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Fieseler Fi 156

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The Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (stork) was a small liaison aircraft built by Fieseler[?] during World War II, and production continued in other countries into the 1950s for the private market. It remains famous to this day for its excellent STOL performance, and kit-built versions are a common fixture at air shows.

Gerhard Fieseler started flying in WWI on the eastern front and claimed 19 victories (some say 22) over the course of the war. After the war he continued flying as a stunt pilot, winning many competitions. He piled his winnings into his own aircraft company, which then developed the Tiger biplane. He flew the Tiger to win the 1st World Aerobatic Championship in France in 1934. His 100,000FF winnings were used the expand the company, and the next year they were producing several Heinkel[?] biplane trainer designs under license.

In the same year, the Luftwaffe put out a tender for a new liason aircraft to several companies. Fieseler's entry was the most advanced in terms of STOL performance, by far. A fixed slat ran along the entire leading edge of the long wings, while the trailing edge, including the ailerons, was a hinged and slotted flap. The wings could be folded back along the fuselage, allowing it to be carried on a trailer or even towed slowly behind a vehicle. The long legs of the landing gear contained oil and spring shock absorbers that compressed about 18 inches on landing, allowing the plane to set down almost anywhere. In flight they hung down, giving the aircraft the appearance of a very long-legged, big-winged bird. Hence its nickname, the Storch.

The first Fi 156A prototype flew in the spring of 1936. It was powered by a V-8 240hp Argus 10C engine, which gave the plane a top speed of only 109mph. But that power was not wasted; the Storch could fly as slow as 32mph, take off into a light wind in less than 150 feet, and land in 60 feet. It was immediately ordered into production by the Luftwaffe with an order for 16 planes, and the first Fi 156A's entered service in mid-1937.

Fieseler then offered the Fi 156B model which allowed for the retraction of the leading edge slats and a number of minor aerodynamic cleanups, boosting the speed to 130mph. The Luftwaffe didn't consider such a small difference to be important, and Fieseler instead moved onto the main production version, the C model.

The Fi 156C was essentially a "flexible" version of the A model. A small run of C-0's were followed by the C-1 three-seater liason version, and the C-2 two-seat observation plane with a MG15 machine gun in the rear for defence. Both models entered service in 1939. In 1941 both were replaced by the C-3 with a "universal cockpit" that could be used in any role. Last of the C's was the C-5, which was a C-3 model that included a hardpoint under the fuselage for a camera or fuel tank.

The Storch could be found on every front throughout the war. It will always be most famous for the rescue of Benito Mussolini from a bolder-strewn mountaintop, surrounded by Italian troops. Otto Skorzeny dropped with 90 paratroopers onto the peak and quickly captured it, but the problem remained of how to get back off. A Fa 223 helicopter was sent, but it broke down en-route. Instead, Walter Gerlach flew in a Storch, landed in 100ft, took on Mussolini and Skorzeny, and took back off again in under 250ft, even though the plane was overloaded.

A total of about 2,900 Fi 156's, mostly C's, were produced from 1937 to 1945. When the main Fieseler plant switched to building Bf 109's in 1943, Storch production was shifted to the Mraz factory in Czechoslovakia. A large number were also built at the captured Morane-Saulnier[?] factory in France starting in April 1942. Both factories continued to produce the planes after the war for local civilian markets.

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