Mindful of the way the Germans covertly armed for war during the Versailles Treaty days, the victorious Allies of World War II prohibited Germans from operation of "aircraft of all types, including kites, captive balloons . . ." This was hard on the likes of Willy Weihrauch, who has enough trouble bucking the laws of nature without defying the laws of man.
Willy, a nimble-fingered radio mechanic in the Ruhr town of Neuss, had dreamed since he was twelve of inventing a new flying machine. By wartime he had worked out plans for a parachute which would operate on the helicopter principle. The Gestapo interrupted these labors, carting Willy off to a forced-labor camp because he was a conscientious objector. But in searching his house afterwards, they discovered and were fascinated by Willy's plans. With magnificent artfulness, they conceived a simple test of Willy's device: they strapped Willy's parachute on his own back, took him 7,000 ft. up in a fighter plane and pitched him over the side. At first Willy shot up instead of down, but then his parachute rotors deposited Willy on the ground like a duck feather on the bedroom carpet.
Spinning Passenger. It was this experience which inspired Willy to tack a motor on his rucksack parachute and turn it into a strap-on-the-back flying machine. It was not an entirely new idea. One devised by the Wehrmacht, for example, worked nicely, except that it spun the passenger almost as fast as it spun its rotors, depositing the dizzy victim on the ground in no fit condition to fight for der Führer. Willy devoted most of his postwar resources to exterminating such bugs: he sold his house and car, hocked his radio shop.
Finally this summer Willy Weihrauch produced a working specimen of his beloved Der Roterer (Little Spinner), weighing 87 Ibs. and powered by a two-cylinder, 14-h.p. engine. Behind cousin Johannes' cinema in Neuss and before a select gathering of neighbors, he set the blades to rotating, poised lightly on his toes and took off. At 10 ft. he crashed into a wall. Both man and machine needed repairs after that. This month the Little Spinner was ready for the air once more, and Willy persuaded a Swiss friend to take it on its second flight. At 18 ft. the friend got panicky, gave the Little Spinner too much gas and stripped the rotor gears.
Flying Visit. The crash ruined the machine, but it made Willy famous. A German newsmagazine posed Willy and his defunct machine on a coal pile and took -a picture at night to give the impression that he was airborne. Several promoters and at least two foreign governments, Willy reported, wanted to see his designs. Trouble was, it also brought Willy into view of the authorities. Last week British occupation authorities descended on cousin Johannes' place and began a solemn investigation of Willy's goings-on. Willy ruefully put what little money he had left into the hiring of a lawyer.