The Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 Drache (Dragon) was the world’s first series production transport helicopter. It could transport cargo loads of over 1,000 kg at cruising speeds of 120 km/h and altitudes of around 2,400 m.
Serial production of the Fa 223 began at the Focke-Achgelis factory in Delmenhorst in 1942. The site was hit in June that year by an Allied air raid and destroyed along with the two surviving helicopter prototypes and the first seven pre-production machines undergoing final assembly.
Attempts were made to restore production but were abandoned in 1943, and a new plant was set up at Laupheim, near Ulm. The first helicopter to emerge from the new factory was flown by test pilot Karl Bode for a series of information films made for the Air Ministry to demonstrate the Fa 223’s abilities.
Loads which included a complete Fieseler Storch aircraft and the fuselage of a Bf 109 were shown being lowered with great precision on to vehicles using the Drache’s winch and special quick-release electrical cargo hook.
In early 1944, a Dornier Do 217 crashed high up on the Vehner moor in Lower Saxony, between Osnabrück and Oldenburg, and it was decided to send the Dragon to recover the wreckage. Unfortunately the helicopter ended up crashing nearby before it could attempt to lift the Do 217’s remains.
It was then decided to attempt to recover both using another Fa 223. Flown by Karl Bode and Luftwaffe helicopter pilot Helmut Gerstenhauer, the operation was begun on May 11th, 1944.
A small team of Focke-Achgelis men and a Luftwaffe recovery company had already dismantled the crashed Dragon, and the recovery 223 made ten flights carrying loads beneath it in a cargo net and setting them down where they could be loaded onto road vehicles. All the major parts of the helicopter and the Do 217 were retrieved, and much useful experience was gained.