Heinkel Flugzeugwerke (German pronunciation: [ˈhaɪŋkəl ˈfluːktsɔʏkˌvɛʁkə]) was a German aircraft manufacturing company founded by and named after Ernst Heinkel. It is noted for producing bomber aircraft for the Luftwaffe in World War II and for important contributions to high-speed flight, with the pioneering examples of a successful liquid-fueled rocket and a turbojet-powered aircraft in aviation history, with both Heinkel designs' first flights occurring shortly before the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
Following the successful career of Ernst Heinkel as the chief designer for the Hansa-Brandenburg aviation firm in World War I, Heinkel's own firm was established at Warnemünde in 1922, after the restrictions on German aviation imposed by the Treaty of Versailles were relaxed. By 1929, the firm's compressed air-powered catapults were in use on the German Norddeutscher Lloyd ocean-liners SS Bremen and Europa to launch short-range mail planes from the liners' decks. The company's first post-World War I aircraft design success was the design of the all-metal, single-engined Heinkel He 70 Blitz high-speed mail plane and airliner for Deutsche Luft Hansa in 1932, which broke a number of air speed records for its class. It was followed by the two-engine Heinkel He 111 Doppel-Blitz, which became a mainstay of the Luftwaffe during World War II as a bomber. Heinkel's most important designers at this point were the twin Günter brothers, Siegfried and Walter, and Heinrich Hertel. The firm's headquarters was in Rostock later known as Heinkel-Nord (Heinkel-North), located in what used to be named the Rostock-Marienehe neighborhood (today's Rostock-Schmarl community, along the west bank of the Unterwarnow estuary), where the firm additionally possessed a factory airfield along the coastline in the Rostock/Schmarl neighborhood roughly three kilometers (1.9 miles) north-northwest of the main offices, with an second Heinkel-Süd engineering and manufacturing facility in Schwechat, Austria, after the Anschluss in 1938.
The Heinkel company is most closely associated with aircraft used by the Luftwaffe during World War II. This began with the adaptation of the He 70 and, in particular, the He 111, to be used as bombers. Heinkel also provided the Luftwaffe's only operational heavy bomber, the Heinkel He 177, although this was never deployed in significant numbers. The German Luftwaffe equipped both of these bombers with the Z-Gerät, Y-Gerät, and Knickebein, developed by Johannes Plendl, and thus they were among the first aircraft to feature advanced night navigation devices, common in all commercial airplanes today.
Heinkel was less successful in selling fighter designs. Before the war, the Heinkel He 112 had been rejected in favour of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, and Heinkel's attempt to top Messerschmitt's design with the Heinkel He 100 failed due to political interference within the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM — Reich Aviation Ministry). The company also provided the Luftwaffe with an outstanding night fighter, the Heinkel He 219, which also suffered from politics and was produced only in limited numbers, but was the first Luftwaffe front-line aircraft to use retractable tricycle gear for its undercarriage design, and the world's first military aircraft to use ejection seats. By contrast, the only heavy bomber to enter service with the Luftwaffe during the war years – the Heinkel He 177 Greif – turned out to be one of the most troublesome German wartime aircraft designs, plagued with numerous engine fires from both its inadequate engine accommodation design and its general airframe design being mis-tasked, for a 30-meter (100 ft) class wingspan design, to be built to be able to perform moderate-angle dive bombing attacks from the moment of its approval by the RLM in early November 1937, which would not be rescinded until September 1942.
From 1941 until the end of the war, the company was merged with engine manufacturer Hirth to form Heinkel-Hirth, giving the company the capability of manufacturing its own powerplants, including its Heinkel Strahltriebwerke turbojet engine manufacturing firm.
The Heinkel name was also behind pioneering work in jet engine and rocket development, and also the German aviation firm that attempted to popularize the use of retractable tricycle landing gear, a relative rarity in early WW II German airframe design. In 1939, flown by Erich Warsitz, the Heinkel He 176 and Heinkel He 178 became the first aircraft designs to fly under liquid-fuel rocket and turbojet power respectively.
Heinkel was the first to develop a jet fighter to prototype stage, the Heinkel He 280, the first Heinkel design to use and fly with retractable tricycle gear. In early 1942, the photographic interpretation unit at RAF Medmenham first saw evidence of the existence of the 280 in aerial reconnaissance photographs taken after a bombing raid on the Rostock factory. Thereafter, the Allies began intensive aerial reconnaissance intended to learn more about the German jet aircraft programme.
The He 219 night fighter design was the first German frontline combat aircraft to have retracting tricycle gear, and the first operational military aircraft anywhere to use ejection seats. Heinkel's He 280, the firm's only twin-jet aircraft design to fly never reached production, however, since the RLM wanted Heinkel to concentrate on bomber production and instead promoted the development of the rival Messerschmitt Me 262. Very late in the war, a Heinkel single-jet powered fighter finally took to the air as the Heinkel He 162A Spatz (sparrow) as the first military jet to use retractable tricycle landing gear, use a turbojet engine from its maiden flight forward, and use an ejection seat from the start, but it had barely entered service at the time of Germany's surrender.
Following the war, Heinkel was prohibited from manufacturing aircraft and instead built bicycles, motor scooters (see below), and the Heinkel microcar. The company eventually returned to aircraft in the mid-1950s, licence building F-104 Starfighters for the West German Luftwaffe. In 1965, the company was absorbed by Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke (VFW), which was in turn absorbed by Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm in 1980 and later became part of EADS.
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Heinkel stopped manufacturing the Kabine in 1958 but production continued under licence, first by Dundalk Engineering Company in Ireland and then by Trojan Cars Ltd., which ceased production in 1966.
Heinkel introduced the "Tourist" motor scooter in the 1950s which was known for its reliability. A large and relatively heavy touring machine, it provided good weather protection with a full fairing and the front wheel turning under a fixed nose extension. The "Tourist" had effective streamlining, perhaps unsurprising in view of its aircraft ancestry, and although it had only a 174 cc (10.6 cu in), 9.5 bhp 4-stroke engine, it was capable of sustaining speeds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) (official figures 58 miles per hour (93 km/h)), given time to get there.
Heinkel also made a lighter 150 cc (9.2 cu in) scooter called the Heinkel 150.
Heinkel built the Perle moped from 1954 to 1957. The Perle was a sophisticated cycle with a cast alloy unit frame, rear suspension, a fully enclosed chain with part of the chain enclosure integral with the swingarm, and interchangeable wheels. This high level of sophistication came at a high cost. As with most mopeds, it had a two-stroke engine with a displacement of 50cc that operated on a mixture of gasoline and lubrication oil. Approximately twenty-seven thousand Perles were sold.
THE HEINKEL K2 catapult installed upon the North German Lloyd liner "Bremen," which figured prominently in the establishment of the recent trans-Atlantic mail record, is the result of two years of experimentation and development by Dr. Ernst Heinkel, its designer.
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