Aerial warfare in the 20th Century involved active use of very-light aircraft as the type typically provided excellent short-field performance and were generally of inherently rugged design. This gave them the ability to operate near contested frontlines and provide priceless observation or artillery-direction capabilities to the Army. The category was evolved considerably heading into World War 2 (1939-1945) where several classic designs ultimately emerged. During the pre-war period, the German Luftwaffe invested in the Henschel Hs 126 for the role and this series was officially introduced in 1937 and saw production into 1941. Other operators of the design included Croatia, Estonia, Greece and Spain.
The Hs 126 was designed with a braced high-wing monoplane and its undercarriage was fixed while sporting spatted wheels. The crew of two sat in tandem under a framed canopy offering generally excellent views (the rear position was open-air). The fuselage was tubular, no thicker at any part than the Bramo 323 series 9-cylinder radial piston engine of 850 horsepower fitted to the nose and driving the three-bladed propeller. If armed, the Hs 126 typically carried a fixed 7.92mm MG 17 machine gun operated by the pilot and a trainable 7.92mm MG 15 machine gun managed by the observer. In addition to this, a modest bomb load of 330 lb was also possible.
Performance included a maximum speed of 220mph with a range out to 620 miles and a service ceiling reaching 28,000 feet. This gave the aircraft good range and vision over-the-horizon. The high-mounted wing appendages aided short-field operation and the basic arrangement of the main landing gear legs gave them good rough-field performance.
Design-wise, the Hs 126 was influenced by the earlier Hs 122 offering. As was the case with other hopeful Luftwaffe designs during the late-interwar period, the Hs 126 had a test form constructed for evaluation by the air service. Three prototypes were completed, mainly due to inadequacies of their earlier counterparts, and this ultimately led to a ten-strong pre-production order for 1937. Service entry followed in 1938 and the type was fielded as part of the German "Condor Legion" contingent in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) where it was effectively trialled under operational conditions (as were other German weapons).
In service, the Hs 126 gave excellent short-ranged reconnaissance performance in the early-going of World War 2 (some were used in direct strafing actions when needed). However, the series was ultimately superseded by the more-capable Fieseler Fi 156 "Storch" detailed elsewhere on this site. Despite losing its frontline duties by 1942, the Hs 126 was retained in secondary roles like target-tugging and nocturnal light attacker and flew for a while longer.
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