Rise of a legend – the origins of Focke-wulf
The origins of Focke-wulf
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.