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In 1910 Anthony Fokker started an aviation company in Wiesbaden, Germany. His first aircraft, Spin I, made a couple of 100 yard flights at the beginning of December, 1910. However, later that month it crashed into a tree and was destroyed. His second aircraft, Spin II, also crashed in May, 1911. His third effort, Spin III, was more successful and in 1913 was purchased by the German military authorities.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Anthony Fokker began work on a new single-seater fighter plane. Fokker was convinced that it was vitally important to develop a system where the pilot could fire a machine-gun while flying the plane. His solution to this problem was to have a forward-firing machine-gun synchronized with the propeller.
Other aircraft designers such as Franz Schneider in Germany and Raymond Saulnier in France were also working on the same idea. In the early months of 1915, the French pilot, Roland Garros, added deflector plates to the blades of the propeller of his Morane-Saulnier. The idea being that these small wedges of toughened steel would divert the passage of those bullets which struck the blades.
After the Morane-Saulnier that Roland Garros was flying crashed at Courtrai on 19th April, 1915, Anton Fokkerwas able to inspect these deflector blades. Fokker and his designers decided to take it one stage further by developing an interrupter mechanism. A cam was attached to the crankshaft of the engine in line with each propeller blade, when the blade reached a position in which it might be struck by bullets from the machine-gun, the relevant cam actuated a pushrod which, by means of a series of linkages, stopped the gun from firing. When the blade was clear, the linkages retracted, allowing the gun to fire.
This synchronized machine-gun was fitted to Fokker's new EI type aircraft. Two other models, the EII and the EIII, that differed in engine-power and wing size to the EI, began arriving on the Western Front during the summer of 1915.
The synchronized machine-gun gave the Germans a considerable advantage over the Allied pilots. German aces such as Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke became national heroes as the number of victories over their opponents grew. However, by the spring of 1916, this advantage was lost when the Allies began using the Airco DH2and the Nieuport 17, that were also armed with synchronized machine-guns.
Performance Data of the Fokker E III
100 hp Oberursel
30 ft 10 in (9.4 m)
23 ft 11 in (7.3 m)
9 ft 2 in (2.79 m)
87 mph (140 kph)
11,483 ft (3,500 m)
1 hours 30 minutes
Fokker E (Eindecker)
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 07/31/2019 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.
As with most aircraft developed during World War 1, the Eindecker series enjoyed a relatively short period of time at the front lines. Aviation technology was ever changing to the point that aircraft designs could be made obsolete as soon as they were produced, leaving a slim window of opportunity for a single design to prove itself. This evolving face of the First World War directly influenced both aircraft design and outcomes of several campaigns fought in the skies. The Eindecker deserves particular mention as it was one of the first aircraft to bring about a taste of things to come in air warfare.
The Fokker E "Eindecker" ("Eindecker" meaning monoplane) was of a most basic monoplane design, incorporating known successful elements from previous aircraft design attempts such as a static a landing gear system, aerodynamic details and a enclosed engine. The Eindecker series had the distinction of being the first aircraft to be fitted with the deadly synchronized machine gun/ propeller system which allowed for operation of the machine gun through the spinning propeller, quite an accomplishment that led pilots to engage enemy aircraft in relative safety without the fear of stripping off the propeller blades. This single invention would lead to the period of German air dominance known simply as the "Fokker Scourge".
This new German technology was highly-touted and highly-prized when compared to that of what the Allies had to work with. The synchronized firing mechanism was so guarded by the Central Powers early in the war in fact that aircraft armed as such restricted to fighting only above or near German-held territories for fear that the technology would fall into enemy hands. In contrast, Allied pilots operated their machine guns - usually placed on the upper wing assembly from their cockpit seats (to clear the spinning propeller blades) - often at uncomfortable distances when it came to clearing jams or rearming. In some cases, these weapon systems would have to operated by way of an extension arm with one hand while the pilot was still required to maneuver the aircraft into firing position with the other. The synchronized machine gun was an advantage that played all too well into Eindecker pilot hands and was very symbolic of the technological progression being made by both sides throughout the war.
The initial design of the Eindecker series stemmed from a pre-war design designated as the M.5. Though not a spectacular aircraft in most regards (the basic design was somewhat outdated and outclassed from the outset), the Eindecker enjoyed a good mission-to-kill ratio due to the single fact of the synchronized machine gun. The seemingly simple technological feat provided the German air force with the capability to take back the teeter-tottering skies from Allied planes. In terms of handling, however, recent wind tunnel testing revealed several challenges facing the pilot in just taking off and maintaining lift with the aircraft - a testament to the mettle that these pioneers faced from their own machines.
Due to the exclusivity of the synchronized machine gun and the limited reach placed on the Eindeckers, the E-series would languish as a bomber escort or as a defensive weapon system over German-held territories. Production issues at home also held the reach of the Eindecker series overall and the aircraft would never truly reach its intended defined potential during the course of the war. Legendary German Ace Max Immelmann would be credited with the Eindecker's first kill on August 1, 1915, and his prowess would eventually lead to a dogfighting move named in his honor. By war's end, the Eindecker would reportedly be credited with achieving the destruction of no fewer than 1,000 Allied aircraft.
Fokker E III - History
A selection of Immelmann’s personal sketches. Clearly he had at least seen the three-gun Fokker, but faithful Tyras played just as big a role in his emotional life. He seemed especially proud of his Military Orders of St. Henry, which were awards of his home state, the Kingdom of Saxony
On the last day of May, leading three Eindeckers against seven Vickers between Bapaume and Cambrai, Immelmann had let off a long burst of fire when his E.IV began vibrating, almost out of control. He cut the fuel and ignition and, as the 14 cylinder rotary spun down, saw that his synchronizer gear had malfunctioned. Half a propeller blade was gone, sawed off by his own guns, and the lopsided prop had shaken the Oberursel almost out of its nacelle. Nose heavy, the Fokker started down. Immelmann barely managed to crash land beside the Cambrai–Douai road.
It was no isolated incident while test flying a three-gun E.IV, Tony Fokker himself almost shot off his own prop. But with the Allies deploying dedicated fighter units, Immelmann and Boelcke undertook—against opposition from their superiors—to have Germany follow suit. Immelmann, now a triple ace, was tapped to lead one of the first Jagdstaffeln (fighter squadrons), but it was not to be.
Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b
Late on the afternoon of Sunday, June 18, Immelmann led four Eindeckers in pursuit of four British F.E.2b two-seat pushers of No. 25 Squadron. With one machine gun firing forward and another mounted high to fire backward over the upper wing and prop, the “Fee” was no easy prey. Immelmann succeeded in forcing one down near Arras, but only after his E.IV took serious hits to its struts and wings. It was still undergoing repairs at dusk when 25 Squadron sent another flight over the lines. In a fateful decision, Immelmann followed his men up in a reserve E.III, arriving late to the battle.
Fokker E.III #246/15, in which Immelmann lost his life
A major dogfight had developed a mile or more above Loos. Four of Immelmann’s squadron mates were mixing it with four Fees. To the northeast, two Fokkers were tangling with four British planes, with two more Eindeckers hurrying toward them to even things up. Adding to the confusion, German flak batteries were pumping shells up into the melee.
Shooting off a white flare to signal the anti-aircraft guns to hold fire, the Eagle of Lille plunged to attack an F.E.2b, rattling off a long stream of shots. His 17th victory fell away in a steep dive, to land behind German lines with its pilot mortally wounded.
Last victory. FE2b #4909 of No 25 Sqn, Immelmann’s 17th victory. (Initially credited to Lt. Max Mulzer as his fourth victory. On many lists Immelmann is not credited with his last two victories, both claimed on 18 June 1916.)
The “Fee” was named Baby Mine. Pilot Lt J.R.B. Savage was mortally wounded in the encounter, but observer 2AM Robinson survived and was taken prisoner. At practically the same moment they went down, Immelmann himself was killed.
Another Fee came down behind Immelmann. Pilot 2nd Lt. G.R. McCubbin reported: “By this time I was very close to the Fokker and he apparently realized we were on his tail, and he immediately started to do what I expect was the beginning of an ‘Immelmann’ turn. As he started to turn we opened fire.” Observer Corporal J.H. Waller let go a burst from his forward Lewis gun as Immelmann’s Eindecker crossed their nose. “The Fokker immediately got out of control,” reported McCubbin, “and went down to earth.”
Immelmann’s Last Flight by Ivan Berryman
One of Immelmann’s squadron mates testified that his leader attempted to climb as if to rejoin the fight, but something clearly wasn’t right. The Fokker pitched up and stalled over its left wing, bucking and flapping. Witnesses saw its fuselage break off behind the cockpit. As it began its death dive, both wings tore away as well. The engine and cockpit fell more than a mile. Immelmann’s remains were recognized only by his monogrammed kerchief and the Blue Max at his throat.
Six views of E.III #246/16, the Eindecker in which Immelmann was fatally shot down.
2nd Lt. George Reynolds McCubbin, piloting No. 25 Sqn. FE2B #6346, won the DSO, “For conspicuous gallantry and skill. Seeing one of our machines about to engage two Fokkers he at once entered the fight, and his observer shot down one Fokker, which crashed to the ground. On another occasion when returning from a bombing raid he saw one of our machines being followed by a Fokker. He recrossed the lines to attack and his observer shot down the Fokker. Although very badly wounded in the arm he successfully landed his machine well behind our lines.” (This combat occurred on June 26th, little over a week after Immelmann was downed, and put McCubbin in the hospital.) His observer, Cpl. James Henry Waller (who actually pulled the trigger on Immelmann) received the Russian Medal of St George, 1st Class.
He was one of the first great aces to die in combat. Germany struggled to come to grips with his loss. Experts claimed his Eindecker had been hit by friendly anti-aircraft fire, or that his synchronizer gear had malfunctioned again (one of the prop blades appeared to be sawed off), that the less-sturdy E.III had been unable to withstand the resultant shaking—anything but admit their hero had fallen to the enemy. For their part, the British simply credited the kill to McCubbin and Waller, who said, “It is quite on the cards that our bullets not only got him, but his prop as well.”
Max Immelmann was given a state funeral and buried in Dresden, his home town. His body was later exhumed, however, and cremated in the Tolkewitz Crematorium. Some 200 German pilots flew Fokker Eindeckers and only three or four (e.g. Max Ritter von Mulzer, Rudolph Berthold, Ernst Freiherr von Althaus) came close to Boelcke and Immelmann in their scores.
“Immelmann lost his life by a silly chance,” declared Boelcke, who was transferred to the Eastern Front to spare his country another such loss. Within the year he would raise his score to 40, only to die in a midair collision with one of his own men.
Even more than Boelcke, Immelmann has come to be identified with the Fokker Eindecker, in which he rose and fell. Perhaps he had just been lucky to fly it during its brief supremacy, but then so did many men, without achieving as much.
“He had it much more difficult than later fighter pilots,” a fellow pilot recalled of Max Immelmann after the war, “. because in 1915&ndash16 there was much less aerial activity. His number of victories was not as large. but they were harder earned.”
Oberleutnant Max Immelmann
21 September 1890 – 18 June 1916
Iron Cross, Second Class
Knight’s Cross with Swords of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern
Military Order of St. Henry, Knight’s Cross
Military Order of St. Henry, Commander’s Cross
Pour le Mérite
Albert Order, Knight 2nd Class with Swords
Silver Friedrich August Medal
Military Merit Order 4th Class with Swords
German Army Pilot’s Badge
Photo, with cracked plate, said to be taken at Max Immelmann’s funeral procession.
Brannon, D. Edgar. Fokker Eindecker in Action. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1996. ISBN 0897473515
Fokker, Anthony H.G., and Bruce Gould. Flying Dutchman: The Life of Anthony Fokker. London: Butler & Tanner, 1931. Available online
Guttman, Jon. The Origin of the Fighter Aircraft Yardley, PA.: Westholme Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59416-083-7
Immelmann, Frantz, and Claud W, Sykes. Immelmann: "The Eagle of Lille" Drexel Hill, PA.: Casemate, 2009. ISBN 9781923033984
Kennett, Lee B. The First Air War, 1914-1918. New York: The Free Press, 1991. 0029173019
Munson, Kenneth. Aircraft of World War I. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1968
VanWyngarden, Greg. Early German Aces of World War 1. Oxford: Osprey Publ., 2006. Osprey Aircraft of the Aces #73. ISBN 9781841769974.
About the author
Author/illustrator/historian Don Hollway has been published in Aviation History, Excellence, History Magazine, Military Heritage, Military History, Civil War Quarterly, Muzzleloader, Porsche Panorama, Renaissance Magazine, Scientific American, Vietnam, Wild West, and World War II magazines. His work is also available in paperback, hardcover and across the internet, a number of which rank extremely high in global search rankings.
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|Period||World War One / The Great War [1914-1918]|
| Plátno / Fabric |
Kov, stříbrná / Metalic, silver
|Serial No. / Evidence No.||-|
|Tactical Marking / Imatriculation||LF196|
|Unit||Marine Feld Flieger Abteilung Nr.I|
|Base||Mariakerke, letecká základna|
|Print size / 300 DPI||A4|
|Published with authors permit||Published with authors permit|
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Ten Antique Airplanes and the Pilots Who Dare to Fly Them
Nearly every airplane flying today, from a humble Cessna to the mammoth Airbus A380, uses the same stick-and-rudder-style controls. Moving the yoke or stick back and forth changes pitch moving it sideways controls roll pushing rudder pedals adjusts yaw. Airplanes great and small have almost the same feel, and until acted upon by some outside force, most will fly straight and level. That hasn’t always been the case.
A few years ago, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, I learned to fly an exact reproduction of the Wright brothers’ 1902 glider, the first aircraft that offered complete control over yaw, pitch, and roll. But there was no stick: A horizontal cross-member linked to the forward-mounted elevator controlled pitch. By rotating the cross-member with both hands, the pilot could move the elevator up or down. To control roll, the pilot shifted his hips on the cradle he was laying on. Activating the cradle twisted the wings (“wing warping,” the brothers called it), and in no time they were turning like crazy. As for yaw, the rudder, which was wired to the cradle, moved in conjunction with the wings. After a few hard landings, I got the hang of it and logged a few five-second glides. But flying this aircraft felt difficult and nerve-racking. And I had to hold my neck up so long it hurt. I began to wonder about the pilots who routinely fly antique airplanes: Did they have similar reactions? Here’s what I learned.
Fokker Dr.I Triplane
Dutch aviation pioneer Anthony Fokker founded an airplane manufacturing company in Germany, producing such military airplanes as the renowned Dr.I, flown by German ace Manfred von Richthofen—the Red Baron.
Pilot: Mark Holliday was a pilot for the former US Airways.
“The Dr.I replica doesn’t have a rotary engine, it has a modern engine. I flew it [from Fort Lupton, Colorado] to Dayton, Ohio, and I’ve flown it to Oshkosh. It’s a lot of fun for about 15 or 20 minutes. Then after that, no. It wasn’t designed for a cross-country flight. It’s not bad in smooth air, but if you get up into bumpy air, you get worn out because the tail sashays back and forth and slings you around all the time, and you have to keep pressure on both rudder pedals. It doesn’t carry enough fuel—thank goodness—so it flies only about an hour and 15 minutes. After that, you’re just grateful to land and stretch your legs.”
Curtiss Model D
Introduced in 1911, the Model D was flown by the U.S. Army Signal Corps and U.S. Navy.
Pilot: Dan Taylor restores vintage aircraft, lectures on aviation history, and works as a radio personality at WCBS-FM in New York City.
“In its day, it was a very significant airplane. It was the first type to land on a ship, and many people saw flight for the first time with Curtiss exhibitions at county fairs. Sitting on the little seat racing down the runway, you’re acutely aware of the engine roaring behind you. A little intimidating at first, and one of those things you have to be mindful of because if there’s an accident, you’re going to be first on the scene. The controls on the Curtiss Model D are borrowed from the auto and motorcycle world: a steering wheel column for rudder and pitch. The throttle is at your right foot. And like riding a bike or a motorcycle, to turn, you lean in the hinged seat from side to side. You must be careful landing. There’s no suspension, so you have to land gently. It takes very little to put the wheels through the lower wing. To me though, an absolute joy to fly.”
The 1910 Hanriot
René Hanriot founded his company in France, and his background in designing boats shows: The wood fuselage of this monoplane could pass for a crew shell.
Pilot: Karl Erickson ran the aviation department at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine. He has restored numerous vintage airplanes.
“The first time I flew the Hanriot reproduction, it felt fairly normal, and the characteristics were as expected. I had learned to fly in a modern airplane but had spent very little time in them. Most of my early flying took place in vintage airplanes. An original Anzani-powered 1909 Blériot XI, which I had the pleasure of trying to fly, I believe to be the worst machine to control. The Hanriot, on the other hand, flies like a Piper Cub: controllable, light, and just delightful. But [the Hanriot] flies far slower than modern light airplanes, so you have to be on your game because the speed range between flying and stalling is extremely small.”
The instructions in this kit are similar to those of all of Airfix's new issues. They are on full size sheets, with one page of general historical information in 5 languages, one sheet of brief modeling instructions in 12 languages, and 19 detailed assembly drawings on 4 pages. There is also one sheet of excellent rigging instructions with 1/72 scale drawings, since this model needs wire rigging to look realistic. The box art has the color guide and painting references, although there isn't a lot of interior information, especially since not all interior colors are covered. There is no sprue diagram or detailed information on the forward part of the cockpit interior. The photo on p. 20 of the Imrie book should solve this problem.
The decals in this kit provide markings for only one aircraft, one flown by Ernst Udet during 1916. These provide the crosses, stripe markings, designator and serial number, and "lift here" markings. The decals have no borders, so they need not be trimmed. They need no setting solution, and are excellent in all respects. I used a gloss coat lacquer first, followed by a dull lacquer coat after decal application.
The kit consists of light grey styrene parts, nearly all of which are used. There is very little flash, although there is some on a few of the very tiny struts and parts which attach to the fuselage. I had a couple of struts break off, but they were easily repaired. In all, this is an excellent kit.
The first step is to build up the cockpit interior. Some color information is missing, and a few parts show colors that are not listed in the color guide. There is little information about the forward cockpit, although several parts are included that are very helpful. The photo in Imrie, p. 20, should be helpful.
The bottom fuselage section mounts all of the cockpit floor assembly. The instructions say to attach the upper sections of the fuselage independently, but I found that a better way was to glue the sides and tops together and then attach them to the bottom section. There will be some filling and sanding involved, but this is not a real problem. The forward sections, including the engine, firewall, and upper fuselage cover, can then be painted and attached to for forward fuselage. I painted them all silver, with the exception of the engine, and then masked them off before painting the major parts of the airframe.
I decided to attach the landing gear struts and other appendages immediately after painting the major parts (fuselage, wings, wheels, etc.) RLM 71 green, which looks, from the box art, to be a pretty good representation of the overall color of the airplane. Most E.III's left the factory unpainted in clear varnish, a beige color, but some references show a darker color, either darker green or medium grey. You're on your own here. I used super glue on the struts and landing gear parts, which worked better than the MEK based solvent I usually use.
The wings, in two solid pieces, appear to have very small and weak attachment tabs, and I was concerned that they would be very fragile once attached. However, although a slight amount of trimming on the inside of the engine fairing on the right side was required, the wings fitted easily into their receptacles, and they line up perfectly with the fuselage without undue effort. I don't know why they are so strong, although I usually handle the model at the rear fuselage rather than the wingtips. I used superglue, not MEK.
One part that I questioned is the upper wing bracing "V" strut, which mounts just ahead of the cockpit. There are some protrusions off to the side, which are meant to represent the attachment points of the bracing wires. They would look funny if bracing wire is not used, but the problem is that they do not show on photos of the real airplanes, and although I left them on with my model, If I were to do another one, I would snip them off and attach the rigging wires directly to the top of the strut.
One issue I noticed is the fuselage fairing on the right side of the fuselage behind the cowling. On some E.III's, the parts are symmetrical on both sides, as shown in most photos, but some E.III's had a squared off section on the right side with the rounded section on the left side. It would have been nice for Airfix to include both parts, but they didn't, so you will have to improvise of you don't want to do the variant depicted in the kit. If you do the kit as per box art, this is not a problem. If the kit is reissued later, they will probably have to include both fairings.
Note that I did one of the Revell kits at the same time for comparison.
Painting and Finishing
This has been covered in the assembly portion. I used RLM 71 green as the basic color. After a coat of gloss lacquer, I applied the decals according to instructions, and then used a Dullcote spray over the entire airplane. Following this, I applied the rigging wires using my special process of using stranded electronic wire, separating the wires into individual sections, rolling them straight, cutting them to the proper length, and attaching them with white glue. To me, this is a lot easier than trying to use thread, and it appears much more realistic. I used the rigging diagram, as it appears to be entirely accurate.
I added rear elevator horns, which are shown in the rigging diagram but are not included in the kit. They are VERY small parts attached beside the rudder, and I made them from trimmed plastic strips. No problem here.
I also added a small circular windshield, as some of these planes had them, and they show in some of the book photos. I used a small piece of clear plastic, cut to shape.
This is only the second kit I have seen of the Fokker Eindekker, the first, dating back to 1981, is the old Revell kit. It is typical of the period, with a one piece wing which is easy to align. There isn't much interior detail, but otherwise, it is still a useful kit despite its age. The only advantage is that the Revell kit has the symmetrical engine-fuselage fairings on both sides, allowing more variants of the airplane to be constructed. I have a done a number of them over the years, including a Morane L and H, and a Fokker M.6 trainer, as well as some production E.III's. I would suspect that the Airfix kit also has this development potential, but either kit could be converted without a lot of undue effort. In any event, this kit is definitely worth getting, and getting in quantity of you want to do all of the variants. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Airfix/Hornby and Phil Peterson for the review kit. It was a lot of fun to build.
Anthony Fokker, a Dutchman, began designing, building, and flying airplanes before the outbreak of World War I. By 1914, he was building airplanes for the German government, and by 1915, had begun building monoplanes inspired by the Morane Saulnier aircraft. Although they superficially resembled the French airplanes, they were radically different in construction, as the French aircraft used wooden structures throughout, whereas the Fokkers has welded steel tubing fuselages covered by fabric. The first Fokkers had 80 hp. rotary engines, and when Roland Garros's Morane was brought down in German territory, after some successes with his machine gun firing through the propeller arc, his mechanism, merely steel plates bolted to the rear of the propeller blades to deflect any bullets that would have hit the prop, inspired Fokker to develop a mechanism to allow the gun to fire through the prop arc by timing the trigger to fire the gun only when the prop was out of the way. There had been interrupter gear designs invented and patented before, but nobody had ever built a working model of one until Fokker's device was installed on one of the original Fokker monoplanes. By 1915, the E-I had appeared, and after a small number were built, the design was slightly improved, culminating with the E-III, with rotary engines of 100 hp. allowing maximum speeds exceeding 80 mph.
The first Fokker monoplanes were controlled by wing warping, where the wings were twisted to change the shape in order to bank the plane. Later airplanes used ailerons, which simplified the problem immensely, but ailerons were never fitted to a Fokker monoplane of this series.
The first Fokker monoplanes were attached to reconnaissance squadrons, used mainly to escort and protect the slower two seaters. Later,
"hunting squadrons" were formed, equipped entirely with the fighters, and a number of German pilots became aces rather quickly, notably Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann, developing combat tactics based on their ability to aim the entire airplane at the target rather than having to flying the airplane and use the gun separately. The E.I through E.III generally used a single machine gun, while the E.IV generally had two guns, and there was even a three gun version, but it was basically too heavy with the available powerplants. During 1916, the British captured an E.III that came down intact behind their lines, and they developed interim fighters, DH-2's and Nieuports, with forward firing armament without interrupter gear, and used these until being replaced by Spads, SE-5's, and later model Nieuports, thus rendering the Fokker fighters obsolete. Fortunately, this plane has somehow survived, and it is currently displayed in the National Museum of Science and industry, in South Kensington, England. This is believed to be the first example captured. Production records conflict, but it is believed that around 258 Fokker E.III's were completed, with total production of all monoplane types slightly exceeding 300. Fokker later came out with some unsuccessful biplanes, followed by the excellent Dr.1 Triplanes and D.VII biplanes. But that is another story.
There are many publications dealing with the Fokker Monoplanes, most with excellent photographs and detail drawings. Some of these are:
Fokker E.III EindeckerThe Fokker E.III Eindecker (Eindecker meaning “one wing” ), was a single-seat monoplane fighter. It was designed by Anthony Fokker at the beginning of 1915. It used wing warping for roll control which was typical in the early airplanes. That system was replaced by ailerons a short time later. The airplane was fitted with a 100 HP Oberursel U.I engine which was a 9 cylinder rotary. Records indicate that 249 E.III’s were manufactured. There is only one known surviving aircraft in existence which is on display in the London Science Museum. The engine was not very reliable and lost power considerably as the altitude increased. It took about thirty minutes to reach 9,800 feet and maneuverability at that altitude was almost nonexistent. Crew: One Wingspan: 31 feet 3 inches Length: 23 feet 7 inches Empty Weight: 880 lbs Gross Weight: 1345 lbs Max Speed: 87 mph Source: Excerpts from en.wikipedia.org
Fokker’s Fabulous Flying Coffin
Captured in November 1918, this Fokker D.VII was given to the Smithsonian Institution by the War Department in 1920. The airplane was fully restored by the National Air and Space Museum in 1961.
The D.VII’s introduction on the Western Front shocked the Allies and boosted German morale.
Germany’s Fokker D.VII embodied all the characteristics considered most important for a successful fighter aircraft during World War I, and many aviation historians regard it as the finest all-around fighter of its day. Its appearance in the spring of 1918, coinciding with the last great German offensive of the war, represented the final and most formidable challenge to Allied aerial supremacy over the Western Front.
There is no question that German aviators regarded the D.VII as far superior to the Albatros, Pfalz and Fokker triplane fighters it replaced. So impressive was its reputation, in fact, that when the war finally ended in November 1918, the D.VII enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the only aircraft type specifically mentioned in the armistice agreement (a fact that the plane’s producer, Anthony Fokker, never ceased to remind his prospective customers of in future years).
The German air service might never have had the D.VII were it not for the persistence of a foreign airplane builder. A Dutchman born in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), Anthony Fokker was a far cry from the popular image of the stodgy, meticulous, science-minded German engineer. Fokker, an inattentive student who preferred sports and tinkering with mechanical devices to schoolroom studies, had a natural flair for both flying and business, and he became a flamboyant entrepreneur. Although he was always an outsider among the German high command, Fokker’s flying expertise enabled him to achieve a rapport with many of Germany’s frontline combat aviators, and he wasn’t above using those relationships to his advantage in securing military contracts. When it came to engineering, his aircraft designs were created more by a process of empirical trial and error than through scientific or technical knowledge. But Fokker was shrewd enough to recognize the value of other engineers’ good ideas when he saw them, and knew how to capitalize on them.
Jasta 5’s Josef Mai painted his D.VII black and white to throw off the enemy’s aim. Mai, who racked up 30 victories, survived the war. (Courtesy of Jon Guttman)
After Anthony dropped out of high school, his father sent him to Germany to study mechanics. Bitten by the aviation bug in 1908, he dropped out again and constructed his own airplane in 1910. By the time WWI began Fokker had established his own aircraft manufacturing company in Germany, where he produced a series modeled after the highly successful French Morane-Saulnier monoplanes. Fokker’s products, which featured stronger wooden wings and an innovative lightweight steel-tube framework for the fuselage and tail surfaces, were actually considered superior to the Morane-Saulnier originals.
As a non-German, Fokker lacked access to the best German aero engines of the day. Instead he had to make do with license-built copies of the French Le Rhône rotary power plant, manufactured by the Oberursel factory, which Fokker owned. While lighter than the water-cooled German engines, the rotaries were less powerful and not as reliable. They also had the disadvantage of requiring lubrication with castor oil, which was in short supply in wartime Germany.
Fokker applied for German citizenship in December 1914 (he would later claim that he was coerced into it so that his company could continue to get orders from the German military). But his firm was still denied access to the more advanced aero engines, and his rotary-engine products were regarded as second-rate. That situation changed in the summer of 1915, when Fokker developed the first successful system for synchronizing a machine gun to fire through the whirling blades of an airplane’s propeller. By installing a machine gun fitted with his new interrupter gear into his M-5 monoplane in May 1915, he produced the first truly effective fighter in history, the Fokker E.I. Although his plane’s airframe may have been based on the Morane-Saulnier, with a less-than-ideal rotary engine, the German air service couldn’t ignore the fact that Fokker’s new machine outclassed everything else in the air at that time. Introduced into combat in July 1915, the “Fokker Scourge” dominated the skies over the Western Front for the next year, and Allied airplanes and their hapless crews became known as “Fokker Fodder.”
By the summer of 1916, however, the Fokker Eindeckers were fast becoming obsolete. Fitted with only one machine gun and using the same rotary engines, Fokker’s D.II and D.III biplane fighters were being outclassed by efficient new Mercedes-powered Halberstadt fighters and even deadlier twin-gun Albatros D.I and D.II biplanes. In fact, the Fokker D.III was then seen as so mediocre that the Germans offered to sell some to the neutral Netherlands. Fokker’s Mercedes-powered D.I and D.IV biplane fighters were also outperformed by their contemporaries, and suffered from so many structural and quality-control problems that they were relegated to training duties.
Technology had moved on, and Fokker had been left behind. His aircraft were held in such low regard that the Inspektion der Fliegertruppen, or Idflieg, actually ordered him to undertake license manufacture of another company’s design, the AEG C.IV.
Wilhelm Scheutzel of Jasta 65 leans against his D.VII, which is decorated with figures from the Grimms' Fairy Tale "The Seven Swabians." (Courtesy of Jon Guttman)
During mid-1916, when Fokker’s aircraft manufacturing career was at its lowest point, several events occurred to reverse his fortunes. In June his chief designer, Martin Kreuzer, died in a plane crash. He was replaced by Franz Möser, who would subsequently be responsible for designing the highly successful Dr.I triplane, D.VII biplane and D.VIII monoplane fighters. During that same period, the German air ministry encouraged the merger of Fokker’s company with that of Hugo Junkers, in an effort to utilize Fokker’s facilities for the production of Junkers’ revolutionary new all-metal monoplanes. Fokker never actually built any Junkers planes. Much to Junkers’ annoyance, however, he did adapt Junkers’ design for a thick-section cantilever wing to wooden construction, by means of a box-spar structure pioneered by Swedishborn engineer Villehad Forssman, and applied it to his own succeeding airplane designs.
At Fokker’s direction, Möser initiated the development of a series of prototypes utilizing the new wooden cantilever wing. So radically different were these new airplanes that, in place of the “M” numbers assigned to previous Fokker prototypes, they were designated with numbers prefaced by “V” for Verspannungslos, or cantilever. The first of them, the V-1, flown in December 1916, was a sesquiplane with no external bracing wires. Neither it nor the succeeding V-2 was considered suitable for operational service, but when Idflieg, perhaps overly impressed with Britain’s Sopwith Triplane, ordered all German manufacturers to produce triplanes of their own, Fokker adapted the new wing to his offering. The V-3 triplane prototype, introduced in the summer of 1917 and further refined as the V-4, was ordered into pre-production as the F.I. After a short but spectacular career in the hands of Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen and Werner Voss, the type was approved for mass production as the Dr.I (for Dreidecker, or “tri-wing”).
Fokker’s first successful fighter since the E.III monoplane of early 1916, the Dr.I seemed likely to redress the balance of air power over the Western Front as effectively as Fokker’s monoplanes had two years earlier. The new triplane had barely arrived at frontline squadrons in late October, however, when quality-control issues arose with it, costing the lives of several pilots. All Dr.Is were grounded until modifications could be made, and Idflieg came close to canceling its order for the new fighters. Fokker always insisted that the quality issues were largely the result of the poor raw materials made available to his company by the German government. Whatever the root cause, the damage was done. Only 320 Dr.Is were ever built.
The Dr.I featured excellent climb capability and maneuverability, but it was still powered by the same 110-hp Oberursel rotary engine that had propelled the E.III. That factor, along with the aerodynamic drag generated by the three wings, kept the Dr.I’s level speed markedly slower than those of the new S.E.5as and Spad XIIIs then being introduced by the Allies.
Concerned about the Dr.I’s shortcomings as well as those of its stablemates, the structurally weak Albatros D.V and the sluggish Pfalz D.III, Idflieg arranged a competition for a new fighter to replace them all, to be held in January 1918. One of the stipulations was that all entrants would be powered by the 160-hp Mercedes D.III liquid-cooled, 6-cylinder inline engine. Anthony Fokker was thus finally allowed access to the more sophisticated and higher-powered aero engines that had been largely denied him up to that time.
An inside look at the clean cockpit of the Fokker D.VII preserved at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The competition included no fewer than 31 different planes from 10 different manufacturers, eight of which were submitted by Fokker. All the planes were to be evaluated both by test pilots and by experienced combat aviators. Fokker’s main hopes were pinned on his V-11, a biplane design that was based upon the fuselage of the Dr.I, fitted with the Mercedes D.III engine and a set of wooden cantilever wings. The “Red Baron” Richthofen, Germany’s leading ace, flew the V-11 and liked it a great deal, though he told Fokker he thought its coffin-shaped fuselage was a bit too short, rendering it directionally unstable under certain circumstances. Fokker added several inches to the rear fuselage, as well as a small triangular fin, and the V-11 became the unquestioned winner of the competition.
After further refinement, the new fighter was ordered into production as the Fokker D.VII. Much to Fokker’s satisfaction, Idflieg ordered his archrival, Albatros, and its subsidiary, the Ostdeutsche Albatros Werke (OAW), to manufacture the D.VII under license as well—paying Fokker a royalty for each one they built.
In an interesting example of the way Anthony Fokker operated, he did not prepare any production drawings of the D.VII. Instead he simply sent a complete airplane to Albatros to dismantle and analyze—from which it produced its own production drawings. As a result, parts from Albatros-built D.VIIs were not interchangeable with those of Fokker-built aircraft. Ironically, but perhaps not too surprisingly, the Albatros- and OAW-built copies were considered better made than the Fokker originals.
Unlike most wooden-framed aircraft of the era, the Fokker D.VII’s fabric-covered fuselage and tail surfaces were built on a strong but lightweight framework of welded steel tubes. All the external wing and landing gear struts were also fabricated from streamlined steel tubes. The wings, however, consisted of a plywood box structure with the leading edges clad in plywood veneer and the remainder covered with fabric. The lift, compression and torsion loads were handled by thick box spars within the airfoil section rather than by drag-producing external bracing wires. In addition, the D.VII’s wings required no adjustments by ground crew riggers, as did most other aircraft in those days. The design was essentially a wooden adaptation of Junkers’ all-metal cantilever wing, which was too heavy to achieve widespread use until more powerful engines became available.
Like the Dr.I, the D.VII included another unique Fokker feature: an airfoil built onto the axle between the landing wheels. That airfoil allegedly provided enough aerodynamic lift to support the weight of the landing gear in flight.
Fokker D.VIIs began arriving at frontline squadrons in April 1918, just in time to participate in Germany’s last spring offensive of the war. The Red Baron, who had championed the new fighter at the January competition, was among the pilots eagerly awaiting its arrival, but he never had the opportunity to find out what he could do with it. The victor of 80 aerial combats and indisputably the most successful fighter pilot of World War I, Richthofen was killed on April 21 while flying his by-then-obsolete Dr.I triplane.
The D.VII’s introduction to combat provided both a qualitative and morale boost to the German air service, and a shock to its Allied counterparts. Although its coffinlike fuselage looked less streamlined than those of its elegant-looking Albatros and Pfalz predecessors, the boxy Fokker performed better because it was lighter, stronger and possessed more efficient wings, which gave it superior lift characteristics compared to its thin-winged contemporaries. In fact, the D.VII’s thick-sectioned wings were so efficient that at low speeds the fighter could virtually hang on its prop, a trick often witnessed by Allied pilots during dogfights.
Not only did the Fokker’s wing design endow it with a superior rate of climb and maneuverability, it also enabled the fighter to maintain those advantages at higher altitudes than its chief Allied opponents, the Spad XIII and S.E.5a. Although the supremely nimble Sopwith Camel could still outmaneuver the Fokker at lower altitudes, the power of its rotary engines began to fall off above 12,000 feet, while the D.VII could still function effectively at 20,000. Furthermore, the D.VII’s strong cantilever wing structure bestowed a higher diving speed than was possible in the preceding Albatros D.V and D.Va sesquiplanes, whose wings had a tendency to break when overstressed.
On November 9, 1918, this D.VII was "captured" by the 95th Aero Squadron, near Verdun, when Lieutenant Heinz Freiherr von Beaulieu-Marconnay landed by accident (or deliberately) at an allied airfield. The aircraft is now on display at the National Air and Space museum in Washington, DC. (NASM)
While early D.VIIs were powered by the 160-hp Mercedes IIIa, that engine was eventually superseded on the production line by an improved higher-compression 180-hp version, the IIIaü, and the 200-hp IIIaüv. Better yet, during the summer of 1918 the new D.VIIF appeared, powered by a 185-hp BMW IIIa engine. It became the most coveted version of the fighter among knowledgeable German aces. The BMW engine raised the maximum speed from 116 to 124 mph, and climb to 2,000 meters was reduced from eight minutes to six. Just as important, the engine maintained its power output at higher altitudes better than the Mercedes.
The Fokker D.VII was 23 feet long and had a wingspan of 29 feet 3½ inches. In an effort to improve the pilot’s downward visibility, the lower wing was somewhat smaller than the upper. Wing area was 219 square feet, and armament was two synchronized 7.92mm Maxim 08/15 machine guns with 500 rounds per gun. Gross weights varied with the engine used the 160-hp Mercedes version weighed 1,936 pounds, while the 185-hp BMW version weighed 1,993 pounds.
Besides possessing the best fighter, German pilots enjoyed other advantages over their Allied counterparts in 1918. For one thing, they began to be issued parachutes, which while not as reliable as modern chutes, at least gave them a fighting chance of escaping alive in an emergency. Another innovation introduced on the D.VII was a rudimentary high-altitude breathing system. It may only have been a compressed air tank with a valve and a tube, terminating in a mouthpiece like the stem of a tobacco pipe, but it was better than struggling for breath at 20,000 feet, as Allied pilots did.
About the only significant design flaw the D.VII exhibited pertained to its armament. The two machine guns were well placed and accessible to pilots, but the ammunition supply, forward of the cockpit, proved to be too close to the engine bay. There were instances of ammunition “cooking off” in D.VIIs while airborne, setting the planes on fire. Several pilots lost their lives as a result, including 21-victory ace Fritz Friedrichs, killed when his D.VII caught fire on July 15, 1918. The problem was eventually alleviated with better ammunition and by cutting additional cooling louvers in the metal cowling.
By the end of the war some 70 German fighter squadrons had been equipped, either wholly or in part, with D.VIIs. German pilots regarded it as by far their best fighter, and widely believed that it could transform a mediocre pilot into a good one, and a good one into an outstanding one. There never seemed to be enough D.VIIs to go around. Units that were issued improved versions of older designs, such as the Albatros D.Va or Pfalz D.IIIa, or supplementary new types such as the Roland D.VI or Pfalz D.XII, were apt to think they’d had to settle for an inferior second best, even if that wasn’t true.
Approximately 3,300 D.VIIs were manufactured by Fokker, Albatros and OAW. In spite of their qualitative superiority, however, there weren’t a sufficient number of them to stave off Germany’s inevitable defeat. Although Fokker considered the specific mention of the surrender of all D.VII fighters in the terms of the armistice extremely flattering, and it made great advertising, the seizure of all his assets at war’s end left him in a difficult position.
Fokker wanted to continue building civil aircraft after the war, but that was clearly impossible in Germany. Ever the slick entrepreneur, he managed to hide from the Allies 220 aircraft, mostly D.VIIs, along with 400 engines and manufacturing equipment. Social unrest was so rampant in postwar Germany that he also secretly modified a D.VII into a two-seater, with an extra fuel tank in the airfoil fairing between the wheels, in case he and his wife needed to make a quick getaway. In the end the two-seater D.VII was unnecessary. By means of bribery and other subterfuges Fokker smuggled six trainloads of planes, engines, spare parts and machinery into the Netherlands, along with himself and his wife.
Fokker landed on his feet. Largely through the sale of his smuggled planes, particularly the D.VIIs, he soon established himself as an aircraft manufacturer and celebrity in his native Netherlands. Some of the D.VIIs were sold to the Dutch air service and others were sold abroad, often clandestinely, to various foreign powers. At least 50 are known to have been exported to the Soviet Union. By the early 1920s Fokker was back in business, operating highly successful aircraft manufacturing enterprises in the Netherlands and the United States. Although he died in 1939, his aircraft company continued to operate in the Netherlands until 1996.
Frequent contributor Robert Guttman recommends for further reading: Fokker: A Transatlantic Biography, by Marc Dierikx Fokkers of World War I, by Peter M. Bowers and The Fokker D.VII, by Profile Publications.
Originally published in the May 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.
Fokker Technologies, founded by aviation pioneer Anthony Fokker in 1919, was acquired by GKN Aerospace in 2015.
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This is the airplane that ushered in fighter combat. Before Tony Fokker fashioned his famous synchronizing gear to a machine gun so that it could fire through the prop, aerial combat was a hit-or-miss proposition. After his E.III swept the skies in 1915, air fighting developed into a deadly serious skill.
[ad#ad-1]The earliest planes of World War One had no means of firing through the propeller, which, being in the pilot’s line of sight and the plane’s forward direction, was the most effective place for a machine gun. There were two-seaters with a gun in the back. The British were working on their F.E. series of pusher biplanes with forward-mounted guns. The French were experimenting with high wing-mounted guns. Etc. But all these concepts had their drawbacks.
Until Roland Garros, a famous French aviator who had been the first to cross the Mediterranean, hit upon a simple solution. Since most of the bullets would pass through the prop blades, why not simply reinforce or armor the spot of the blades where some bullets would hit? While ricochets were a problem, Garros’ idea worked quite well. His Morane-Saulnier L monoplane, so equipped, shocked the German pilots, and briefly ruled the skies. Unfortunately (for him, at least), Garros was forced down behind German lines, and was captured before he could destroy his top-secret aeroplane.
The Germans delivered the craft to Anthony Fokker, a young Dutch engineer in their employ, and asked him to design a comparably equipped machine. Fokker studied the airplane as well as Garros’ rather crude deflection plates. While the airplane itself was good enough (the resemblance of the E.III to the Morane-Saulnier H is unmistakable and not coincidental), his precise engineer’s mind was repulsed by the idea of bullets blindly smacking into the propeller and hopefully not knocking it out of whack nor bouncing back to kill the pilot.
After some contemplation (and most likely reference to the work of a Swiss engineer Schneider who had been working on the problem) he devised a way of connecting the propeller shaft to the machine gun’s firing mechanism, and interrupting the gun whenever the propeller blade was in front of the muzzle. Actually, to be technically accurate, his synchronization gear allowed the gun to be turned on whenever the blades were out of the way. So the common term, “interrupter gear,” is inaccurate.
It was astonishingly successful, and in mid-1915 began the so-called “Fokker Scourge” when the German Eindekkers bested all their adversaries.
The airplane itself was basically Fokker’s M.5.K monoplane, based on the Morane-Saulnier. The first model with the synchronization gear was the E.I, appearing at the front in June, 1915. The first recorded aerial victory for the type occurred on July 15.
Specs for Fokker E.III:
Top Speed: 87.5 m.p.h.
Manufacturer: Fokker Flugzeug-Werke GmbH
Engine: 100 h.p. Oberursel 9-cylinder rotary
Wingspan: 30 feet 10 inches
Weight: 1,342 lb.
Armament: 1 MG08 7.92mm machine gun
Germany’s great early-war aces, Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke, flew Eindekkers.