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A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik (1918-1921)

The first private aircraft factory in Norway

By: Rob Mulder
For: www.europeanairlines.no

Aircraft construction in Norway prior to the Second World War was mainly limited to the manufacturing of military aircraft. During the Great War (1914-1918) neutral Norway depended on the goodwill from friendly states for the delivery of military aircraft. A good article about this subject can be found on the website of IPMS – Norway: http://www.ipmsnorge.org/hovedsider/artikler/haerfly_e.html. But one private initiative should be mentioned: The A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik, founded in 1918 with some ambitious plans.

The foundation

We can easily say that it was also the last major aircraft factory of Norway not considering the state-owned aircraft factories. On June 4, 1918 the Aktieselskap Norsk Aeroplanfabrik (the Norwegian Aircraft Factory Limited) was founded in the oldest city of Norway Tønsberg, just 100 km south of Kristiania (from 1624 until 1925 the name of Oslo). The stock capital was 500,000 Norwegian Kroner divided over 500 shares of 1,000 Kroner each. Managing director and initiator was Ing Christian August Selmer Hellesen, who had been a control officer at the Hærens Flyvemaskinfabrik (Army’s Aeroplane Factory). His mother was daughter of the Norwegian Prime Minister Christian Selmer, while his farther was son of barrister-at-law at the Supreme Court Thorvald Hellesen. After finishing school he started on the newly established Norwegian Technical High School in Trondheim and after his graduation started his training of pilot in Hærens Flyvevæsen (the Army’s Flying Corps). He even travelled to Great Britain to study the art of air combat. After his adventure with A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik he became pilot for Norske Luftruter AS in Oslo and flew Junkers F 13s along the coast of Norway for A/S Nord-Norges Aero.

The Board of Directors of A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik consisted of the factory-owner Schou, ship owner Thorvald Halvorsen, Tryggve Wettre, the director S Kloumann and Christian Hellesen himself. The factory had the object of building seaplanes for civil and military use and calculated with a working staff of 50-70 men and a production of 30-40 seaplanes per year.

The A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik started to search for a suitable site to erect its factory and in September 1918 an area was found that included a huge hall. A contract was signed and later that year A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik transferred the agreed 198,000 kroner. It thus became the owner of the area at Ørsnes. But some construction had to be done. In November 1918 the building of three wooden halls was started and also Christian Hellesen erected his own house on the premises.

Christian Hellesen saw great potential in the plans of the newly founded Det Norske Luftfartrederi A/S that scheduled to start up numerous air services in Norway. Dr Wilhelm Kielhau was the man behind the foundation of this airline company. He started to develop the idea in January 1918 and his plan was to open air routes between Norwegian and foreign cities. These routes had to be flown by seaplanes, as seaplanes seemed to serve the cause best.

Dr Kielhau took up contact with Naval Captain Gyth Dehli at the Norwegian Naval Shipyard at Horten, just south of Kristiania. A working-committee was formed and from March 18, 1918, the public could buy shares. And shares were sold! Soon 61 firms or private persons had shown interest and among them were famous Norwegian Consuls, ship owners, banks, Members of Parliament, trading-houses, etc. They soon had gathered the 3.3 million Kroner needed for the foundation of the company. The following plans were presented by the working-committee:

Air Service 1: Kristiania – Göteborg – København;

Air Service 2: Stavanger – Aberdeen;

Air Service 3: Kristiania – Arendal – Kristiansand S. – Stavanger;

Air Service 4: Bergen – Haugesund – Stavanger;

Air Service 5: Stavanger – Haugesund – Bergen – Florø – Ålesund -Molde – Kristiansund N. -Trondheim;

Air Service 6: Kristiania – Hamar – Trondheim;

Air Service 7: Trondheim – Namsos – Mo i Rana – Bodø – Narvik;

Air Service 8: Narvik – Tromsø – Hammerfest – Kirkenes; and

Air Service 9: Kristiania – Bergen (over land).

The reason for planning so many routes was to get the local authorities interested in supporting the airline company. Det Norske Luftfartrederi A/S wanted to become a national airline company and not just an airline company for the rich south.

In the December 1918 issue of the Norwegian aviation magazine Aeroplanet (the Aeroplane) an interesting article is published about the company. In order to get some income A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik started up repairs on cars and engines and storage of boats. Christian Hellesen presented also the first drawings of the aircraft to be constructed at factory.

The “Flyvebaat type F.B.2”

Flying boat type F.B.2 was the first design of the A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik. The single engined biplane of almost equal span had wings of wood with fabric covering, and the hull was of plywood. It could carry one pilot and one observer. The normal power plant was one 150 hp air-cooled engine mounted between the wings behind the open cockpits.  The engine was to have a two-bladed wooden airscrew with a radiator in front of the engine. It had a braced tail plane and balanced elevators. A larger version (the Flyvebaat type F.B.4) was also presented, offering four seats and an engine with 200 to 300 horsepower.

The technical figures of the F.B.2:

Wing span (upper wing): 14.77 m

Wing span (lower wing): 11.15 m

Wing width (upper wing) : 1.90 m

Wing width (lower wing): 1.60 m

Height between the wings: 2.30 m

Total length of the aircraft: 9.53 m

Total height of the aircraft : 3.85 m

Wing area (upper wing): 20 m²

Wing area (lower wing): 13.6 m²

Ailerons (in total): 3.7 m²

Total win span including tail plane: 37.3 m²

Empty weight: 785 kg

Load weight: 995 kg

Petrol                         110 kg

Oil                              10 kg

Pilot                           80 kg

Passenger                 80 kg

Other material         30 kg

Total                          310 kg

Maximum speed: 140 km/h

Landing speed: 80 km/h

Endurance with a 150 hp engine: 3 hours

Climbing time to 2,000 metres: 19 minutes

Usage of petrol per hour: 36 litres

Usage of oil per hour: 3,3 kg

The four-seater (see drawing on the right) was more suited for joy ride and charter work, as it would be able to carry four persons, including the pilot. It was even regarded as a family aircraft and its price should equal the price of an automobile. In April 1919 it was announced that famous Norwegians had ordered three aircraft. The production of these aircraft would start in May 1919 with the delivery of the first F.B.2 or F.B.4 in June that year.

The Flyvebaat type F.B.12

But more interesting for our website was the huge F.B.12 flying boat suitable for the transportation of passenger, freight and airmail.  This aircraft was designed for airline companies that needed to have an aircraft with a comfortable interior. The Norwegian architect Aars & Ree designed the interior of the aircraft and an artist impression was published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on February 2, 1919. The cabin was to be exceptionally comfortable. It was divided into three sections. A forward section offered five seats, two small tables and a toilet. From this section one had a forward view as well. The midsection contained another five seats and two tables, while the aft section also had five seats and a small table. There was to be an unlimited view from each seat and the height of the cabin varied from 1.8 to 1.9 metres. It all looked impressive.

Let us have a look at its technical specifications. The twin engined biplane of almost equal span had wings of wood with fabric covering. The hull was a deep two-step structure with two decks. The upper deck housed an enclosed cockpit for two pilots. The two engines were mounted between the wings on struts. Some of the details were dual controls, balance ailerons, wireless, electric light and complete equipment for night landings!

The technical figures of the F.B.12:

Wing span (upper wing): 31 m

Wing span (lower wing): 25.20 m

Wing width (upper wing): 3 m

Wing width (lower wing): 2.50 m

Height between the wings: 2.70 m

Total length of the aircraft: 15 m

Total height of the aircraft: 5.70 m

Wing area (upper wing): 82 m²

Wing area (lower wing): 62 m²

Ailerons (in total): 11 m²

Total win span including tail plane: 155 m²

Empty weight: 3,130 kg

Load weight: 5,230 kg

Petrol                         950 kg

Oil                              90 kg

Two pilot                  160 kg

10 passengers           800 kg

Mail                           100 kg

Total                          2,100 kg

Maximum speed: 140 km/h

Landing speed: 80 km/h

Endurance with 360 hp engines: 6 hours

Climbing time to 2,000 metres: 20 minutes

The normal power plants were two 360 hp air-cooled engines mounted between the wings beside the cockpit.  The engines were to have a four-bladed wooden airscrew with a radiator in front of the engine. English engines were to be used.

A special feature was that the wings could be folded along the fuselage for easy storage. A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik even offered a special hangar on floats for the storage of the aircraft. The number of passengers in accordance to the architectural drawings was as many as fourteen, but the factory announced that ten to eleven passengers would be more realistic.  A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik hoped to receive an order for several aircraft from the Norwegian airline company Det Norske Luftfartrederi A/S since they were looking for suitable aircraft and had a lot of money to spend. The airline company asked for an offer for delivery of the F.B.12 suitable for carrying 14 passengers and two pilots. Delivery was scheduled for September 1919. The price per aircraft was set at 110,000 Norwegian Kroner.

Unfortunately the production of this aircraft was not started, as DNL regarded the aircraft as too big and too expensive. Numerous surplus aircraft were available in Great Britain and in 1920 Supermarine Channel flying boats were delivered and used on the scheduled air service Bergen – Haugesund – Stavanger.

Curtiss MF Flying boat

The first aircraft to be built at the factory of A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik was actually an American designed aircraft. In April 1919 the American World Champion in loopings (!) Lieutenant Carl Batts arrived in Norway with boxes containing a Curtiss MF flying boat. The aircraft was assembled at the factory and finished on May 10. It was registered in Norway later that month as N-4. This particular aircraft had the Norwegian flag painted on its tail and carried only the letter “N” on the fuselage. The power plant was a 150 hp Curtiss C-6 air-cooled engine. In September 1919 this particular aircraft was sold to the Norwegian airline company Nordisk Luftkraft A/S at Gardermoen (40 km north of Kristiania) and taken over by A/S Norsk Flyveskole for training duties. Latter was a daughter company of A/S Nordisk Luftkraft. On July 15, 1920 the aircraft was sold at an auction in Sarpsborg to the merchant A Johannesen. Within a month (August 13) the aircraft was destroyed beyond repair, when it after take off from the river Glomma crashed into a barn.

On May 15, 1919 a second Curtiss Flying Boat arrived in the Norwegian harbour of Bergen by the “M/S Stavangerfjord”. With it was the John Larsen – the man that later became agent of Junkers Flugzeugwerk AG in the United States of America and imported numerous Junkers J 13 Type F. In the USA it was called the Junkers JL 6. The aircraft was assembled and subsequently used on a sales tour along the Nordic and Baltic countries. It flew from Bergen along the coast via Stavanger to Hamar (inland flight and landing on the Lake Mjøsa) back to Kristiania (Oslo). Here they arrived on the 14th. A new flight along the Kattegat and Skagerak and further to the Baltic Sea was started shortly afterwards. On his tour John Larsen visited Tønsberg, Kristiansand (Norway), Skagen and København (Copenhagen, Denmark) and flew on to Kalmar, Furusund and Stockholm, before he arrived via the Åland Islands in Helsinki. The last two flights brought them to Tallinn (Estonia) and back to Stockholm, where they landed on June 9. After a short stop they continued over land to Göteborg (Gothenburg) on the west coast of Sweden. They proceed to København and arrived there on June 15. The aircraft remained in the Danish capital until November. On November 5 an emergency landing due to fuel shortage was made near Göteborg and the aircraft was subsequently towed to Göteborg for refuelling. After this it continued to København and was in November handed over to the Danish Navy as F.B.VI, serial number 27.

Other aircraft and services

The production of the F.B.2, F.B.4 and F.B.12 were never started up and after a winter with little activity, A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik scheduled to purchase three flying boats and start up air service across the Kristiania Fjord (nowadays called Oslo Fjord).  Each of the aircraft ordered could carry four passengers and in May 1920 daily air services from Tønsberg to Frederikstad, Moss and Oslo were to start up. Two aircraft were to operate the services with one aircraft in reserve. The following departures were planned:

City Period: May – September 1920
Tønsberg departure 09.00 am 11.00 am 01.00 pm 04.30 pm
Kristiania departure 07.35 am 01.22 pm 05.47 pm 06.20 pm

The price of a ticket Tønsberg to Moss was set at 17 Norwegian Kroner, to Frederikstad at 24 Norwegian Kroner and Kristiania at 56 Norwegian Kroner. If the air service would be successful additional landings at Larvik, Sandefjord, Holmestrand and Drammen could be included. Even the transportation of telegrams was considered. A local newspaper informed its readers that these air service were to be operated with the factory’s own F.B.12, but since neither the ordered aircraft were delivered nor the F.B.12 built nothing happened and the A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik opened no air services.

Production at last!

In the spring of 1920, the new Norwegian airline company Aero A/S started a co-operation with A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik and it might well that this company was the company that ordered the aircraft mentioned in the newspapers. In April 1920 the Friedrichshafen FF.49C, N-6 was imported and converted into a civil version at A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik. It was registered on May 1, 1920 on the name of Aero A/S and was in June 1920 used on the first charter flight in Norway, when it carried newspapers between Kristiania and Kristiansund on behalf of the newspaper “Nationen”. It was later used by DNL, but after a minor accident transferred back to Tønsberg for repairs and storage.

A second Friedrichshafen FF.49C (registration N-8) was delivered soon afterwards. In April 1920 it arrived at Tønsberg and was also converted into a civil version. It was Aero A/S that took delivery of the aircraft, but who chartered it to DNL. It crashed and was destroyed beyond repair after an accident near Haugesund. It was subsequently cancelled.

In order to survive, the company had to take up the production of furniture since the time was not right for the production of military and civil aircraft in Norway. Most military aircraft were produced at the Army’s and Navy’s own facilities and the civil aircraft used on the air service were mainly surplus aircraft from the Great War.

The last effort to keep the company alive was made on September 7, 1920, when the stock capital was increased by 175,000 Norwegian Kroner (175 shares) on the name of ship owner Lund and director Bjørnson. Kloumann and Schou withdrew from the Board of Directors and were replaced by the lawyer Vogt and the First Lieutenant Tancred Ibsen (grandson of the famous writer Hendrik Ibsen). Latter owned the airline company Aero A/S that made the first charter flight in Norway.

In the autumn of 1920 the military awarded A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik its first order. In October and November the factory delivered two Maake I aircraft to the Army. They were  licence-built Hansa Brandenburg W 29s. The first aircraft had been bought in Germany by Tancred Ibsen and Christian Hellesen for the newly formed Aero A/S. It carried the civilian registration N-5 (ex N-7) and was cancelled again in October 1920, when it was subsequently chartered to the Hærens Flyvåpen as “501”. It was withdrawn from use on July 1, 1928 and transferred to the Marinens Flyvåpen (Navy’s Air Force) but not used and eventually broken up.

The second aircraft was also a Hansa Brandenburg W 29, bought by Christian Hellesen in Denmark by A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik and assembled in February 1921 in Tønsberg. It was awarded the registration N-5, but in stead used in March 1921 by the Army during the winter manoeuvres in Hengsengen. On March 5 it crashed near the Maje Church in Enebakk.

Christian Hellesen on behalf of the A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik managed to sign a contract with the Army for delivery of six Hansa Brandenburg W 29s all equipped with the more powerful 220 hp engines (in stead of the 185 hp engine mounted in the early two chartered aircraft). The price for these six aircraft was 180,000 Norwegian Kroner of which 135,000 Norwegian Kroner was paid in advance. This was money the factory really needed.

The delivery of one of the earlier mentioned aircraft (N-5) was overshadowed by a crash of this aircraft. On October 14, Lieutenant Brynjulf Gottenborg landed the aircraft wrongly and during the landing on the water. The floats steeped into the sea and were filled up with water. The aircraft sank, but was lifted out and repaired.

But it was obvious that the history of A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik was coming to an end. The factory needed more capital despite the advance received from the military for the six Hansa Brandenburg W 29s. The delivery of the aircraft was delayed and the working expenses grew steadily. It was only the goodness of the bank that kept the company going. But on June 25, 1921 the factory went out of business and was declared bankrupt. But the bank and the Army were interested to get the ordered aircraft ready and delivered and a staff of 13 persons was kept to finish the aircraft and the furniture ordered. During the autumn of 1921 and the winter of 1922 the six aircraft were assembled and during the spring and summer of 1922 delivered. Captain Trygve Klingenberg had been appointed director of the factory. He succeeded Christian Hellesen, who had stopped working for the company in June 1921. It was not until December 1929 until the work with the bankruptcy was finished.

Sources:

  • Personal archive with copies of newspaper articles of the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.
  • Correspondence with Lennart Andersson, Sweden.
  • Correspondence with Kay Hagby, Norway.
  • A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik – an article in Aeroplanet, December 1918.
  • Tore Dyrhaug, “Ørsnes til Kristiania på 30 minutter”.
  • Kay Hagby, “Fra Nielsen & Winther til Boeing 747”.

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