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Hanna Reitsch

Hanna Reitsch in the Fa 61
Hanna Reitsch (March 29, 1912 - August 24, 1979) was a famous World War II German test pilot, and favourite of the upper echelon of the Nazi party.

Hanna was born the daughter of an ophthalmologist and was in training to become a medical doctor in 1932 when she left that field to pursue a career as a test pilot. In the 1930s she became fairly famous, setting many glider aerobatic and endurance records, being the first woman to fly the Alps in a glider, and being rather photogenic. Several of the gliding records stand to this day.

In 1937 she was posted to the Luftwaffe testing center at Rechlin by Ernst Udet. While under direct command of Karl Franke she soon became a major test pilot on the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka and Dornier Do 17 projects, as well as one of the few to fly the new Focke-Achgelis Fa 61, the world's first helicopter. This made her a star of the Nazi party, always looking for publicity, and in 1938 she flew the Fa 61 every night inside the arena of the Berlin Motor Show.

As the war progressed Reitsch was invited to fly many of Germany's latest designs, including the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, and several larger bombers on which she tested various mechanisms for cutting barrage balloon cables. Eventually she became Adolf Hitler's personal pilot.

Near the end of the war she became involved in testing the V-1 Flying Bomb, which was fitted with a cockpit in order to be used during gliding tests, dropped from a Heinkel He 111 bomber. Later it was suggested that similarily equipped V-1 would be used as point-attack weapons by members of KG 200. Although a number of V-1's were so equipped as Reichenbergs, they were never used in combat. (See Selbstopfer)

In the last days of the war Reitsch was asked to fly her lover, General Robert Ritter von Greim, into Berlin to meet with Hitler. The city was already surrounded by Red Army troops who had made significant progress into the downtown area when they arrived on the 27th and travelled to the "bunker". She is said to have overheard Hitler laying out plans for Nazi commanders to join together in mass suicide when it was obvious that the war was over. She also hoped to fly out the children of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who'd been living there with their parents, but he would not allow it. She escaped Berlin through heavy Russian anti-aircraft fire.

Held for 18 months by the American military after the war, she was interrogated and then released. She died of a massive heart attack at age 67, one year after she had been the first woman to glide over the Alps.

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Hanna Reitsch