The Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 Drache (Dragon) was a twin-rotor helicopter that entered service in small numbers late in the Second World War. It was originally developed as a six-passenger transport helicopter, the Fa 266 Hornisse (Hornet), which was itself a development of the Focke-Wulf Fw 61/ Focke-Achgelis Fa 61, the first practical helicopter in the world.
The Fa 61 made its maiden flight in 1936 and over the next three years set a number of rotor aircraft speed range and height records. The success of the Fa 61 convinced Deutsche Lufthansa to order a six-seat civil transport version from Focke-Achgelis.
The new Fa 266 was a scaled up version of the Fa 61. Like the earlier helicopter it had two rotors, carried side-by-side at the end of struts that connected them to the main fuselage. Power was provided by a 1,000hp BMW engine that was mounted in the fuselage, and was passed to the rotors through hollow steel struts. The helicopter was controlled in flight by altering the angle of the rotor blades in different ways (see the Fa 61 article for more details).
The fuselage was split into four compartments. The pilot and observer set in a glazed cockpit in the nose. The load carrying compartment was behind them. Originally this was designed to hold six passengers, but in the military version it had more roles. The military Fa 223 was expected to serve as an anti-submarine patrol aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, rescue aircraft, cargo aircraft and pilot training aircraft, with different payloads in the load compartment.
The engine compartment was third in line, with the tail space behind it. The engine compartment had gaps at the front and rear to allow air to flow into it to cool the engine. The fuselage was built around a welded steel tube framework and was fabric covered.
The prototype of the civil Fa 266 was completed in August 1939, and a series of ground tests began. These were followed by tethered hovering flights. While these were going on the programme was taken over by the military and the helicopter was given the new Fa 223 designation.
The Fa 223 made its first untethered flight in August 1940.
The Fa 223 could carry a variety of different payloads. In all but the training role it carried a nose-mounted MG 16 machine gun, an observers seat and a FuG 17 radio.
As a rescue aircraft it could carry a rescue cradle, winch and electric motor.
As a reconnaissance aircraft it carried the rescue equipment, a hand camera mounted in the cockpit floor and a jettisonable 300 litre fuel tank.
As an anti-submarine aircraft it carried the camera and fuselage bomb racks each capable of carrying a 250kg/ 550lb bomb.
As a reconnaissance aircraft it carried a jettisonable 66 imperial gallon fuel tank,
As a cargo aircraft it had a load carrying beam that could carry bulky loads on cables. The heaviest load carried on the cables was 2,820lb (1,280kg).
The training version could be equipped with dual controls.
Thirty pre-production aircraft were ordered by the German Air Ministry, to be produced at the Focke-Achgelis factory at Bremen. Ten were completed before this factory was bombed by the RAF and production had to move to Laupheim, near Stuttgart. Seven Fa 223s were completed there before that factory was destroyed by Allied bombing in July 1944. A new factory was built at Berlin, with the capacity to produce 400 aircraft per month, but only one was completed.
By June 1942 only two Fa 223s had actually flown, but service trials began. These tests suggested that the Fa 223 would be very useful when operating in the direct support of troops and a new order was placed for 100 aircraft. Another eight aircraft were test-flown at Laupheim, but six of those aircraft were destroyed in the July 1944 bombing and in total only ten or eleven of the Fa 223s ever flew.
In total the Fa 223s probably accumulated around 400 flight hours, with one machine reaching 100 hours. The Fa 223 saw some use as a rescue aircraft. It was also used as a transport aircraft. In 1944 one Fa 223 was used to transport an Fw 190 engine on the cable, well before the same thing could be done elsewhere.
In April three Fa 223s were allocated to Luft-Transportstaffel at Ainring in Austria. Two of these aircraft were captured intact by the Americans in May 1945. One of them was flown to Britain by its German crew, becoming the first helicopter to cross the English Channel. It was used for flight trials but was destroyed in a crash in October 1945.
Although the Fa 223 suffered from a number of problems in service, it was a sound design. After the war two were completed in Czechoslovakia in an attempt to gain some experience in helicopter design. In France work began on an improved version of the Fa 223. Professor Focke took part in this work, and the first prototype of the new Sud Est SE 3000 made its maiden flight on 23 October 1948.
Engine: BMW 301R 9-cylinder radial engine
Crew: 2 normal
Rotor diameter: 39ft 4.5in each
Span over rotors: 80ft 54 5/8in
Length: 40ft 2.25in
Height: 14ft 3 5/8in
Empty weight: 7,000lb
Maximum operational weight: 9,500lb
Maximum take-off weight: 11,000lb
Max speed: 109mph in theory, 74.8mph in practise due to rotor vibration
Climb Rate: 800ft/ min
Service ceiling: 6,600ft (vertical climb), 16.000ft (with some forward movement)
Range: 435 miles with auxiliary fuel tank
Armament: One nose-mounted MG 15 machine gun
Bomb load: Two 550lb bombs