­plain it­self at the Haus der Luft­fahrtin­dus­trie in Ber­lin. Rohrbach nom­i­nated Tank to rep­re­sent him. Dur­ing the hear­ing, Tank was told that his de­sign should have been a bi­plane for safety but he pointed out that one of Ger­many’s best fighter air­craft right at the end of the First World War had been the high-winged mono­plane Fokker D.VIII. It was ev­i­dently upon this that he had based the Ro IX and this in­for­ma­tion was ap­par­ently enough to sat­isfy his crit­ics. Tank’s next project was work­ing on the Rohrbach Robbe II fly­ing boat, which was be­ing con­structed in Copen­hagen be­cause its pow­er­ful en­gines vi­o­lated the rules on Ger­man civil avi­a­tion pro­duc­tion. While he was over­see­ing the work, he was vis­ited by Udet. The fly­ing ace, who was the high­est scor­ing Ger­man pi­lot to sur­vive the First World War, wanted to try out the Robbe II as a po­ten­tial ve­hi­cle for a transat­lantic flight he was plan­ning. He had heard that Tank was plan­ning to set some long dis­tance records with the Robbe II and asked him: “How would it be if we com­bined our ef­forts and I could use this time for pre­par­ing for an At­lantic flight?” The re­sult was some test flights with Udet at the con­trols, fol­lowed by an at­tempted record set­ting flight three weeks later with Udet in one pi­lot’s seat, Tank in the other and a me­chanic seated be­hind. They set off with fuel for a 10 hour, 2000km jour­ney plus bal­last to sim­u­late the weight of 11 pas­sen­gers. Fly­ing a tri­an­gu­lar course be­tween Copen­hagen and the Swedish coast, they were mon­i­tored by judges from the Fédéra­tion Aéro­nau­tique In­ter­na­tionale. They had flown the course three times when there was a sud­den loud noise from the Robbe II’S pair of BMW VIA en­gines. They both be­gan to howl and the sea­plane started to shud­der vi­o­lently. Udet and Tank man­aged to keep the air­craft level for a short while be­fore it sud­denly nosed over sharply and hit the wa­ter. Udet shouted: “Fire!” and leapt out of the cock­pit, fol­lowed more slowly by Tank and the me­chanic. In fact, the air­craft had suf­fered only light dam­age and the flames were quickly ex­tin­guished but it was enough for both pi­lots to aban­don their hopes of a set­ting records or cross­ing the At­lantic. Tank’s next big suc­cess was the Ro VIII Roland – a high speed three-en­gined air­liner he de­signed jointly with Staiger and Rohrbach him­self. It had seats for 10 pas­sen­gers in a heated fuse­lage which even boasted a toi­let. Work on the Roland had be­gun be­fore the Ro IX, hence the Ro VIII des­ig­na­tion, but it took longer to com­plete than the fighter. Lufthansa bought five early Rolands, which had open cock­pits, and op­er­ated them on routes across Europe but pi­lots com­plained about the cold. Tank pointed out that he had al­ready de­signed a fully en­closed cock­pit for the Roland but that this fea­ture had been re­jected by Lufthansa. An or­der for nine Roland IIS, com­plete with en­closed cab­ins and a num­ber of other up­grades, fol­lowed. Although his com­pany’s work on land planes was keep­ing it sol­vent, Rohrbach still had his heart set on build­ing sea­planes so Tank re­turned to work­ing on them with the

Ro X Ro­mar – a huge fly­ing boat with a wingspan of nearly 40m and an all-up weight of be­tween 14 and 19 met­ric tons. It was pow­ered by a trio of BMW VIS and flight testing be­gan on Au­gust 7, 1928, with Tank re­port­ing good ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity de­spite its size. Lufthansa liked it enough to buy three. Then the same fi­nan­cial cri­sis that had pushed Al­ba­tros into bank­ruptcy hit Rochbach and Tank could see the writ­ing on the wall. He be­lieved there was no fu­ture in the com­pany’s sea­planes and went look­ing for a new job.

The Aba­tros merger

It did not take Tank long to find a new po­si­tion – as the direc­tor of the project depart­ment at the Bay­erische Flugzeug­w­erke (BFW) in Augs­burg work­ing un­der Willy Messer­schmitt. He joined the com­pany on Jan­uary 1, 1930, and was im­me­di­ately thrown into the midst of a cri­sis. Messer­schmitt’s all metal BFW M20 eight-seat air­liner had suf­fered se­vere flut­ter dur­ing its first flight on Fe­bru­ary 26, 1928, re­sult­ing in the sep­a­ra­tion of its wing trail­ing edge and rud­der. The pi­lot, Hans Hack­mack, bailed out but his parachute got caught on the air­craft’s tail and he was dragged to his death when it crashed. The M20 had been built for Lufthansa – the com­pany had or­dered two be­fore it had even taken its first flight – and the com­pany’s man­ag­ing direc­tor Erhard Milch, also head of the Ger­man civil avi­a­tion au­thor­i­ties, had been one of Hack­mack’s clos­est friends. He was deeply dis­sat­is­fied with BFW and Messer­schmitt’s re­sponse to the ac­ci­dent and Tank found him­self hav­ing to deal with the sit­u­a­tion. He proved to Milch that the M20’s de­sign met the ap­pro­pri­ate safety re­quire­ments but it be­came ap­par­ent dur­ing the course of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that th­ese had been set too low. The re­quired stress tol­er­ances for rud­ders were par­tic­u­larly in­ad­e­quate. Tank told Milch: “At Rohrbach, had we laid out the rud­ders of our twin-en­gined air­craft in ac­cor­dance with the stan­dard stiff­ness re­quire­ments they would have been ripped apart in blus­tery weather when fly­ing on one en­gine. We de­lib­er­ately made them over­strong.” Nev­er­the­less, Milch blamed Messer­schmitt per­son­ally for his friend’s death and there­after did ev­ery­thing he could to stand in the designer’s way, ul­ti­mately forc­ing BFW into bank­ruptcy in 1931 by can­celling his com­pany’s or­ders for its aero­planes. Tank re­mained with Messer­schmitt un­til then but grew in­creas­ingly op­posed to his in­sis­tence that ev­ery­thing about his de­signs should be of the light­est pos­si­ble con­struc­tion. When BFW went un­der, Tank left. His tim­ing was im­pec­ca­ble – the newly en­larged Focke-wulf needed a dy­namic and highly skilled new de­sign chief to cre­ate prod­ucts suit­able for its ex­panded pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity and Tank fit­ted the bill per­fectly. His lead­er­ship skills were im­me­di­ately re­quired to set­tle in the host of Al­ba­tros de­sign­ers who had sud­denly found them­selves part of Focke-wulf. Also join­ing the team was an en­gi­neer Tank had brought with him from BFW – Ludwig Mit­tel­hüber. An­other prob­lem was as­sess­ing the range of Al­ba­tros air­craft de­signs that had also been brought on board as part of the merger. Tank set about test fly­ing ev­ery ex­ist­ing Focke-wulf and Al­ba­tros type – of which there were many – to fa­mil­iarise him­self with their qual­i­ties and as­sess their po­ten­tial worth as com­mer­cial prod­ucts. The first new de­sign that re­quired his at­ten­tion was a for­mer Al­ba­tros re­con­nais­sance air­craft project which now be­came the S 39, later the Fw 39. The S 39 pro­to­type was built shortly af­ter Tank’s ar­rival and the com­pany’s re­or­gan­i­sa­tion. It was a high-wing mono­plane pow­ered by an air-cooled 510hp Siemens Jupiter VI en­gine wrapped in the stream­lined cowl­ing in­vented by the Na­tional Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee for Aero­nau­tics (NACA) in the US just four years ear­lier in 1927. It re­ceived the civil­ian reg­is­tra­tion D-1708 in 1932 but failed to per­form sat­is­fac­to­rily de­spite Tank’s best ef­forts to amend the orig­i­nal de­sign. It was dam­aged dur­ing testing and scrapped. Next up was the A 40, later the Fw 40, an­other ex-al­ba­tros re­con­nais­sance de­sign. It looked sim­i­lar to the S 39 but ditched the NACA cowl­ing. Han­dling was sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter too. Un­for­tu­nately, the de­sign went up against the Heinkel He 46 in a Ger­man Army re­con­nais­sance plat­form com­pe­ti­tion and lost. Just one S 39 was made com­pared to 443 He 46s. Two fur­ther promis­ing Al­ba­tros de­signs were tested – the L 101 sports plane and the L 102 (Fw 55) two-seat trainer. The L 101, hav­ing first flown in 1930, had al­ready been a rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful prod­uct for Al­ba­tros with 71 built but Focke-wulf de­cided against con­tin­u­ing its pro­duc­tion run. The L 102 showed more po­ten­tial how­ever – although only af­ter Tank had sur­vived a hor­rific crash in one of the ex­am­ples in­her­ited from Al­ba­tros when its wing broke off due to os­cil­la­tions. With a re­in­forced wing and a more pow­er­ful en­gine, the Ar­gus As 10C, around 65 of the newly des­ig­nated Fw 55 were sold to the Deutsche Verkehrs­fliegerschule – an or­gan­i­sa­tion es­tab­lished in 1925 to train com­mer­cial pi­lots but by now be­ing used as a cover to train pi­lots for a fu­ture Ger­man mil­i­tar y air force. Two other in­her­ited de­signs, the L 75 Ass (Ace) and the L 84 were also on the Al­ba­tros books when the merger oc­curred but nei­ther of them were con­tin­ued in se­rial pro­duc­tion. Along­side all th­ese Al­ba­tros de­signs was one last fixed wing ef­fort from the side­lined Hen­rich Focke – the A 43 Falke (Fal­con), and a weather sur­vey air­craft, the A 47, de­signed by one of his staff. The A 43 was a fast sin­gle en­gine tourer which could ac­com­mo­date two pas­sen­gers as well as the pi­lot. It was ar­guably Focke-wulf most in­no­va­tive and mod­ern air­craft to date. Its cock­pit was fully en­closed and was en­tered through a door in its side with­out the need for a lad­der – just like a mod­ern light air­craft.

Not only that, the A 43 had com­fort­able seat­ing, ex­cel­lent visibility, sound-damp­en­ing and in­di­vid­ual ven­ti­la­tion for each pas­sen­ger. Un­for­tu­nately, it also had a high land­ing speed, no flaps and tricky han­dling for a be­gin­ner. Tank loved it but there were no tak­ers ex­cept for for­mer Focke-wulf chief pi­lot Cor­nelius Edzard who flew it for his new Nord­deutscher Luftverkehr busi­ness in Bre­men. Edzard had taken over when Ge­org Wulf died but left the com­pany fol­low­ing the changes brought about by the Al­ba­tros merger. The spe­cialised A 47 Höhengeiger (Vul­ture) was a sur­prise suc­cess. It was an­other high wing mono­plane which ac­com­mo­dated a crew of two and more than 20 were or­dered for ser­vice at weather sta­tions across Ger­many. Now, with the decks cleared, Tank could set about su­per­vis­ing the de­sign of the first com­pletely new air­craft of the re­ordered Focke-wulf – the Fw 44 Stieglitz (Goldfinch) trainer.

Suc­cess and ex­pan­sion

The tra­di­tional-look­ing Fw 44 bi­plane fea­tured two open cock­pits po­si­tioned in tan­dem along the fuse­lage, each with a set of in­stru­ments and flight con­trols. It was pow­ered by an air­cooled 150hp Siemens-halske Sh 14a ra­dial en­gine. Although the lay­out was es­tab­lished by Tank, the de­tailed de­sign was by Ludwig Mit­tel­hüber. It was a process that was to be­come a familiar part of the Focke-wulf de­sign ethos – Tank would ap­prove a lay­out, an en­gine and other de­tails be­fore his team set to work on flesh­ing out the de­tail. Mak­ing air­craft de­sign a team ef­fort was a mas­ter stroke. Tank’s de­sign­ers and flight testers were ac­tively en­cour­aged to con­trib­ute ideas and as a re­sult any prob­lems were usu­ally swiftly over­come, work was com­pleted more quickly and in­di­vid­u­als’ skills were de­vel­oped. The Fw 44 first flew in Au­gust 1932 with renowned stunt pi­lot Gerd Achge­lis at the con­trols but it was found that there were prob­lems with os­cil­la­tion. Tank him­self found the root of the prob­lem while fly­ing back from a test flight in a Stieglitz. He hap­pened to be look­ing at the air­craft’s shadow on the ground when sud­denly the tail’s shadow blurred – in­di­cat­ing vi­bra­tion. Then the whole air­craft shook. Hav­ing landed, Tank had his en­gi­neers check the tail and they found that the vi­bra­tions were be­ing caused by the sep­a­rate ca­bles op­er­at­ing the el­e­va­tors. By join­ing th­ese to­gether to make the el­e­va­tors act as one unit, the vi­bra­tion prob­lem was elim­i­nated. With this is­sue cured, the Fw 44 flew beau­ti­fully, earn­ing praise from ev­ery pi­lot who took the con­trols. Or­ders started to come in and the Fw 44A was in pro­duc­tion by the end of the year. The im­proved Fw 44B ap­peared in 1933 and large scale pro­duc­tion be­gan in 1934. Tank sim­pli­fied the al­ready sim­ple de­sign, mak­ing it quicker to build, and pro­duc­tion con­tin­ued un­til the end of the Sec­ond World War. It was Fock­eWulf’s first mass pro­duced air­craft and be­tween 1900 and 3000 ex­am­ples were built, many by sub­con­trac­tors in­clud­ing AGO, Bücker and Siebel and by com­pa­nies in Aus­tria, Ar­gentina, Bul­garia, Brazil and Swe­den, which built it un­der li­cence. It was also sold to Bo­livia, Chile, China, Cze­choslo­vakia, Fin­land, Ro­ma­nia and Switzer­land. De­spite its huge ex-al­ba­tros fa­cil­i­ties, Focke-wulf had to build an­other fac­tory just to keep up with de­mand for the Fw 44. But this was just the be­gin­ning. As the Stieglitz suc­cess grew and grew, Tank suc­cess­fully per­suaded Dr Roselius, via Werner Neu­mann, to rein­vest some of the newly gen­er­ated pro­ceeds in the com­pany. He then set about cre­at­ing the next range of Focke-wulf air­craft. Work be­gan on build­ing and testing an ex­per­i­men­tal Al­ba­tros de­sign which had been in­her­ited as lit­tle more than a pa­per project – the L 103. Based on the L 102 and re­named

the Al 103, it had a wing sweep and di­he­dral which could be ad­justed, as well as a move­able cen­tre of grav­ity thanks to a set of lead weights in­side the fuse­lage. Testing the air­craft with var­i­ous dif­fer­ent set­tings en­abled Focke-wulf to gather valu­able data for fu­ture air­craft de­signs. Hen­rich Focke, mean­while, utilised an Fw 44 fuse­lage in the build­ing of his next project – the Fw 61, the world’s first prac­ti­cal he­li­copter. Also in 1933, the newly es­tab­lished Re­ich­sluft­fahrt­min­is­terium (Air Min­istry) in­vited sub­mis­sions for a sin­gle seat ad­vanced trainer air­craft. Tank again set the pa­ram­e­ters he wanted used for the de­sign of Focke-wulf’s en­try and as­signed one of the for­mer Al­ba­tros de­sign­ers, Ru­dolf Blaser, and Mit­tel­hüber to work within them. The re­sult was the Fw 56 Stösser (Goshawk) – a slen­der and aero­dy­namic mono­plane pow­ered by a 240hp Ar­gus As 10 C en­gine. The air­craft was thor­oughly tested dur­ing the early part of 1934 and the re­sult was a ma­chine with ex­cel­lent han­dling and good all round visibility that was also very easy to fly. It was pit­ted against three ri­val de­signs – the Arado Ar 76, the Heinkel He 74 and the Hen­schel Hs 125 – and was even­tu­ally judged the win­ner in 1935 with the Arado and Heinkel de­signs a close equal sec­ond. Pro­duc­tion be­gan and around 1000 Stössers were built be­fore pro­duc­tion ceased in 1940. With the bot­tom line now taken care of, Tank con­cen­trated on mod­ernising Fock­eWulf. He tried to pick up a con­tract to con­struct the com­pany’s first all-metal air­craft and was suc­cess­ful when the Tech­nis­che Abteilung (C-amt) within the Air Min­istry re­quested de­signs for a new heavy twinengine mul­ti­role com­bat air­craft. Focke-wulf, AGO, Dornier, Gotha, Hen­schel and the newly re­con­sti­tuted Bay­erische Flugzeug­w­erke (BFW) were in­vited to en­ter the com­pe­ti­tion. Only three com­pa­nies sub­mit­ted de­signs and the BFW’S Bf 110 was re­jected. The Hen­schel de­sign, the Hs 124, and Fock­eWulf’s Fw 57 were se­lected for fur­ther devel­op­ment and con­tracts were is­sued for the build­ing of pro­to­types. The Fw 57 V1 made its first flight in mid-1936 pi­loted by Tank him­self. It had a pair of Daim­ler-benz DB 600 en­gines, rated at 910hp each, a crew of two and a fully re­tractable un­der­car­riage, in­clud­ing the tail­wheel. But it was be­set with prob­lems. The aero­plane was sim­ply too heavy, with the Focke-wulf team un­used to work­ing in the all metal medium. Even­tu­ally, af­ter three pro­to­types had been built, the Air Min­istry re­quire­ment it­self was al­tered and Willy Messer­schmitt’s light­weight Bf 110 sub­mis­sion, which had orig­i­nally been re­jected, was built in­stead. The next twin-en­gine Focke-wulf de­sign, the lighter Fw 58 Weihe (Har­rier), was an­other win­ner how­ever. It was built in par­al­lel to the Fw 57 based on an Air Min­istry re­quire­ment for a mul­ti­role air­craft and had two Ar­gus As 10 C en­gines. Em­body­ing Kurt Tank’s prin­ci­ples of en­gi­neer­ing com­po­nents well be­yond their min­i­mum spec re­quire­ment, the Fw 58 went on to serve as a twin-en­gine trainer, mede­vac and li­ai­son roles. Its lengthy ca­reer, which saw it re­main in pro­duc­tion for 10 years, un­til the end of the war, could fill this edi­tion but suf­fice to say that more than 1350 ex­am­ples were pro­duced. One civil­ian Weihe, reg­is­tered as D-ALEX, be­came Tank’s per­sonal air­craft and he flew it dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly hair-rais­ing episode in Novem­ber 1941. On his way to Bre­men from Paris with col­leagues, fol­low­ing a meet­ing about the pro­posed Fw 300 air­liner, he re­ceived a ra­dio warn­ing about en­emy air­craft in the area. Mo­ments later, he no­ticed a pair of what he took to be Bf 109s ap­proach­ing from the port side. It was only when they closed in that he re­alised they were Spit­fires. They opened fire but missed. Tank pushed D-ALEX’S nose down to try and dive away but it was too late. On a sec­ond pass, one of the fighters fired into the Weihe and shat­tered its left wing, the aileron com­ing away, along with the lead­ing edge of the wingtip. Pre­sum­ably con­vinced that the Ger­man ma­chine was done for, the fighters broke off and dis­ap­peared – but the Weihe was still fly­ing. The en­gines still ran but the air­craft was list­ing badly to the left and the ra­dio man called ahead to Hil­ver­sum air­field to pre­pare for an emer­gency land­ing. Af­ter 17 min­utes the air­field was spot­ted and as they came in to land and dropped the un­der­car­riage, Tank called out: “Buckle up!” He cut the right en­gine, throt­tled up the left to coun­ter­act the drift and set­tled the air­craft on to the land­ing strip. D-ALEX lurched but then touched down and rolled as Tank braked hard. Fi­nally it came to a halt and ev­ery­one jumped out. On later ex­am­i­na­tion it was found that the aero­plane had been hit 47 times – in­clud­ing one bul­let which had lodged in the cush­ion of Tank’s seat. By Septem­ber 1934, Focke-wulf was turn­ing out hun­dreds of Fw 44 Stieglitz air­craft, its Fw 56 Stösser was de­feat­ing its ri­vals in tests and work was pro­gress­ing on both the Fw 57 and 58. Now Tank and his team were handed an­other con­tract to de­velop their first sin­gle seat fighter – the Fw 159.

Mar­cus Kress

The im­por­tance of the Focke-wulf Fw 44 Stieglitz can­not be over­stated – it saved the com­pany from fi­nan­cial un­cer­tainty, es­tab­lished designer Kurt Tank’s rep­u­ta­tion and served as an ex­cep­tional trainer for thou­sands of pi­lots who would later serve in the Luft­waffe.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Ludwig Roselius Mu­seum

Hen­rich Focke, co-founder of Focke-wulf, and com­pany test pi­lot Cor­nelius Edzard in front of the sec­ond ‘tail-first’ F 19 Ente in 1930.The first ex­am­ple had been de­stroyed in a crash three years ear­lier, killing Focke’s fel­low co-founder Ge­org Wulf. Avi­a­tion pi­o­neer Hen­rich Focke. De­caf­feinated cof­fee mag­nate Ludwig Roselius was one of the wealth­i­est men in Ger­many and in­dulged his pas­sion for avi­a­tion by in­vest­ing in, and ex­er­cis­ing con­trol over, Focke-wulf.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

Hen­rich Focke, clos­est to the cam­era, grips the pro­pel­ler of A 16 air­liner D-671 ‘We­ser­münde’. The air­craft, de­spite its odd looks, was his first suc­cess­ful Focke-wulf de­sign and ex­am­ples were op­er­ated by var­i­ous air­lines. D-671 was op­er­ated by Luftverkehr Würt­tem­berg AG un­til 1927. The shape pro­trud­ing from the front of the air­craft at the top is the en­gine’s ex­haust.the pi­lot’s seat was al­most im­me­di­ately be­hind it. The Focke-wulf A 17 Möwe air­liner fol­lowed on from the suc­cess of the A 16 and was a much more mod­ern de­sign. Lufthansa-op­er­ated D-1342 ‘Em­den’ was the third of 11 A 17a types to be built. The ul­ti­mate devel­op­ment of the A 17 was the A 29, pow­ered by a BMW VI en­gine. Five A 29s were de­liv­ered to Lufthansa in 1929.This colourised and touched up pub­lic­ity pho­to­graph shows D-1757 ‘Fries­land’.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

Air­craft designer Kurt Tank pic­tured in front of a Focke-wulf Fw 58 Weihe. The first sin­gle-seat fighter de­signed by Kurt Tank was the all-metal Rohrbach Ro IX Rofix. De­signed for a Turk­ish Army com­pe­ti­tion, two pro­to­types were com­pleted but both crashed as a re­sult of en­ter­ing an un­re­cov­er­able spin. Kurt Tank’s first air­craft – the grace­ful ‘Teufelchen’ glider, seen here in Au­gust 1923. The Rohrbach Ro VIIB Robbe II sea­plane was flown dur­ing a record at­tempt by its designer Kurt Tank and test pi­lot Ernst Udet but crashed into the sea fol­low­ing en­gine prob­lems.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

The high­est scor­ing Ger­man fighter pi­lot to sur­vive the First World War, Ernst Udet spent the 1920s as a test pi­lot, stunt flyer and play­boy. He flew sev­eral of Kurt Tank’s early de­signs and the two be­came friends. Later, he was in­volved in the for­ma­tion of the Luft­waffe and be­came its direc­tor-gen­eral for equip­ment. The sole S 39 two-seat re­con­nais­sance air­craft built was orig­i­nally an Al­ba­tros project but failed to at­tract any or­ders. Hen­rich Focke’s last fixed wing air­craft for Focke-wulf, the Fw 43. It fea­tured an en­closed cock­pit with side doors, com­fort­able seats and air con­di­tion­ing but was sim­ply too dif­fi­cult to fly.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

One of Rohrbach’s most suc­cess­ful air­craft was the Ro VIII air­liner. Lufthansa orig­i­nally or­dered it with­out the en­closed cock­pit de­signed by Kurt Tank but later saw the er­ror of its ways.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion TSRL

Its tra­di­tional looks and lay­out, com­bined with its be­nign fly­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics made the Focke-wulf Fw 44 Stieglitz a huge suc­cess. Kurt Tank’s sec­ond great suc­cess at Focke-wulf was the Fw 56 Stösser sin­gle-seat ad­vanced trainer. More than 1000 were built. Be­tween 1900 and 3000 Fw 44 Stieglitz air­craft were man­u­fac­tured and sev­eral sur­vive in air­wor­thy con­di­tion to­day.this is Fw 44J and was reg­is­tered as G-STIG when based in the UK. It is now in US.

Bun­de­sarchiv Bun­de­sarchiv Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

Op­er­ated in a range of dif­fer­ent roles, Kurt Tank’s Fw 58 was a rugged and mod­ern aero­plane. The Fw 56 Stösser was con­sid­ered as a light ‘home de­fence’ fighter, which led to its se­lec­tion as the ba­sis for the ill-fated Fw 159 fighter de­sign. The heavy two-seater twin-en­gine Focke-wulf Fw 57 fighter-bomber com­peted against Willy Messer­schmitt’s Bf 110 and lost. The strength of Kurt Tank’s Fw 58 Weihe de­sign was tested when a pair of Spit­fires shot up his per­sonal air­craft – reg­is­tered as D-ALEX. It took 47 hits and lost parts of its port wing but kept fly­ing.

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