FHanna Reitsch has always been enthusiastic about lies. Born in Silesia in 1912 as the daughter of an ophthalmologist, as a teenager she dreamed of working as a flying mission doctor. She purposefully learned soaring and began studying medicine at the age of 20. Her desire for adventure burned. In 1933, she went on an expedition to South America – now a trained flight instructor – and flew over the landscapes of Brazil and Argentina. However, her aeronautical passion increasingly collided with the demands of university studies. She finally broke it off and was fully absorbed in flying.
But Hanna Reitsch must not have been amazed when engineer Henrich Focke stood in front of her hangar in 1937 and asked if she wanted to fly his “Fw 61”. He held the construction paper of an extremely strange aircraft under her nose. The “autogyro Fw 61”, as it was initially called, looked as if it had the aerodynamics of a brick:
And this pile of tin should fly?
Instead of the usual wings, two three-blade rotors mounted on the side of the fuselage turned in opposite directions. It was equipped with a 160 HP engine, the Brandenburg Motor Works – Bramo for short. A mini propeller at the front did not provide the drive, but rather the cooling of the engine. The control was one thing: the pilot determined the flight angle and flight direction only by the inclination of the rotor blades, which could generate an asymmetrical lift.
And this pile of tin should fly? But Hanna Reitsch flew everything. She had a reputation in the cockpit for having an unbeatable “bottom of the pants feeling” and an almost breakneck bravery. State agencies of the National Socialist regime became aware of her and in 1937 she was called as a test pilot at the Air Force Flight Testing Center in Rechlin, Mecklenburg. There she tested stukas, bombers and fighter planes, became the world’s first flight captain. She was a superstar and completely blinded by the Hitler State.
After his demise, Hanna Reitsch spent one and a half years in internment camps. She was questioned intensively about her – albeit acknowledgedly naive – proximity to the regime, but ultimately denazified in 1947 as “unaffected” because she had never belonged to the NSDAP. This allowed her to continue working as a professional pilot until she died of heart failure at the age of 67. In 1971, at the age of 59, she won the women’s helicopter world championship.
But then a helicopter was something completely different from Heinrich Fockes aircraft of 1937. The “Fw 61” was already airworthy at this point, for which Focke, the aviation-technical lateral thinker, had done years of preparatory work. Since his involuntary departure from Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG, which he founded in 1933, his particular interest has been the development of rotary-wing aircraft. In June 1936, the “Fw 61” lifted a full 1.5 meters from the ground for the first time and remained brave in the air for 28 minutes. A sensation! A year later, it already reached a record altitude of 2,439 meters and a flight time of 80 minutes.