Henrich Focke (1890–1979)

Henrich Focke was a German aviation engineer who co-founded the Focke-Wulf company and produced the first commercially practical helicopter.

Focke was born in Bremen and studied engineering at Leibnitz University in Hannover. His studies were interrupted by the First World War. Part of his military service was in the German air force. In 1924, he co-founded with his university friend George Wulf and Werner Naumann an aeronautical company at Bremen, Focke-Wulf-Flugzeugbau (not connected with the similar-sounding Fokker aircraft company). Focke-Wulf designed monoplanes. Wulf was killed on a test flight of one in 1927.

In 1933, the company took out a license to make a gyrocopter (or autogyro) to the design of the Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva. Between 1932 and 1936, Focke with Gerd Achgelis (1908-91) designed and then built the world’s first practical helicopter, called the Focke-Wulf Fw 61. This used powered twin rotors, unlike the unpowered rotor of the autogryro. In 1938 it set world records for flight duration, speed and altitude in helicopters.

He lost his place on the board of Focke-Wulf in 1936 and the company was taken over by AEG. Focke set up a new company dedicated to helicopters – Focke-Achgelis – at Delmenhorst in Lower Saxony. They devised several models of helicopter for different purposes during the Second World War, including one that could be launched as a surveillance aircraft from a submarine and one that carried heavy loads.

At the end of the Second World War Focke worked with the French company SNCASE, and later for the department of aerospace technology in Brazil. From 1956 to 1961 he worked with the Borgward company at Bremen where he developed a three-seater helicopter, the Kolibri. Later, he remained a consulting engineer for other German aviation companies. He is recognised internationally for his contributions to aerospace engineering.