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Hitler's Heinkel Lerche: The First VTOL Aircraft

Updated on June 7, 2013
Test flight in Russia
Test flight in Russia
The Convair in 1954
The Convair in 1954
Lerche mock-up
Lerche mock-up
German flight path sequence
German flight path sequence

With American bombers destroying many of the Third Reich's airfields, beginning in 1944, Hitler became interested in a design that allowed fighter aircraft to take-off vertically, removing the need for an airfield.

The design came from the Heinkel firm, famous for many of Germany's past aircraft, in Austria. The aircraft, Lerche (Lark), would be the world's first Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) single fighter. The design called for it to take off and land sitting on its tail. In flight, flying horizontally like a conventional aircraft. The pilot would lie prone in the nose. It was a revolutionary design with it would be powered by two opposed-rotating propellers which were contained in an annular wing. The pilot would control the circular wing with various aerodynamic controls.

Its designers face major development hurdles that would require much more time than the remaining year of the war. By February, 1945, much of the design was completed. The engine would create a fast moving aircraft of 500 mph and when loaded weighed 12,500 lbs. It would have two 2,000 hp or two 2,400 hp engines. Its two huge 13 foot propellers would propel the 32 ft. long aircraft vertically and then horizontally. Wing length was 14 ft. As far as weapons, it would be armed with two 30mm and three air to air Ruhrstal missiles. Its speed was projected at 9,800 ft/min with a ceiling of 15,000 ft.

The design never got beyond the paper besides some engine testing and wood mock-ups. When the war ended, both the Americans and Russians used the plans to create their own VTOL aircraft. In fact, the Russians took the plans and created the aircraft and managed to vertically take off.

The Americans created the Convair VTOL from the concept the Lerche provided after the war but it never went into production. This was in 1954. The American VTOL was able to fly just as the Germans envisioned in 1945. Taking off vertically and flying horizontally. Its engine provided 5,500 hp and three rotating propellers and could climb at 8,000 ft.per minute. The aircraft was armed with four 20mm guns and 48 2.75" rockets. Because the aircraft lacked air brakes, it was difficult to slow down and landing vertically proved to be burdensome also due to the design.

In the end, the VTOL concept faded away. Neither country pursued it much. By 1955, the project was cancelled.

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