Mystery Airplane: February 2014
Focke-Achgelis Fa-330 Bachstelze (Water Wagtail)
In 1933, Professor Heinrich Focke resigned as Technical Director of Focke-Wulf to purse his interest in rotary winged aircraft. Beginning by license building Don Juan de la Cierva's C.19 autogyro, he worked with aerobatic pilot Gerd Achgelis toward perfecting a practical helicopter. His Fa-223 Drache was one of the few helicopters, along with the Flettner Fl-282 Kolibri and the Sikorski R-4, to see WWII service.
In early 1942, the Kriegsmarine asked Focke-Achgelis to design a gyro kite to be towed behind a U-boat to extend the "eyes" of the submarine. Its competition was the Arado Ar-231, a single seat twin float seaplane powered by a 160 hp Hirth. Six Ar-231s were produced, but its flight and water borne characteristics were poor and the unpowered Fa-330 was chosen for production by Weser-Flugzeugbau.
Use of the Fa-330 was limited to long range Type IXD U-boats, which after establishment of Allied air superiority in the Atlantic, hunted in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden beginning in June 1942. Although a Fa-330 flying at 120 meters increased the "lookout" range of the U-boat to about 45 kilometers, U-boat captains didn't like the Wagtail due to the need to stay surfaced to retrieve the pilot if they were spotted. Some U-boat captains exchanged they Fa-330s for the powered and more practical Japanese Yokosuka E14Y "Glen" floatplane. After WWII the Army Air Force tested a captured Fa-330 at Wright Field, towed behind a truck. During 1948 it was towed behind a patrol boat near MacDill AFB.
The Smithsonian's Fa-330, believed to be FE-4616, was restored in 1975. It had been part of the captured aircraft display at Freeman Field in 1946. I photographed it at Dulles in 2012. No one was fooled by the Fa-330. Dick Harden of Richfield is this month's winner. Other correct responses cam from Timothy Aneroid, Zach Born camp, Joe Connell, Neil Honk and Ed Wells. Thanks to everyone. Blue skies and fair winds.