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Heinkel He 59 - Nazi Germany, 1935

Detailing the development and operational history of the Heinkel He 59 Reconnaissance / Attack Floatplane Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 4/3/2017; Authored by Langley Hester; Content ¬©

  Heinkel He 59  
Picture of Heinkel He 59

A pre-war design, the Heinkel He 59 floatplane biplane was outmatched heading into 1944 and did not survive in service long enough to see the end of the conflict.

Because of the restrictions heaped upon Germany after the close of World War 1 (1914-1918), its military buildup heading into World War 2 (1939-1945) was mostly handled in secrecy. Tanks were developed under the guise of farming equipment and aircraft were developed under civilian motives. The latter proved the case for the Heinkel 59, a maritime biplane that went on to serve the German military throughout most of the Second World War. 142 of the type were produced with a first flight recorded in September of 1931, a service introduction in 1935, and formal retirement coming in 1944. The He 59 was also a Battle of Britain (1940) veteran.

The Heinkel concern of Germany was established in 1922 during the post-World War 1 years by Ernst Heinkel himself. In the 1930s, the German military was restructuring and growing in its capabilities by a variety of means. At the beginning of the decade, Heinkel was in development of a new biplane to interest the German Navy (Reichsmarine) under the guise (to the watching world) that it was a civilian-minded passenger/cargo hauler. This product became the He 59 and begat both a sea-based floatplane and land-based prototype as the He 59a and He 59b respectively. The land-based b-model product was the first to achieve flight between the two though the sea-based a-model became the definitive form.

The aircraft featured a traditional biplane wing arrangement encompassing an upper and lower wing section braced by a network of struts and cabling. The fuselage was of a generally tubular shape though with slab-style side panels. A dual-engine configuration was accepted and these nacelles were set outboard of the fuselage within the bays of the biplane wing assembly. Open-air cockpits were featured for the standard operating crew of three to four personnel. The tail unit showcased a single vertical fin with low-set horizontal planes. Dimensionally, the He 59 became a relatively large seaplane with a running length of 57 feet, a wingspan of 77.8 feet, and a height of 23.3 feet. The floatplane version held two large pontoons as its undercarriage and these housed fuel stores as well. Overall construction of the aircraft was of fabric, steel, and wood. An internal bomb bay was also fitted.

The German Luftwaffe adopted the He 59 as a torpedo bomber and maritime reconnaissance platform. In time, these roles broadened to also include mine-laying, general transport, search/rescue, and pilot training. A collection of these aircraft were used by the German Condor Legion operating during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the war proving a testbed of sorts for new German equipment such as the famous Messerschmitt Bf 109 monoplane fighter. When World War found Europe once more in September of 1939, the aircraft was again pressed into its base torpedo attack role with mine-laying duties as well. Reconnaissance sorties were peppered throughout its early service career before the line was used in the other listed roles heading into 1942. The Finnish Air Force operated no more than four of the type in the reconnaissance role and this only for a short while in 1943. By 1944, the series had met its technological and operational end - heavily outclassed by new breeds of floatplanes and intercepting monoplane fighters of the enemy.

In practice, the He 59 was regarded as a good handling aircraft though not without fault in its design. The engines - 2 x BMW VI ZU V12 liquid-cooled engines of 660 horsepower each - were deemed underpowered for the airframe and thusly performance was never up to par. Performance specifications included a maximum speed of 137 miles per hour with cruising speeds in the 115mph range. Operational ranges (585 base miles, 950 miles ferry) were another limiting quality that forced reliance on auxiliary fuel tanks for increased service reaches. The aircraft's service ceiling reached 11,480 feet. Armament was another noted deficiency of the product - 3 x 7.92mm MG 15 machine guns were used in defensive positions at the nose, dorsal, and ventral areas. The offensive-minded bomb load equaled 2,200lb of conventional drop bombs or a single 1,764lb torpedo. Generally slow and plodding, the He 59 could easily fall victim to Allied fighters or warships happening to come across it.

Heinkel built several variants of its He 59 product led by the He 59a and He 59a "one-off" prototypes. He 59A were fourteen test aircraft He 59B-1 served as sixteen preproduction mounts. The He 59B-2 was an improved form and He 59B-3 became a reconnaissance minded variant. He 59C-1 was an unarmed trainer followed by He 59C-2 as an Air-Sea rescue aircraft outfitted with appropriate equipment. He 59D-1 was a "combination" mark that included the facilities and functionality of both the C-1 and C-2 variants. He 59E-1 was a dedicated torpedo bomber trainer and He 59E-2 a reconnaissance trainer. Similarly He 59N served in navigation training and were converted through a stock of existing He 59D-1 airframes.

Heinkel He 59B Specifications

Service Year: 1935
Type: Reconnaissance / Attack Floatplane Aircraft
National Origin: Nazi Germany
Manufacturer(s): Heinkel - Nazi Germany
Total Production: 142

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 3 or 4
Overall Length: 57.09 feet (17.4 meters)
Overall Width: 77.76 feet (23.70 meters)
Overall Height: 23.29 feet (7.10 meters)

Weight (Empty): 11,045 lb (5,010 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 20,106 lb (9,120 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 2 x BMW VI 12-cylinder liquid-cooled engines developing 660 horsepower each.

Maximum Speed: 119 knots (137 mph; 220 kph)
Maximum Range: 945 nautical miles (1,087 miles; 1,750 km)
Service Ceiling: 11,483 feet (3,500 meters; 2.17 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 660 feet-per-minute (201 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

1 x 7.92mm MG 15 machine gun in nose position
1 x 7.92mm MG 15 machine gun in dorsal position
1 x 7.92mm MG 15 machine gun in ventral position

Up to 2,200lb of conventional drop ordnance (2 x 1,100lb OR 4 x 550lb OR 20 x 110lb bombs) OR 1 x 1,764lb torpedo.

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Finland; Nazi Germany; Spain

Model Variants

He 59 - Base Series Designation
He 59a - Initial one-off floatplane prototype
He 59b - Initial one-off land-based prototype
He 59A - Evaluation aircraft; 14 examples
He 59B-1 - Pre-production aircraft; 16 examples
He 59B-2 - Improved B-1 model
He 59B-3 - Dedicated reconnaissance model
He 59C-1 - Unarmed trainer variant
He 59C-2 - Search and Rescue (SAR) variant
He 59D-1 - Combination variant of C-1 and C-2 marks
He 59E-1 - Torpedo Bomber Trainer
He 59E-2 - Reconnaissance Trainer
He 59N - Navigation Trainer; converted from existing D-1 production models.

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