The German Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 became the first true military transport helicopter when it saw active service in World War 2.
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The military helicopter earned its wings over the Korean peninsula during the Korean War (1950-1953) but saw its greatest evolution through experimentation occurring during the 1920s and 1930s. Focke-Wulf, the German company arranged in 1936 and best remembered for its Fw 190 fighter contribution to the Luftwaffe campaigns of World War 2 (1939-1945), began work in the 1930s on a helicopter design which went on to become the practical Fw 61. This helicopter achieved a first flight on June 26th, 1936 and two examples were completed. Interested in the concept of vertical flight for military service, the German Air Ministry commissioned Focke-Wulf to develop an improved form from this approach and, for this work ahead, the Focke-Achgelis company was established between Focke-Wulf co-founder Henrich Focke and German aviator Gerd Achgelis.
Beginning in 1938, the pair headed development of the new helicopter and the initial model became a six passenger transport powered by BMW equipment known as the Fa 226 "Hornisse" ("Hornet"). This aircraft was ordered by Lufthansa for commercial service and garnered the interest of the German military to become the Fa 223 "Drasche" ("Dragon"). A series of "V" designated prototypes then followed with the first completed by the Fall of 1939 to open the critical testing phase. However, continuing development problems ensured that a first flight was not recorded until August of 1940. The helicopter proved a promising design when it reached a speed of 113 miles per hour and an altitude of 23,300 feet in testing.
In its finalized form, the Fa 223 held an unconventional arrangement by helicopter standards of today. It utilized a teardrop shaped fuselage which was heavily glazed at the nose and tapered towards the tail. A tricycle wheeled undercarriage was fitted - which seemed like a modern quality - though the legs were fixed under the main forward mass of the aircraft. The rotors were held outboard along a tube work assembly with a single engine (held in the fuselage) driving the three-bladed rotor assemblies by way of shafts. The empennage included a single vertical tail fin capped by a high-mounted horizontal plane. BMW supplied the engine (a BMW "Bramo" 323D) and gearbox for the helicopter, as it did for the previous Fw 61 design. Despite the inclusion of the engine within the body of the aircraft, room was reserved for a cargo hold as well as for the cockpit, fuel stores, and equipment.
With Germany fully embroiled in the war (now encompassing multiple fronts), development of the Fa 223 continued. However, the program experienced a setback when V1 was lost in a February 1941 accident and V2 was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid. To push the program ahead, V3 was selected as a preproduction design to mimic what would become the production quality "Fa 223E" complete with dual controls for pilot and copilot. This control scheme would also serve well in basic training of the machine for Luftwaffe helicopter pilots to come. As such, more mission equipment was installed on this mark than in the previous offerings but the proven qualities of the preceding V-aircraft were brought along in the V3. Serial production of V3 was started in 1942.
With the Allied air campaign coming into its own, the German war machine suffered mightily with each advancing month and programs like the Fa 223 were severely disrupted as a result. The Fa 223 plant at Delmenhorst was destroyed in a June 1942 bombing raid and forced the production lines to relocate to Laupheim for 1943. This also allowed development to continue and progress showcased an aerial system with lift power akin to a medium-class hauler today. In early 1944, two prototype Fa 223s were successfully used in the recovery of a downed Dornier aircraft along a mountainside - further promoting the capabilities of the machine and of vertical flight in general. Several helicopters were then set aside for training in mountain warfare tasks because of this exercise. In July of 1944 yet another Allied bombing sortie stopped Fa 223 production which delayed further work until lines were reestablished in Berlin where better protection from air attack could be had.
1944 had become a turning point in the war for the Allies which placed the German war initiative into sheer desperation during the early part of 1945. Measures were taken to keep the aircraft from falling into enemy hands during the Allied advance on Berlin but some examples were overtaken during the German retreat. At least two fell to the United States Army and were dissected at length. The war in Europe was over in May of 1945 as attention then turned to the Pacific Theater and the Japanese Empire. An Fa 223 (prototype V14) was flown from Cherbourg in France to Beaulieu in England during September of 1945 marking the first helicopter crossing of the English Channel in aviation history.
The Fa 223 certainly had the potential to make a wartime impression had the program gestated longer than it was allowed to. The Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine both saw a multirole-minded platform and several prominent variants were initially entertained: Fa 223A was to serve in the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role while carrying either 2 x 550 lb bombs or a pair of depth charges. Fa 223B was to be a reconnaissance-minded mount with additional fuel stores aboard for improved ranges. Fa 223C was to be a dedicated Search and Rescue (SAR) platform outfitted with a winch system. Fa 223D was envisioned as dedicated cargo hauler for mountain service. Fa 223E was to represent the dual-control trainer variant.
The most distinct proposed product of the entire Fa 223 line was to become the Fa 223Z (Z = "Zwilling", or "Twin") mating two Fa 223 helicopters to become a four-rotor heavy-lift system. This product was only partially finished before the end of the war, its incomplete shell falling to the Allied advance at Ochsenhausen in southern Germany. The Fa 223 only saw formal operational service with Transportstaffel 40 of the German Luftwaffe during World War 2.
The Fa 223 saw a short-lived post-war service life with both France and Czechoslovakia. The French Air Force operated one example under the "SE-3000" designation with assembly by Sud-Est. Czechoslovakia took on two examples and knew them as "VR-1" with assembly by CZL (Avia). These operated until 1946 as far as is known.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
[ 20 Units ] : Focke-Achgelis - Nazi Germany
Czechoslovakia; France; Nazi Germany
- Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
- Search and Rescue (SAR)
- X-Plane / Developmental
40.19 ft (12.25 m)
80.38 ft (24.5 m)
14.30 ft (4.36 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223E V3 production model)
7,055 lb (3,200 kg)
9,480 lb (4,300 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223E V3 production model)
1 x BMW Bramo 323D-2 9-cylinder radial piston engine developing 1,000 horsepower while driving 2 x main rotors.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223E V3 production model)
109 mph (176 kph; 95 kts)
15,994 feet (4,875 m; 3.03 miles)
435 miles (700 km; 378 nm)
1,000 ft/min (305 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223E V3 production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
1 x 8mm MG 15 machine gun in nose
2 x 550lb bombs OR 2 x Naval Depth Charges
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223E V3 production model)
Fa 223 "Drache" - Base Series Designation; 20 examples completed in all.
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