This model bares the Fascist Italy markings of the Regia Aeronautica Commando Albania Tirana 1941.
The Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (English: Stork) was a small German liaison aircraft built by Fieseler before and during World War II. Production continued in other countries into the 1950s for the private market. It remains famous to this day for its excellent STOL performance; French-built later variants often appear at air shows.
In 1935, the RLM (Reichsluftfahrtministerium, Reich Aviation Ministry) invited tenders from several companies for a new Luftwaffe aircraft suitable for liaison, army co-operation (today called Forward Air Control), and medical evacuation. This resulted in the Messerschmitt Bf 163 and Siebel Si 201 competing against the Fieseler firm's tender. Conceived by chief designer Reinhold Mewes and technical director Erich Bachem, Fieseler's design had a far better STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) performance. A fixed slat ran along the entire length of the leading edge of the long wings, while a hinged and slotted flap ran along the entire length of trailing edge. This was inspired by earlier 1930s Junkers "double-wing" aircraft wing control surface designs, including the ailerons.
A design feature rare for land-based aircraft, enabled the wings on the Storch to be folded back along the fuselage in a manner similar to the wings of the US Navy's Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter. This allowed the aircraft to be carried on a trailer or even towed slowly behind a vehicle. The primary hinge for the folding wing was located in the wing root, where the rear wing spar met the cabin. The long legs of the main landing gear contained oil-and-spring shock absorbers that had a travel of 450 mm (18 inches), allowing the aircraft to land on comparatively rough and uneven surfaces. In flight, the landing gear legs hung down, giving the aircraft the appearance of a long-legged, big-winged bird, hence its nickname, Storch. With its very low landing speed the Storch often appeared to land vertically, or even backwards, in strong winds from directly ahead.
Because of its superb STOL characteristics, there have been many attempts to recreate or copy the Storch, namely in the form of various homebuilt aircraft such as the Pazmany PL-9 Stork and Roger Mann's RagWing RW19 Stork. Another is the Slepcev Storch designed and manufactured by Nestor Slepcev. It is a ¾ scale reproduction of the original with some simplifications. The use of modern materials provides better STOL performance than the original with a take-off run of 30 m and landing-roll of 50 m with no headwind. It was originally designed and manufactured in Australia and is now manufactured in Serbia.
The Storch was deployed in all European and North African theaters of World War II. But it is probably most famous for its role in Operation Eiche, the rescue of deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from a boulder-strewn mountain-top near the Gran Sasso. Even though the mountain was surrounded by Italian troops, German commando Otto Skorzeny and 90 paratroopers parachuted onto the peak and quickly captured it. But the problem remained of how to get back off. A Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 helicopter was sent, but it broke down en route. Instead, pilot Heinrich Gerlach flew in a Storch. It landed in 30 m (100 ft), and after Mussolini and Skorzeny boarded, it took off in 80 m (250 ft), even though the aircraft was overloaded. The Storch involved in rescuing Mussolini bore the radio code letters, or Stammkennzeichen, of "SJ + LL" in the motion picture coverage of the daring rescue.
On 26 April 1945, a Storch was one of the last aircraft to land on the improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate during the Battle of Berlin and the death throes of the Third Reich. It was flown by the test pilot Hanna Reitsch, who flew Generalfeldmarschall Robert Ritter von Greim from Munich to Berlin to answer a summons from Hitler. Once in Berlin von Greim was informed that he was to take over command of the Luftwaffe from Hermann Göring.
A Storch was the victim of the last dog fight on the Western Front and another was downed by a direct Allied counterpart of the Storch, an L-4 Grasshopper, the military version of the well-known American Piper J-3 Cub civilian training and sport aircraft. The pilot and co-pilot of the L-4, Lieutenants Duane Francis and Bill Martin, opened fire on the Storch with their .45 caliber pistols, forcing the German air crew to land and surrender.
Field Marshal Rommel used Storch aircraft for transport and battlefield surveillance during the North African desert campaign of World War II.
During the war a number of Störche were captured by the Allies. One became the personal aircraft of Field Marshal Montgomery. Others were used as the personal aircraft of Air Vice Marshal Arthur Coningham and Air Vice Marshal Harry Broadhurst, who acquired his Storch in North Africa, and flew it subsequently in Italy and North-West Europe.
The British captured 145, of which 64 were given to the French as war compensation from Germany.
The ALA and the ALAT used the Criquet from 1945 to 1958 throughout the Indochina War and the Algerian War. The Swiss Air Force and other mountainous European countries continued to use the Storch for rescues in terrain where STOL performance is necessary. Many Storches are still operational today and are commonly shown at air shows. In North America, both the Collings Foundation and the Fantasy of Flight museum are known to still have fully airworthy Fi 156 Storch aircraft in their collections.