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Heinkel He 12

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Title: Heinkel He 12  
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Subject: 1929 in aviation, Aircraft catapult, Deutsche Luft Hansa
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Heinkel He 12

HE 12 and He 58
He 58 D-1919 Bremen Atlantic being loaded onto the catapult on SS Europa
Role Mail plane
National origin Germany
Manufacturer Heinkel
First flight 1929
Primary user Deutsche Luft Hansa
Number built 2

The Heinkel HE 12 was a pontoon-equipped mail plane built in Germany in 1929, designed to be launched by catapult from a liner at sea. The concept was hit upon after Norddeutsche Lloyd (NDL) had carried a Junkers F 13 seaplane aboard the Lutzow during 1927 to provide joyrides for passengers when the liner was in port. NDL officials realised that a seaplane based on a liner could have a more practical commercial application, taking off with the liner's airmail while still a long distance from port, therefore drastically cutting down time taken for the mail to arrive. To this end, the Heinkel firm began to design a catapult, which NDL planned to install on its new liners, the Bremen and Europa, and an aircraft to carry the mail. Since the crew of Lutzow had trouble providing the necessary maintenance for the F 13, Deutsche Luft Hansa agreed to provide the operational support for the venture, and when Bremen departed on her maiden voyage in 1929, a single HE 12 (registration D-1717) was carried aboard.

The aircraft itself was a derivative of the military HE 9 design; a conventional, low-wing, strut-braced monoplane. The pilot and radio operator sat in tandem, open cockpits with the mail carried in a compartment behind them. On 22 July, while still 400 km (250 mi) out of New York City, Bremen successfully launched the HE 12. When the seaplane was unloaded 2½ hours later, mail from Berlin had taken just 6½ days to reach New York. The next day, in front of a crowd of 3,500 people, mayor Jimmy Walker christened the HE 12 with the name of the city. On the return journey, the newly christened New York launched from Bremen near Cherbourg on 1 August, landing in Bremerhaven four hours later, in time for the mail to be transferred to another aircraft and arrive in Berlin the same afternoon, 5½ days after leaving New York. Use of the seaplane saved around 20 hours on the westward trip, and 1-2 days on the eastward journey.

New York continued to fly until severely damaged in an accident on Cobequid Bay on 5 October 1931. The following year, Europa was fitted with a more powerful catapult and a seaplane of similar - but slightly heavier - design, the He 58. This aircraft (D-1919, Bremen) had a wider fuselage that seated its crew side-by-side and, usually a cowled engine. It continued in service in this role until Junkers Ju 46 floatplanes were built for both liners.

Specifications (HE 12)

General characteristics

  • Crew: Two, pilot and radio operator
  • Capacity: 200 kg (440 lb) of mail
  • Gross weight: 2,800 kg (6,160 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × BMW licence-built Pratt & Whitney Hornet, 336 kW (450 hp)


  • Maximum speed: 215 km/h (134 mph)


External links

  • "Shot From Ships" Air Classics, Mar 2002 by Cook, John C
  • "New Catapult Drives Plane From Deck of Liner", November 1929, Popular Mechanics photo of Heinkel 12 on Bremen catapult
  • "Catapult For Planes Is Engineering Wonder" Popular Mechanics, September 1930

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