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Raoul Hafner, (1905–1980) FEng, FRAes, was an Austrian-born British helicopter pioneer and engineer. He was a pioneer of rotating wing aircraft design and died as a result of a yachting accident. He made a distinctive contribution to the British aerospace industry, particularly in the development of helicopters.
Born in 1905, he was educated in Vienna, first at the university and then at technical college where he became interested in rotary-wing concept as a means of making aircraft land more slowly and safely. He obtained a post with the Austrian Air Traffic Company, but his heart was in helicopter design, to which he devoted his spare time, developing the R (Revoplane) 1 and R2.
Subsequently, he gave up his job to concentrate on helicopters, building the R2 in 1929 and planning the R3. But instead of constructing the latter, he decided after hearing of the work of the Spanish pioneer Juan de la Cierva in England, to design an autogyro incorporating the principles of the R1 and R2.
The Scottish cotton millionaire Major Jack Coates, who had financed Hafner’s work in Vienna, had the R2 shipped to Heston Aerodrome in 1933, and Hafner himself made contact with the Cierva Company and learned to fly its C.19 and C.30 autogyros. He parted company with Nagler who had come from Austria with him and concentrated on gyroplane design over helicopters. Then in 1934 his own company, the ARIII Construction (Hafner Gyroplane) Co, began to design the ARIII Gyroplane, first flown in 1935 and widely demonstrated afterward. It incorporated the then new principles of cyclic and collective pitch controls.
In an ensuing controversy between proponents of the autogyro and the helicopter, Hafner made his views clear in a Royal Aeronautical Society lecture on October 14, 1937, when he advocated the rotating wing concept.
Second World War
From 1938 he was with Pobjoy-Short at Rochester, but in 1940 was interned as an enemy alien, being released when his naturalization came through. He then developed the Hafner Rotachute, a rotary parachute to be towed behind an aircraft, for landing agents in enemy territory; this was made and tested at the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment development section at RAF Sherburn-in-Elmet. This was followed by the Rotabuggy, a rotor-equipped jeep. Neither project progressed past testing.
It was after the war that he and some of his technical team joined Bristol, Hafner became Chief Designer (Helicopters) and its helicopter department initially produced the four/five seater Type 171. They went into Royal Air Force service as the Sycamore and won several export orders. Subsequently a much larger tandem-rotor helicopter, the Type 173, was developed; and on it was based the Type 192 which as the "Belvedere" (named after the Belvedere Palace in Vienna next to Hafner’s childhood home, which inspired the tandem concept) saw service in RAF squadrons in Britain and overseas.
Hafner, however, was more interested in the civil than the military applications of the helicopter, and this long-term ambition was to see the convertible rotor concept – on which he had begun work in 1950 – accepted. One of the helicopters being developed at Bristol was the tandem-rotor Type 194, designed to carry 52 passengers, but work on this ended when all British helicopter activities were brought together under Westland Aircraft in 1960.
Hafner was appointed technical director, holding this position until his retirement in 1970, and thereafter continuing in a consultative capacity. During his decade with Westland he further propounded his convertible rotor ideas, as a means of increasing the helicopters range and speed by tilting its rotors for forward flight.
He presented several papers to the Royal Aeronautical Society, and when in 1977 he was interviewed by its journal ‘Aerospace’ and asked about his interests outside aviation he remarked – with what was sad irony – that he had “taken a great interest in sailing”. He applied his knowledge of aerodynamics to sailing ship design.
- Flight 8 April 1943 p362
- Gunston, Bill (1993). World Encyclopedia of Aircraft Manufacturers. UK: Patrick Stephens Ltd. p. 203. ISBN 0-7509-3981-8.