View Full Version : u boat copter

15th Apr 2022, 17:28
Years ago when I worked at Liverpool Speke Airport I saw in the rooms used by FOLA an unpowered Copter that came from a WW2 German U Boat and I wondered whatever happened to this???

15th Apr 2022, 17:45
You are referring to a Focke Achgelis Fa330 Bachsteltze (Water Wagtail). Designed to be towed by a surfaced U Boat to give an extended range of view.

There are a few of these to be found in UK air museums. I would have to look through some books to come up with a list. If you are up for a bit of research, l would recommend that you start with a recent copy of Wrecks and Relics by Ken Ellis

15th Apr 2022, 17:55
There were 8 Fa330s shipped to the UK in 1945. Identified by 'Werk Nummer' or Construction Number, here is a list:
100032, 100143,100406, 100502,100509, 100545 and 100549. All were manufactured by Weser Flugzeugbau at Hoyencamp near Bremen.
They were tested at the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment RAF Beaulieu by towing them behind trucks.

15th Apr 2022, 18:05
There was one in Keith Fordyce's Torbay Aircraft Museum until it closed in the mid-eighties. An interesting concept.

15th Apr 2022, 18:35
There has been one at Cosford, but it is scheduled for removal as part of a revamp of the exhibitions. I'm not sure where it is going, or when.

An interesting discussion has been going on between a few of us, as to what happens when the sub has to crash-dive, and cuts the autogyro loose. There are three theories. Firstly, that the pilot separates the rotor (there is a big red handle for this) and parachutes to safety. Unlikely, since even a static line, from less than 400' probably wouldn't deploy in time. Secondly, that the pilot lands it. Again unlikely, since it's sitting right in the middle of the "Dead Man's Curve", and has neither sufficient forward speed nor variable pitch on the blades. The third, and most popular is that the pilot releases the rotor, and there is a parachute on a mounting behind him, which brings the whole arrangement (sans blades) down. Wiki has a US Navy identification diagram which shows the parachute.

Assuming he survives, the poor chap is floating about in a big ocean. If the sub survives, it only has a very vague idea where it jettisoned the machine, and anyone with SAR experience will know that the chances of seeing someone in the water, from a conning tower a few feet above sea-level, are effectively nil.

15th Apr 2022, 18:57
As well as the Cosford example, others are able to be seen on display at IWM Duxford, FAAM Yeovilton and the Air Warfare Museum Lashenden. There is a further example in the Science Museum Collection at Wroughton, not that they are interested in actually letting people view that collection......

15th Apr 2022, 19:03
Meant to say, the Liverpool example you mentioned is the one now at Lashenden.

15th Apr 2022, 19:16
Just did a bit of reading and l agree with CAEBr that the Fa330 you saw at Speke is the one now at Lashenden W/Nr 100549.

15th Apr 2022, 20:23
"chances of seeing someone in the water, from a conning tower"

I've always wondered what "Conning" in this context means?
Wikipedia not very conclusive...

Any ideas?


India Four Two
16th Apr 2022, 01:36
It’s where you con/steer the vessel.

“Number One, you have the con.”


16th Apr 2022, 03:27
"chances of seeing someone in the water, from a conning tower"

I've always wondered what "Conning" in this context means?
Wikipedia not very conclusive...

Any ideas?

To go a little further back, from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology by T.F. Hoad 1986.

"Latin conducere, to conduct
(Old) French conduire
Survives mainly in conning tower, pilot house of a warship or submarine"

16th Apr 2022, 05:07
There used to be one at the Science Museum in S Ken. Presumably the one now at Wroughton?

16th Apr 2022, 05:18
There is one in the Deutsche Museum in Munich with a description of the crash dive ditching procedure which included words to the effect that ‚the pilot would then drown in the usual fashion‘.

Regarding conning towers I found the one on HMS Warrior in the Portsmouth Royal Navy museum very interesting. Earlier ships had exposed quarter decks with senior officers being picked off by enemy snipers. The Navy introduced a steel tower to shelter in and this tradition continued and can be seen even in some american battleships. Google USS New Jersey for a you tube film on the subject.

16th Apr 2022, 06:39
Yes, the Fa330 at Wroughton is the former South Kensington one. W/Nr 100509.

16th Apr 2022, 11:15
Picking up on Herod’s dismissal of the option of being able to land in case of separation from the sub, it should be noted that these were of course early gyrocopters and not helicopters. I am pretty sure you could still put the stick forward to maintain airspeed and thus rotor speed while descending as in a modern gyro with engine failure and a bit like a glider with a cable break. You would though have to react pretty quickly to maintain blade energy. I don’t think it would have made much difference to the end outcome however, just delayed the inevitable.

16th Apr 2022, 12:31
This is the one at Cosford

https://cimg6.ibsrv.net/gimg/pprune.org-vbulletin/800x533/43322173550_9edd9bbd9d_c_d5c226e5d32424304f1e31e8c10a0d2735d bf6e3.jpg

16th Apr 2022, 13:41
The Admiralty assessment of the gyrocopter discussed what would happen in the event of the submarine having to dive while operating the gyrocopter. IIRC it said the pilot would make a controlled descent to the ocean where he would drown in the normal fashion.

16th Apr 2022, 15:43
Thanks for your confirmation of my thesis Ninthace. Autogyros enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the thirties followed by over 50 years of oblivion punctuated by a few die hard enthusiasts. I flew one of the more capable models for a few years and remain not terribly convinced by the whole concept. They look great but compared to a 600kg ultralight I don’t believe they are competitive, cost and performance wise and the safety record is nothing to write home about either.

16th Apr 2022, 17:32
lederhosen; I take your point, but don't forget these were probably travelling at the speed of the sub. 15 kts maybe, and possibly not into wind. As you are no doubt aware, the "dead man's curve" is both speed and height definable. 15 kts/400'. Dunno; maybe if reaction is fast enough. Either way, you are gonna die. Break your neck, drown, freeze. Plenty of options, the one about being rescued not really figuring.

16th Apr 2022, 20:23
Herod we can agree on the probably inevitable outcome. But I disagree with a couple of your assumptions. Just like glider winching (or kites) the operation would only make sense launching into wind. Wind at sea is not disrupted by ground obstacles and the combination of boat speed and wind over the deck would be necessary to spin up the rotor. My gyro had a motor connection to prerotate to about 260 rpm if I remember correctly. Early gyros lacked such a mechanism and needed forward speed to spin up the blades. However once airborne the wind speed would be expected to increase with height and self evidently these gyros could achieve decent altitudes, enough in principal to significantly increase the chance of spotting enemy shipping, which was the whole point. However it may well be that the whole concept predated convoys and their accompanying destroyers or acoustic detection systems. Either way I doubt the airspeed under tow would be less than 30 knots. The engine failure procedure on my gyro by the way was to descend more or less vertically over the chosen landing field and then increase airspeed to gain enough energy to flare. The gyro’s permanent state of autorotation kept the blades spinning even with little forward motion, and a high rate of descent. Relatively low you could then push the nose down and gain enough energy to round out.

17th Apr 2022, 08:19
Anyone have any idea how noisy an unpowered, towed, autogyro would be, from the perspective of the pilot? Rotor and slipstream?

The reason I ask is that these aircraft would normally only be operated in conditions of good visibility, when altitude would provide a meaningful increase in visual detection range of targets and surface-threats, and only after a 360 deg sweep for visual and acoustic contacts, so the chances of being surprised by an enemy warship would seem to be be minimal.

The only reason for a potential crash-dive then would seem to be the threat from patrol aircraft. The conning tower of a surfaced U-Boat was brimming with lookouts, but their ability to detect the sound of approaching aircraft would have been be severely limited by the presence of the adjacent engine induction and exhaust systems. Would the autogyro pilot be able to hear an approaching aero-engine?

Also perhaps worth mentioning that a U-Boat's response to an airborne attack was not always necessarily a crash-dive. Later models were bristling with Flak, and several patrol/attack aircraft were lost to them, including a Liberator of 200 Sqn RAF, who's captain was later posthumously awarded with the VC, solely on the testimony of the U-Boat's crew.


17th Apr 2022, 17:16
A quick internet search suggest a speed range of 15 to 40 knots and that they were not deployed anywhere with enemy air cover. So their practical usage was very limited. Apparently only one freighter was sunk with their help. What I did find interesting is that the concept is being looked into by the US right now for use with surface ships. I don’t know any more than that L3 is exploring their usage at much greater altitudes. Several thousand feet was suggested. Certainly an unmanned platform able to maintain position for long periods using modern sensors possibly even armed sounds attractive.

17th Apr 2022, 21:59
There's a great full video of the Focke Achgelis Fa330 Bachsteltze (Water Wagtail) , in action from 1942 WW2 on YouTube now enjoy :-) TFC ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NtI-KS45xk

18th Apr 2022, 02:05
Autonomous drones can be posted out around ships to help detect any incoming. Some could deploy as bogus targets .
Great video clip… after weeks in a stuffy smelly sub the airborne lookout certainly gets his share of fresh air and a good look at his home from a different perspective.

pax britanica
18th Apr 2022, 11:07
While I certainly wouldnt want to be the pilot in one of these are the dangers not a little overblown about crash diving.

If the sub doesnt have radar how is it going to crash dive without the alert from the guy in the gyro copter..

He could see a destroyer probably ten miles away whereas on t he sub its two miles away. Plenty of time to recover to the sub, perhaps not to stow the contraption, but time for the pilot to descend and report and then crash dive

18th Apr 2022, 19:06
Fa330 land trials at the AFEE RAF Beaulieu. The trailer is the floor of an Airfield Control Caravan and the Jeep towing is the Hafner Rotabuggy minus the rotor and tail.
The Fa330 sea trials at the AFEE used a launch from nearby RAF Calshot. Would this qualify as the UK's smallest aircraft carrier?

19th Apr 2022, 11:05
Did a check against the list in "Wings on my Sleeve" and was surprised to see that Winkle never actually flew the Fa 330, must have been about the only captured Axis platform not in his logbook.

19th Apr 2022, 11:33
The Fa330 sea trials at the AFEE used a launch from nearby RAF Calshot. Would this qualify as the UK's smallest aircraft carrier?

I suppose technically the speedboat in the James Bond film "Moonraker" which launched a powered hang glider before crashing over a waterfall might qualify - it was owned by Eon Productions who are a UK company! :p

Sue Vêtements
19th Apr 2022, 18:21
what happens when the sub has to crash-dive [snip]

Assuming he survives, the poor chap is floating about in a big ocean. If the sub survives, it only has a very vague idea where it jettisoned the machine, and anyone with SAR experience will know that the chances of seeing someone in the water, from a conning tower a few feet above sea-level, are effectively nil.

but once they surfaced, and needed to look for the pilot, they could always launch the gyrocopter

...oh wait