Deep in the New Forest is said to be buried a secret Dragon.

It may sound like mythology or something from an RR Martin book, but it’s something that can be traced back to a clandestine operation that took place almost 80 years ago.

The first helicopter to fly over the English Channel landed at Beaulieu Airfield under the protection of utmost security. It was a captured German Focke Achgelis, known as the Dragon.

Despite the Second World War in Europe having ended the previous May, a publicity blackout was still in place the helicopter headed for the Beaulieu-based Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment (AFEE).

The twin-rotor Fa 223 aircraft was the world’s first truly practical helicopter although the AFEE’s Rotary Wing Flight had tested early American Sikorsky prototypes.

Daily Echo: Dragon story

The Royal Air Force's official photographer Bob Bird was on hand to document the arrival of the Dragon from Le Havre.

All of the late Mr Bird’s photographs are now carefully archived by his son Robin, a retired journalist from Wallasey on Merseyside who wrote the book Top Secret War Bird of World War Two about his father’s exploits with the AFEE.

“The Dragon could be used in various roles – such as antisubmarine work, troop carrier as well as air-sea rescue operations,’’ said Robin.

“Only three serviceable Fa 223 aircraft remained at the end of the war. One was destroyed by the Germans to prevent it from falling into enemy hands but the other two were captured by the Allies.

Daily Echo: Dragon story

“The Americans shipped one of these back to the United States with German jets and rockets on board the aircraft carrier USS Reaper.

With no room for the second helicopter, the US forces planned to destroy it.

“However the British objected and obtained the prototype numbered V14 that came with an interesting story and an experienced crew.

“Pilot Lieutenant Helmut Gerstenhauer, one of the Luftwaffe’s most experienced officers, engineer H Zelewski and mechanic F Will were press-ganged into flying the aircraft from Le Havre to AFEE Beaulieu.’’ As soon as it arrived a number of test flights took place but during one of these sorties the Dragon crashed from a height of 65ft leaving it totally wrecked on the ground at Beaulieu.

Daily Echo: Dragon story

“The V14 is said to be buried in a farmer’s field somewhere near the old airfield “Considerable skill was needed to fly the aircraft which had two 40ft rotors on struts powered by a supercharged BMW engine,’’ said Robin.

“Before it crashed it had undergone 170 hours of testing and later reports suggested engine mountings were to blame. Every 25 hours, tensioned steel hausers securing the engine needed tightening with a special tool which was not on board V14 when it flew to Beaulieu.

“Gerstenhauer warned AFEE technicians about the potential danger but his advice was ignored, possibly due to suspicion over his motives.’’ The V14 had clocked up the longest flying time of all the Fa 223s and Gerstenhauer had flown it on several dangerous missions in and out of the Berlin region as the Russian Army advanced.

The British experts learned little about the German helicopter technology following the Beaulieu crash.

But the Dragon rose like a phoenix in postwar Czechoslovakia as it was reassembled from spares parts

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