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Henrich Focke

Henrich Focke (Born 8 October 1890 in Bremen, Germany; died 25 February 1979 in Bremen) was a well-known German aircraft designer and helicopter pioneer. In 1924 he founded Focke-Wulf-Flugzeugbau AG in Bremen, followed in 1937 by the first helicopter manufacturer in the world Focke, Achgelis und Co. GmbH in Delmenhorst-Hoykenkamp, a suburb of Bremen.

Background and Youth

Henrich Focke's father was Johann Focke, who founded Bremen's Focke-Museum. Right to the end of his life, Henrich Focke demonstrated unremitting commitment to research and total fascination with the technical possibilities of flight. In 1908 he started to read mechanical engineering at Hannover's Higher Institute of Technical Education; his studies were interrupted by the First World War and concluded with the award of his diploma in 1920. In the period 1908 to 1921 he teamed with Georg Wulf and others in the construction of several aircraft.

Engineering Career to 1945

In 1924 Henrich Focke joined Georg Wulf and Dr. Werner Naumann to found Bremer Flugzeugwerke, renamed the same year as Focke-Wulf AG on its conversion to a stock company. By 1933 the company had designed and built 29 different types of aircraft, and built a total of 140 aircraft. This included the F19 Ente ('Duck'), a canard design based on a patent dating from 1908, in which Henrich Focke's brother Wilhelm was also involved. The first of three aircraft crashed, killing his partner Georg Wulf in 1927. The three men had spent much time on the development of this aircraft since it promised lower stalling speed.

After the merger between Focke-Wulf and Albatros Flugzeugwerke (1931) Henrich Focke started work on rotary winged flight. He began by gaining experience with the construction and operation of Cierva C19 and C30 autogyros, for which the company had obtained licences. Like fixed wing aircraft, an autogyro must first acquire horizontal speed to develop lift. However, Focke was not convinced that windmilling the rotors was the right solution to achieve flight.

In 1931 the City of Bremen Senate appointed Henrich Focke a Professor to lecture at the Bremen Technical College. In 1933, Focke refused to allow the construction of military aircraft by his factory Focke-Wulf AG, and was forced to leave the management by the Nazis. However, he was permitted to continue with the design and construction of rotary winged aircraft. The result in 1936 was the world's first genuinely controllable helicopter the FW61, which flew in Bremen in 1936. Unlike the autogyro, this machine could take off and land vertically. The new management at Focke-Wulf AG failed to recognise the potential of the helicopter and made Focke's life so difficult that he finally decided to quit the company. In 1937 Focke joined world aerobatic champion Gerd Achgelis to found Focke-Achgelis in Hoykenkamp (Ganderkesee). Before the war began, this was already the location for the design and development of the FA266 large civil helicopter, which subsequently went into series production and saw wartime service as the FA223 Drache ('Dragon') logistics helicopter.
As a result of the war, both the design office and factory had to move several times; in 1944 the company merged with Weser-Flugzeugbau GmbH.

Engineering Career after 1945

After the Second World War, Focke was a prisoner of war in France to 1948 where he worked as consulting engineer in the replication of the FA223 by the State-owned SNCASE in Paris. This helicopter was built in France as the SE3000.At the same time, he designed the single-rotor S.E.3101, the precursor of the Alouette.

In 1948 he returned to Bremen to establish an engineering design office. At that time, the Allies still forbad aircraft manufacture in Germany, so he used his skills in the design of lightweight machinery for the construction of ships, boats and buildings. In 1949 he used the building prefabrication system developed by Professor Willy Messerschmitt to build his home in Horn-Lehe; this was the first house of its type in Germany. From 1948 to 1958 he served as a technical adviser to the British Ministry of Aviation. In 1950 he designed lightweight, streamlined buses for the Norddeutschen Fahrzeugwerken in Wilhelmshaven; followed 1951 in Amsterdam by a four-rotor vertical take-off aircraft; between 1952 and 1956 he designed the Convertiplan and the Beijaflor ('Kolibri'/'Hummingbird') in Brazil.

In 1956 he finally returned from Brazil to Bremen. He then worked for automobile manufacturer Borgward on the development of a further helicopter also known as the Hummingbird, using the experience gained in Brazil. This helicopter first flew in 1958. The project was terminated when Borgward folded in 1961.

The same year, Focke decided to build his own wind tunnel, which was completed in 1963 and remained in use until the mid-1970s. His work focused on the low-speed flight regime, helicopter stability and wake propulsion.

Life Story: Henrich Focke

8 October: Birth of Henrich Fockes in Bremen, Germany.
With brother Wilhelm, first experiments with model aircraft.

First attempts at flight with brother Wilhelm, in homebuilt glider.
Construction of a non-flyable canard aircraft.
Commencement of mechanical engineering studies, Hannover College of Technical Education.

Construction of a powered aeroplane with Hans Kolthoff and Georg Wulf, who conduct the test flights.

First flight of the 40 hp A4 canard and 50 hp A5 monoplane.

Military service; initially as an infantryman; then with the Army Flying Corps

After aircraft crash, transfer to serve as engineer at the Berlin Adlershof aircraft works.

Conclusion of Diploma academic studies in Hannover.
Appointment as designer of water and gas utility installations for Franke-Werken, in Bremen.

Together with his friend Georg Wulf he builds the A7, the first aircraft built and officially registered in Bremen.

Georg Wulf and Henrich Focke set up Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau in Bremen, together with Dr. Werner Naumann. Henrich Focke's aim is to make flying safe. He designs a non-spinning wing and a stall-proof canard aircraft. By 1933, the company has designed 28 different types of aircraft, and built a total of about 140 machines.

Marriage to Louise Meyer.

Georg Wulf dies in a test flight crash in the F19 Canard. Wulf dies instantly from a broken neck.

Merger of Focke-Wulf with Albatros Flugwerken.
Focke begins to study rotary winged aircraft. Licence manufacture of Cierva autogyros.
Focke declines an academic appointment at FH Danzig.

The City of Bremen Senate appoints Henrich Focke to a professorship at Bremen's Technical College.

As a result of Nazi pressure, Focke leaves the management of the Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau company he founded, but is able to continue with the design and construction of rotary winged aircraft.

First flight in Bremen of the world's first practical helicopter, the FW61.

Establishment of helicopter manufacturer Focke-Achgelis in Delmenhorst (Hoykenkamp), together with world aerobatic champion Gerd Achgelis.

Award of an honorary doctorate by the TH Hannover.

Design of the FA233 logistics helicopter.
The performance of this helicopter was not surpassed until 1954!

Merger of Focke-Wulf with Weser-Flugzeugbau GmbH.

Prisoner of War in France; consulting engineer to Aerosudest/Paris for replication of the FA223 (later known as the S.E. 3000)
Simultaneously, design of the single-rotor S.E.3101, precursor of the "Alouette".

Establishment of an engineering design office in Bremen; application of lightweight aviation engineering techniques to ships, boats and buildings.

Technical advisor to the British Ministry of Aviation, London.

Designer for Norddeutsche Fahrzeugwerke in Wilhelmshaven.

Design of the four-rotor vertical take-off "Convertiplan" in Amsterdam.

Design and development of the Beija-Flor ('Hummingbird') in Brazil, first flight 1958. This helicopter was stable in all axes without the use of electronics.

Final return to Bremen from Brazil; development of the "Kolibri" helicopter for Borgward Automobilwerke in Bremen; first flight 1958.

Award of Germany's Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland medal.

The Borgward company is insolvent, ending the company's helicopter development;
consulting engineer to Vereinigten Flugtechnischen Werke (VfW) in Bremen and the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Luft- und Raumfahrt research bureau to 1965.
Award of the Prandtl-Ring by Germany's Society for Aircraft Research.

Award of the Howard C. Potts Medal by the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, USA.

Co-founder of the German Helicopter Museum Hubschrauberzentrum e.V. Bückeburg and Honorary Member of the Association.

Continued research on fluid flow phenomena and the economical use of energy by fauna; the improvement of helicopter stability.

Died in Bremen, Germany, 25 February.