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Focke-Wulf Fw-51: The World’s First Helicopter

Aviation is a fairly new endeavor. The Wright Brothers kicked off the start with a functioning plane at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. The brothers launched the first successful plane flight on December 17, 1903.

Within forty years the first Helicopter followed. The Focke-Wulf Fw-51‘s first flight was on June 26, 1936. If you look at a picture of the German-made helicopter, it resembles that of a plane with the exception of extended wings and rotators on top. (The body looks identical to planes at the time.) But the inception of the first helicopter had to start somewhere.

The Focke-Achgelis company made the Focke-Wulf Fw-61. Henrich Focke, a professor, developed the FW-186.

About the Developer

Henrick Focke was born on October 8, 1890, and lived until February 245, 1979. Focke was an aviation engineer. Similar to the Wright Brother’s contributions to aviation (they developed the steering system for planes commonly found even in today’s planes), Focke had his own contribution to aviation. He assisted with developing the turbo-shaft system that is still used on many helicopters to this day.

Focke desired an aircraft that could fly vertically. He worked with Gerd Acheglis on a design that would become the start of the helicopter. But it did not happen overnight.

The Details of the Focke-Wulf Fw-61

When compared to modern day helicopters, the details of the Focke-Wulf Fw-61 appears simple. Helicopters had to start somewhere. Only one crew member can fit in the helicopter. The helicopter was 23 feet long and was 8 feet and 8 inches tall. Empty, the helicopter weighed approximately 1,764 pounds, and it could only hold an additional 330 pounds. The rotors had a diameter of 23 feet and the helicopter could only reach a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour. The Focke-Wulf Fw-61 had a cruising speed of 56 miles per hour and could fly for 143 miles. It could reach the altitude of 11,243 feet.

The First Flight and A Bad Ass Female Pilot

The first flight took place on February 19, 1938. A crowd attended the take off in the Deutschlandhalle arena (a sports stadium in Berlin). The test pilot was Hanna Reitsch-a German test pilot who tested many aircraft -was only 25 years old at the time. She circled the arena and landed the helicopter gently.

Reitsch was far from done; she repeated her performance for 14 evenings in a row. Reitsch set several aviation records, including for the altitude, flight duration, and speed. On January 29, 1939, she set the altitude record of 11,243 feet that broke the current one of 1,984 feet.

A Lasting Memory

While neither of the two helicopters created survived World War II, replicas have been made as a homage to their aviation contributions. One such replica is on display at the Hubschraubermuseum in Buckeburg, Germany.

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Focke-Wulf Fw-51: The World’s First Helicopter


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