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Historic Heinkel Recovered

On June 12, one of the best-preserved and least damaged of all World War II aircraft recovered from underwater, a Heinkel He-115B twin-engine floatplane, was gently brought to the surface of a Norwegian fjord near Stavanger and then craned ashore upside down, just as it was found. Not only was the airplane intact, the recovery effort, unlike many jerk- ’em-out attempted saves, was carefully planned and carried out by the Sola Flyhistorisk Museum, which sits barely three miles from the recovery site.

The museum had already built and readied a huge tank of fresh water in which the He-115 will spend the next several years as, they hope, salt deposits leach out of lap joints and fittings where high-pressure hosing would never reach them. (Some experts feel that electrolytic treatment in a citric sulfate bath is the only permanent cure.) The tank is lighted from underwater and has three viewing windows, so museum visitors can see the entire airplane during the process. Fortunately, the Heinkel had lain for 70 years in a part of the frigid fjord that, though ocean-salty, has very low oxygen content, thus inhibiting corrosion. Contrary to popular belief, cold water offers no advantage in wreck preservation and in fact is probably worse for metal and wood, since it normally holds more oxygen.

Better yet, the airplane suffered little crash damage during a botched downwind landing on the day after Christmas 1942. The Heinkel slewed hard and snapped off its left float, then capsized but floated long enough for the crew to scramble out and mechanics to salvage one engine and the remaining float before it sank.

Though the big Heinkel is certainly historic, since no He-115 is on exhibit (much less flying) anywhere else in the world, it’s a stretch to say it’s an important find. Designed during the late 1930s, when not only the Germans but the British and Americans thought that slow, lumbering, lightly armed torpedo bombers would still be effective (only the Japanese got it right, with the fast and capable Nakajima B5N Kate), the He-115 couldn’t operate unless it was unopposed. Still, He-115s made their unfortunate mark on Anglo-American convoys heading for Murmansk, particularly during the weeklong air, surface and submarine battering of the infamous Convoy PQ-17 in July 1942.

The museum has yet to decide whether this He-115 will be restored to nonflying display status or simply cleaned up and left as it was found (albeit right side up). Either way, a floatplane nearly the size of a DC-3 will make an impressive exhibit.

Stephan Wilkinson

Potez Replica’s First Flight

Perhaps because the low-hanging fruit has all been plucked—the P-51s, Corsairs, B-25s and various Grummans already restored to airworthiness—one Texan who happens to be a Frenchman has put into the air a warbird that some of us have never even heard of: a Potez 63-11 recon twin that might be characterized as the OV-10 Bronco of the late 1930s. And no, Jean-Marie Garric didn’t put this Potez back into the air; his Potez is brand-new, built from scratch using long-lost French blueprints.

If aircraft restorers are craftspeople, scratch-builders are the artists of the warbird world, and Garric came to the Potez project having already sculpted two Allison-engine Yak-3 fighters from the ground up. The Potez first flew in July, from Garric’s home base at Harlingen, Texas, in a trio of liftoff/re-land hops. True to the plans in nearly every other way, Garric’s 63-11 has Pratt & Whitney R-985 Twin Beech engines, doubtless more reliable than the original Gnôme & Rhone 9-cylinder radials.

The Potez was…well, let’s say interesting-looking, in a Gallic way. Some of the fighter and light bomber variants were more attractive than the 63-11, which was humpbacked in order to put the pilot’s position higher than the observer’s unusual glassy nose. The 63-11 has been called “an elegant and graceful coffin for its crews,” for though it was the fastest observation airplane in the world, it was still slower than the Me-109, which shot down 63-11s in droves, the heaviest losses of any French WWII type. One version reportedly carried 10 guns, making it one of the most heavily armed warplanes of its time. (Some sources say 12, but that is doubtful.) That gun gallery was still not enough to make them any more successful than the Messerschmitt Me-110, another “fighter” twin of the time.

The Potez will live forever in literature nonetheless. Antoine de Saint-Exùpery wrote of trying to survive while flying a Potez 637, the direct predecessor of the 63-11, in his classic book Flight to Arras.

Stephan Wilkinson

E-volo Takes Lindbergh Prize

Multiple-overhead-rotor flying machines were common early on in helicopter development. Louis-Charles and Jacques Breguet’s Gyroplane No. 1 and George de Bothezat’s “Flying Octopus” were notable examples. Once engineers determined that the torque generated by the rotors needed a precise counterbalancing force, however, the more traditional single-rotor-with-tail-rotor design prevailed. Early inventors did discover that pilots could control helicopters by changing the speed of the rotors with a throttle, but the technology to do so wasn’t there. Ratcheting up or cutting back on the throttle acted too slowly to offer good control because the rotor had too much momentum. Furthermore, safety was an issue. As James Chiles explains in his helicopter history The God Machine,“If any lifting rotor fails in flight, a multiple-rotor helicopter will go fatally out of balance unless it has so many main rotors that losing one or two won’t make a difference….No helicopter has flown with so many rotors.”

Until now. The German company e-volo debuted its radical new multicopter design, the VC1, in October 2011 at Karlsrühe, Germany, lifting 10 feet off the ground for 90 seconds, a flight that garnered e-volo the Lindbergh Prize for advancements in green aviation. And in July 2012 at EAA AirVenture the company unveiled its second-generation prototype, the VC2, with 18 rotors, compared to 16 on the VC1. Both prototypes use small battery-powered, fixed-pitch props whose rotational speed is controlled via a joystick. According to e-volo, the VC1 can fly for 20 minutes on current battery technology. Besides being the first electric-powered multicopters to achieve sustained flight without ground assistance, the VC1 and VC2 are noteworthy for the simplicity of their fly-by-wire control system. They do not require the cyclic control, collective control and anti-torque pedals common to most helicopters.

E-volo is touting its multicopter as safer than traditional single-rotor or coaxial helicopters. The company says the VC1 can perform a controlled landing even after four of its 16 battery-powered rotors have failed. The planned production version will have a pusher propeller for stable forward flight and a serial hybrid power system to provide sustained flight times of more than one hour, as well as additional batteries in case the range extender fails.

The VC2 has relocated the rotors above the fuselage for improved stability, and added three inflatable balls for landing gear. The company plans to begin a two-year flight test program on the advanced prototype in September, which it hopes will yield a two-seat multicopter with a top speed of 62 mph, ceiling of 6,500 feet, takeoff weight of 1,000 pounds and flight time of one hour. E-volo is also working with the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale to obtain the classification for its new craft, which it calls a “volocopter.” Erik Lindbergh of the Lindbergh Foundation predicts,“If this innovative design reaches the commercial market it will dramatically change the way we move about the planet.”

Stephen Mauro

Civil War Balloon Replica

Historic-aircraft enthusiasts don’t often look to America’s Civil War as inspiration for restorations and replicas— though lighter-than-air craft did provide reconnaissance for Federals and Rebels alike. But a Civil War buff recently took genealogical research to the extreme, creating a near-exact replica of his great-great-granduncle’s hydrogen balloon Intrepid.

Terry Lowe, who spearheaded the replica’s construction, explained to YNN News of Buffalo, N.Y., “My great-great-grandfather was Pembroke Charles Somerset Lowe… younger brother of Thaddeus Sobieski C. Lowe.” The original Intrepid could carry telegraph equipment and an operator more than 1,000 feet in the air. Lowe himself piloted the balloon at the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1862, providing intelligence to Union Brig. Gen. Samuel Heintzelman. Terry Lowe unveiled his creation at the Genesee Country Village and Museum near Buffalo in early July, and Intrepid now floats over the town of Wheatland, N.Y. Its construction was made possible by $400,000 in donations and grants, including a donation of helium from Macy’s Department Stores.

Though strong winds kept the Lowe scion from ascending too high during Intrepid’s unveiling, the latter-day aerobat nonetheless got a taste of his forefather’s pioneering aerial observation. “Oh, it was fantastic,” Terry Lowe told YNN News.“A little bit scary up there this morning, I gotta admit. And that was only 250 feet. So if you’re up a thousand feet or higher, I can imagine what that would be like.”

Stephen Mauro

Texas Thunderchiefs on the Move

Earlier this year, Lackland Air Force Base was the scene of hectic activity surrounding the transfer of four Republic F-105D Thunderchiefs to their new owners. Three recovery teams toiled under the unforgiving Texas sun to claim their prizes: the Kansas Aviation Museum of Wichita (aircraft no. 62-4353); the Freedom Museum USA of Pampa, Texas (no. 61-0106); and the Harrison County Veteran’s Association of Tallopossa, Ga. (nos. 61-0115 and 62-4228). The Harrison County VA will proudly display its two fighters in a memorial park. Recovery crew chief Sammy Robinson says the Thunderchiefs will be mounted in dramatic fashion, with one painted in the markings of Vietnam War pilot Wayne Wadell, who spent six terrible years as a prisoner in Hanoi.

The Lackland aircraft— devoid of armament, avionics, and J75 powerplants— were previously used for security police dog training on the military complex’s simulated flightline. The recovery teams hoisted the jets with large cranes as a flatbed semi trailer truck was positioned beneath the fuselages. Afterward the undercarriages were manually retracted and the wings removed before the “Thuds” were transferred to their new homes.

Rolf Stibbe


Originally published in the November 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.