The history of the modern day helicopter can be traced back as far as 1936, when just prior to WWII, Germany designed and developed what is often referred to as the original helicopter.  Prior to this, no other aircraft of this kind was available to provide any practicality or useful function.


The design was based upon the autogyros, an aircraft whose limitations soon unveiled the need for vertical lift off.  Plans to develop such an aircraft began in 1932.  By 1934, the first model had been built and provided results that were favorable.  In early 1935, Focke-Achgelis was given an order to build a prototype – designated Fw 61.  Focke referred to its design as the F 61 basing the airframe on this new model on the German training aircraft – the Fw 44 Stieglitz.


Design and Development

The newly designed Fw 61 emerged using a licensed technology for the rotors and a single, radial engine. The engine was driven by counter-rotating twin rotors, which were set on outriggers on either side of the fuselage.    On June 26, 1936, the first of two prototypes took its initial flight.  The second prototype (first flown on May 10, 1937) was able to successfully shut its engine down and land using autorotation.


While these two prototypes were the only ones produced, they managed to set a number of records including altitude, speed and flight time.   In June 1938, they added two additional records to their already impressive list – altitude (11,243 feet) and straight line flight (143 miles).


Specifications for the Focke-Wulf Fw 61 Helicopter:

  • Crew:  1 person
  • Maximum Take-Off Weight:  2,094 lbs.
  • Maximum Speed:  70 mph (sea level)
  • Total Range:  143 miles
  • Rate of Climb:  689 feet per minute


German’s WWII Era Focke-Wulf Fw 61 Helicopter design not only set new records, it provided the basis for future helicopter designs.