World War 1 saw the introduction of aircraft to the battlefield. Initially, crude wood framed canvas covered aircraft were deployed in light reconnaissance roles. However the combat potential of aircraft was quickly realized and military aircraft development bureaus were established to oversee the development of planes designed for attack, fighter, bombing, and reconnaissance roles.
In the beginning, pilots were armed with conventional handheld firearms to take potshots at enemy scout planes. However research and development of heavier armed planes soon saw the introduction of light machine guns and many methods were attempted to find a way for pilots and gunners to accurately aim. After much trial and error with different configurations, it became clear that the easiest solution was to affix weapons directly to the fuselage or wing of the plane, rather than attempt to manually aim weapons independent of in-flight movement of the aircraft.
The earliest crude iterations of this setup included the Morane Saulnier which mounted a machine gun directly on the centerline of the fuselage, directly in front of the pilot for relative ease of aiming. However this presented a problem of the bullets hitting the propeller. Initial crude solutions included mounting reinforced steel armor to the propeller to deflect bullets that struck the propeller.
The introduction of the interrupter gear finally solved this problem by a direct mechanical synchronization between the engine’s rotation and the timing of the gun’s firing. This development meant that more robust armaments could be used without the need for a specialized heavy propeller.
As the war raged on in Europe, the British, French, and the Germans engaged in an air arms race driven by constant experimentation and design fads. Even the slightest edge in speed, armament, or maneuverability could make the difference in air superiority. Pilots’ skills were also constantly put to the test, attempting to push their wood-framed contraptions to the breaking point, often with tragic results.
Austro-Hungarian Empire (1916)
Triplane Bomber Prototype – 1 built
The Lloyd 40.08 was a prototype triplane bomber built for Austria-Hungary under an order for a new bomber by the Luftfahrtruppen (LFT, Aviation Troops) in 1915. The 40.08 “Luftkreuzer” (Air Cruiser) was a twin boom design that would have carried 200 kg of bombs into battle. The aircraft had frequent problems with its design, such as being front-heavy and the center of gravity being too high. Attempts to fix the issues were minimal and it would never fly. The aircraft was sent to a scrapyard in the end, but it was an interesting venture of a now-defunct empire.
World War I showcased the first widespread use of combat airplanes and the subsequent specialization of aircraft to fit certain roles. Bombers proved their effectiveness and most countries involved developed some sort of bomber for their early air forces. One shining example is the Gotha series of bombers, which were able to bomb London and eventually replace Zeppelin raids entirely. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was no exception to building their own bombers. At the time, in 1915, Austria-Hungary was fighting on several fronts, with the ongoing Russian front dragging on and by May, Italy had joined and had begun fighting its neighbor. A new bomber would be a helpful addition to Austria-Hungary’s military.
In 1915, the Luftfahrtruppen sent out an order for a 3-engine bomber design. The exact date the order was given in 1915 is unknown, but it is very likely the order was a reaction to Italy joining the war, as similarly, Austria-Hungary attempted to buy Hansa-Brandenburg G.1 bombers to bolster their aircraft complement. The requirement specified that two engines would be mounted inside fuselages and the main engine in a central hull. The bomb payload would be 440 Ibs (200 kg) and defenses would be six machine guns mounted around the aircraft. Expected flying time was up to 6 hours. Given the long flying time, strategic bombing might have been in mind but the bomb load is much smaller compared to other bombers in the role. Tactical bombing would be more practical in the long run for the aircraft. Three companies would submit their designs and would be awarded funding: Oeffag, Phönix, and Lloyd.
Lloyd was one of several aircraft manufacturers in Austria-Hungary. Most of their aircraft that entered production were reconnaissance planes, but they had designed and built several experimental designs as well, some of which had unique and unorthodox designs, such as their FJ 40.05 Reconnaissance/Fighter hybrid. Their bomber design would also verge on to the strange. This would be the only bomber the company would produce. Lloyd came forward with two designs in January of 1916, the Luftkreuzer I and the Luftkreuzer II. The first would eventually be redesignated the 40.08 and the second would be redesignated the 40.10. A complete 40.08 was constructed by June 20th, 1916 and was ready for testing. Given there is no further evidence of work on production examples of the 40.10, it can be assumed the 40.08 was chosen over this design.
Engine testing would shortly begin with the 40.08 at the Aszod Airport. Early testing showed the design was severely flawed. The center of gravity was too high and the aircraft was too front heavy. During ground testing, this problem became clear with the aircraft tipping forward, resulting in damage to the front. A frontal wheel was added to fix this problem, as well as other minor changes. With the modifications completed in Aspern (a section of Vienna), the aircraft was slated to finally take off, with a pilot being assigned to the aircraft. The aircraft would attemp a take off in October of 1916, with Oberleutnant Antal Lányi-Lanczendorfer at the controls. Attempts at flight proved the aircraft was too heavy as well and it would never get truly airborne. A solution came with reducing the bomb load to decrease the takeoff-weight, but at the cost of ordnance.
Little work was done on the aircraft between October and November. In December, large rails were fixed to the bottom of the aircraft, replacing the tailings on the aircraft in February of 1917. With the number of problems the Luftkreuzer faced, it was obvious it would not be possible to improve the plane fast enough for it to have any value on the battlefields of Europe. In March of 1917, all work had stopped on the Luftkreuzer after an attempt to revise the aircraft was denied. The sole Luftkreuzer was sent to storage where it would remain for almost a year. In January of 1918, what was left of the aircraft was taken to an aircraft boneyard and destroyed in Cheb (located in soon to be Czechoslovakia). Thus concludes the story of Austria-Hungary’s attempted triplane bomber.
Austria-Hungary itself wouldn’t survive by the end of the year and would dissolve into Austria and Hungary and new national states such as Czechoslovakia. This wouldn’t be the only bomber built nor used in Austria-Hungary. Several other companies had designed large bombers, but none of these would enter production either. The only bombers that would be operated by the Luftfahrtruppen and see combat would be German and license-built Hansa-Brandenburg G.1s. These were bought in 1916 and would go on a single sortie before being sent to training duty, as they were found to be heavily outdated by the time they arrived on the battlefield. In the end, Austria-Hungary wouldn’t see itself using a mass-produced bomber.
The Luftkreuzer was a large triplane, twin-boom design. On the end of each boom, an Austro-Daimler 6-cylinder engine was mounted in tractor configuration (engine faced forward) and ended with a wooden propeller. These propellers did not counter rotate. Each boom itself was a reused fuselage taken from the Lloyd C.II aircraft. Each wing on the aircraft was actually a different length; with the top wing having a 76.3 ft (23.26 m) wingspan, the middle wing with a 73.42 ft (22.38 m) wingspan and the lower wing being 55.2 ft (16.84 m) wingspan. The central wing would be connected to the main fuselage and booms while the upper and lower wings would be connected via struts.
The main hull was rather tall and was one of the causes for why the aircraft was so front heavy and had such a high center of gravity. The cockpit was located beneath the upper wing and had several windows on both sides. The lower extended area was where the bombardier would sit, and was between the middle and lower wings. The central hull also contained the main engine, an Austro-Daimler 12-cylinder water-cooled engine in a pusher configuration. This engine was linked to a wooden two-bladed propeller. The hull was designed in a way so that the gunners would have a clear field of vision. Despite its prototype status, the aircraft was fully marked with the Luftfahrtruppen’s insignia, including one very large symbol painted directly in the front of this aircraft. The Luftkreuzer originally only had two main landing gear legs, with 4 wheels being mounted to each leg. When it was realized the aircraft was front heavy, a 3rd landing gear leg was directly in front of the central hull. No photos exist that show this third landing gear leg.
The armament would consist of 4 machine guns and 440 Ibs (200 kg) of bombs. The bombs would be mounted in the main central hull. The machine guns would most likely be Schwarzloses. These guns would be placed around the airframe, with two being in the central hull and the other two being located in the side hulls. Certain gunner stations would be equipped with a searchlight to aid in night missions. The aircraft was never fully armed before being scrapped, but it is likely it was loaded with bombs or ballast, given that the aircraft had weight issues before taking off and the solution given was to lower the bomb load.
Lloyd 40.08 – The only version of the aircraft built. Never truly flew.
Austro-Hungarian Empire– The Lloyd 40.08 was built in and for the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Lufthahrtruppen, but did not see action.
*Given that the aircraft never truly flew, speed and similar flight statistics were never found.
Lloyd 40.08 Specifications
76 ft 3 in / 23.26 m
31 ft 3 in / 9.6 m
16ft 5 in / 5 m
110.0 ft² / 10.2 m²
1 × Pusher Austro-Daimler 12-cylinder water cooled engine 300 hp (224 kW)
2 × Tractor Austro-Daimler 6-cylinder inline water-cooled engines 160 hp (120 kW)
United Kingdom (1915 & 1917)
Anti-Airship Fighter – 1 Each Built
In 1915, Germany began bombing Great Britain by Zeppelin. For the first time, Britain itself was under threat by enemy aircraft. Early attempts to counter the Zeppelins were ineffective. The Royal Air Corps needed an aircraft to be able to endure long, nighttime missions to chase the Zeppelins. The Pemberton-Billing aircraft company designed the PB.29E quadruplane for this task. The aircraft didn’t perform as hoped, but before a final conclusion could be made it was lost in a crash. Years later in 1917, with the company under new management and renamed Supermarine, the program would rise again as the PB.31E. The PB.31E was dubbed the Nighthawk, and like its predecessor, proved to be ineffective in the role. The fighter is significant for its unusually large quadruplane layout and the first aircraft to be built by Supermarine.
The arrival of the Zeppelin in 1915 as a new type of weapon was an unwelcome one. It offered a new way of strategic bombing, as Zeppelins were faster and able to ascend higher than aircraft at the time. Zeppelins also served as a weapon of terror, as the civilians of England had never been faced with anything like it before, especially since the Zeppelins attacked mainly at night. Early attempts to counter Zeppelin raids proved ineffective, as anti-aircraft guns had a hard time spotting and aiming at the Zeppelins. Early forms of countermeasures involved aircraft dropping flares to illuminate the Zeppelins for gunners to see. None of these aircraft were used to actually intercept the airships. The Royal Air Corps needed an aircraft that would be able to reach and pursue Zeppelins on the homefront and on the battlefield. A potential solution came from a man named Noel Pemberton Billing.
Noel Pemberton Billing was a man of many talents. He was an inventor, aviator, and at one point a member of Parliament. At the time, he was invested in many forms of new technology and aircraft was one of them. Having formed his own aircraft company in 1913, he built several aircraft types for the Royal Naval Air Arm (RNAA), such as the PB.25. He had taken a short break from designing planes for the RNAA and wanted to pursue aircraft to help in the war effort. The task of taking on Zeppelins got him interested in designing a plane to fill the role.
His answer was the PB.29E, a quadruplane aircraft. Information regarding the PB.29E is sparse and no specifications can be found for it. To get the aircraft to the altitudes at which Zeppelins usually lurked, Pemberton Billing applied triplane principles in making the aircraft, except taking it a step further and adding an extra wing. Having more wings, in theory, would assist with lift, a necessary factor when trying to chase the high-flying Zeppelins. Work began in late 1915, with the aircraft being finished before winter. The PB.29E was intended to fly for very long missions and needed to operate at night. To assist in spotting the behemoths, a small searchlight was to be mounted in the nose of the aircraft. The sole PB.29E crashed in early 1916. From test flights, the aircraft proved to be cumbersome and would not have been able to pursue Zeppelins. The two Austro-Daimler engines did not prove to be sufficient for the intended role, and performance suffered from it.
On September 20th, 1916, Noel Pemberton Billing sold his company to Hubert Scott Paine so he could become a member of Parliament. His career in Parliament was full of slander and conspiracy, and ultimately negatively affected the war effort. Soon after being acquired, Paine renamed the company as the soon to be famous Supermarine Aviation Works, in honor of the firm’s telegraph address. Work continued on a Zeppelin interceptor, which would eventually become the PB.31E. The PB.31E was technically the first aircraft built by Supermarine and it resembled a larger and more advanced version of the PB.29E. It retained many aspects from its predecessor: the quadruplane layout, the mounted searchlight, and endurance for long nighttime missions. The armament was expanded with a second Lewis gun mounted in the rear cockpit as well as a Davis gun mounted on top of the cockpit above the wings. To make the crew more comfortable, the cockpit was fully enclosed, heated, and had a bunk for crewmembers. The Austro-Daimler engines were replaced by 100hp Anzani radial engines. Expected speed was 75 mph (121 km/h) and it was to operate up to 18 hours.
The aircraft was constructed in February of 1917, with a second in the works. On board the project was R.J Mitchell, the future designer of the Supermarine Spitfire. He began as a drafstman for the company and several designs concerning the fuselage and gun mounts of the PB.31E are labeled with his name. To the engineers, the aircraft was dubbed the Supermarine Nighthawk, however, this name was never official. Early flights were conducted at the Eastchurch airfield by test pilot Clifford B. Prodger. Tests showed that, like its predecessor, the engines weren’t capable of propelling the aircraft to its desired level of performance. To reach altitudes most Zeppelins were found at took an hour. Not to mention, newer Zeppelins could go even higher. Its expected 75 mph (121 km/h) top speed was never reached, with the aircraft only going 60 mph (96 km/h). However, it had a safe 35 mph (56 km/h) landing speed, which would have given the aircraft easy landing capability. With the performance lacking, the RAC deemed the project to be a dead end.
With the introduction of new incendiary rounds which easily ignited Zeppelins, Britain could defend itself with the improved AA guns. Along with the new rounds, the RAC started using the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 to intercept Zeppelins at night. Originally intended for dogfighting, the B.E.2 proved to be ineffective and slow against fighters, but Zeppelins were easier, and much larger targets. With the Nighthawk now not needed, Supermarine ended up scrapping the first and incomplete second prototypes in 1917. Although the Nighthawk would never have been successful had it entered production, it still represents major innovations in aircraft design. It was one of the first true night-fighting aircraft to be designed, a concept later heavily utilized in the Second World War. The honor of being the first aircraft built by Supermarine under their name also goes to the Nighthawk.
The PB.29E was a quadruplane designed to chase and intercept Zeppelins. Its fuselage was mounted between the lower two wings, with a gunner port being mounted in the upper two wings, leaving an opening in the middle between the two. Two crewmembers occupied the central fuselage with a single gunner gunner position in a seperate section above. The cockpit was open to the elements, as well as the gunner port. For armament, a single Lewis gun was mounted for attacking Zeppelins. For engines, the PB.29E had two Austro-Daimler six-cylinder engines in a pusher configuration. The tail itself was doubled.
The PB.31E was a quadruplane like the PB.29E, but it was larger utilized a different fuselage design. Instead of having the fuselage between the lower two wings, the PB.31E positioned its body between the middle two wings. The body itself was of all wooden construction. To reduce splinters if the aircraft was fired upon or in the event of a crash, the fuselage was taped and covered in heavy fabric. To make the long missions more comfortable the cockpit was heated and completely enclosed by glass. A bunk was added for one crew member to rest during the flights as well, as the expected flights could last up to 18 hours. A searchlight mounted protruding from the center of the nose for use in patrols at night. The searchlight was movable to allow pointing it at different targets. It was powered by an onboard dynamo hooked up to a 5hp A.B.C petrol engine. For fuel storage, the PB.31E had 9 individual petrol tanks located around the cockpit area. The tanks were built to be interchanged if they were damaged or empty. In the front of the aircraft were several slits behind the searchlight that would assist in cooling. The wings of the PB.31E had significant cord to them. The tailplane was doubled like on the PB.29E, and the tail itself was lower to allow the rear mounted Lewis gun more range
of fire. For engines, the PB.31E had two Anzani radial engines in tractor configuration. These engines gave the PB.31E its slow speed of 60 mph (96 km/h), and its hour-long ascent to 10,000 ft (3000 m). The fluid lines, controls and other parts connected to the engines were placed outside the fuselage in armored casings. For armament, the PB.31E carried a frontal Lewis gun, a top mounted Davis recoilless gun and a rear Lewis gun. The Davis gun was built on a mount that allowed an easy range of motion in most directions. Lewis gun ammo was stored in six double cartridges and 10 Davis gun rounds were stored onboard as well. Also on board were an unknown amount of incendiary flares to be dropped should a Zeppelin be directly below the craft.
29E– First aircraft built for the Anti-Zeppelin role. Armed with a single Lewis gun. Crashed during testing.
31E– Second aircraft. One prototype and one unfinished plane. Resembled a larger version of the PB.29E. Carried a Davis gun and two Lewis guns. Scrapped once the design was deemed unworthy.
Great Britain – The two prototypes were built and tested in England.
The German Air Force was responsible for several great revolutions in the development of aviation during both World Wars. While the development of jet technology in the Second World War is probably the best known, during the First World War, one of the most important such evolutions was the development of the first all-metal planes. The man responsible for this was the famous Hugo Junkers. The corrugated metalwork first seen on the D.I would become a hallmark of later Junkers aircraft.
The first all-metal projects
Aviation technology before the First World War revolved around wood as the main building material. Wood was used as it was easy to process and was easily available in great quantities and simple carpenters could be put to work on airplane construction.
One of the first persons who ever experimented with the idea of building an all-metal plane was the well-known German aviation designer and inventor Hugo Junkers (1859-1935). While working as a professor of thermodynamics at the Technische Hochschule (Technical University) in Aachen in 1907, he met a colleague, Professor Hans J. Reissner. Professor Reissner was involved in experiments with many novel ideas, such as aerodynamics in aviation. This moment would have a big impact on Hugo Junkers, as he would develop a great interest in aviation.
Hugo Junkers’ initial efforts were focused on solving the problem of poor aerodynamics of already existing aircraft. In 1912, his preliminary research showed that planes had better aerodynamics properties if they were designed to have an airfoil structure. In essence, this means that the whole plane, wing, body, and control surfaces had to have curved surfaces specially designed to give the best possible ratio of lift to drag. In order to perform even more experiments in aerodynamics, Junkers financed the construction of a wind tunnel at the Frankenberg laboratory. In the following years he continued his research, and by 1914 he had performed around 4,000 different tests and built 400 test models.
In 1914, Junkers had the first indications that an all-metal monoplane with thick wings was a feasible idea. While metals, like iron, were available in large quantities, lighter metals, like duralumin, an aluminum alloy, were more desirable for this purpose. The negative aspect of duralumin was the fact that it was difficult to work with. The techniques and technology of the day were inadequate, and the process of forming duralumin was slow and crude. As this could delay his work for years, Hugo Junkers decided to use the iron plates as a replacement, as they were much easier to work with.
After having constructed one all-metal wing prototype with a 9.18 ft (2.8 m) wingspan, Hugo Junkers made a request on the 2nd of February, 1915 to the German War Ministry for funds so he could build an all-metal prototype plane. This request was rejected, but it did not discourage Junkers from continuing his research. His second request was accepted in July 1915. With these funds, Hugo Junkers was able to construct a working prototype by December 1915.
The base of the prototype was made of iron ribs which were covered with iron sheets which were only 0.1 to 0.2 mm thick, held in place by electric welding. A second layer of sheet metal was added to reinforce the whole construction. The first prototype, designated the Junkers J 1, was ready by the end of 1915. It was powered by a Mercedes D.II 125 hp engine. After some ground testing, the new plane was shipped to Döberitz, the main German aviation training and test site in December 1915. Once there, the first test flight took place on 18 January, 1916. This was the first flight of a plane with an all-metal frame. The Idflieg (Inspektion der Fliegertruppen – Inspectorate of Flying Troops) was impressed with this prototype and ordered six more all-metal planes for future testing as a fighter plane. The J 1 design was not without problems, as there were some issues with the wing connection to the fuselage. During one test landing, one of the wings separated entirely.
Hugo Junkers began working on a second improved prototype named J 2. The problem with the wing-fuselage connection was solved by changing the internal design. The wings were divided into a couple of parts. The main section was connected directly to the fuselage and the others were affixed by screws. In only a few months, the first Junkers J 2 was ready to be tested. The J 2 was powered by a single Mercedes D.II 120 hp engine which was later changed to a stronger Mercedes D.III 160 hp. It made its first flight on 11 June, 1916. However, unlike the first prototype, the flying performance of the Junkers J 2 was poor. The speed was good, but the plane was simply too heavy at 2,480 lbs (1,160 kg) and thus useless as a fighter. Some six were ordered and built for future testing but the Idflieg lost any interest in it. Despite being rejected for operational service, it was still deemed important for testing construction methods and acquiring additional research.
After Hugo Junkers and his team analysed the Junkers J 2, they concluded that the plane could be vastly improved if lighter materials were used. Their solution was to undertake a study of how to make duralumin easier to work with. In time, specialized tooling and machines were developed and designed in the hope of producing adequate duralumin parts that could be used for aircraft construction. Despite the use of the duralumin in Zeppelin construction, the Junkers team made many improvements to these processes.
Thanks to these developments with aluminum processing, Junkers tried to build a fully operational all-metal monoplane. This was a private venture marked as the Junkers J 3. It was short lived, as the Idflieg refused to finance its development and only a single incomplete airframe was built. The Idflieg was more interested in all-metal ground attack biplanes.
The improved J 7 prototype
Hugo Junkers and his team continued to develop their own all-metal plane project. The J 4 served as a prototype for the J.I biplane and J 5 was never completed. Next in line was the Junkers J 7 as a single seat fighter and the J 8 two-seat close ground-support version. The J 8 prototype would eventually lead to the J 10 and the CL I. As the the J 7 and J 8 were developed, tests done in the wind tunnels showed that the low wing design provided good performance. One extra benefit of this design was the fact that the low wing would provide some extra protection for the pilot during a harsh landing. However, the weakest point in the design was the fuselage. Hugo and his team had significant problems designing a structure that would be strong enough to support all the necessary equipment, engine, and fuel tanks while still being light enough to maintain fighter maneuverability. They eventually reached a achieved a design that met most of the requirements.
The Junkers J 7 was constructed by using steel bars to form the structures of the plane and these were then covered in duralumin sheets. This method was copied from the J 4, with the only difference was that parts of the surface of J 4 were covered with fabric, while J 7 was all-metal. The J 7, piloted by Feldwebel Arved Schmidt, made its first test flight on 17 September, 1917. As the tests continued, Schmidt was generally pleased with how the plane behaved. In his report he said that the plane “.. made a good impression and possessed no serious fouls but the unique rotating wingtip ailerons were somewhat overbalanced…”. The J 7, despite its large front mounted radiator to accommodate the Mercedes D III 160 hp engine, managed to reach a speed of 77 mph (124 km/h). Many further trial flights were conducted, and in early October 1917 Schmidt managed to reach an altitude of 16,400 ft (5,000 m) in 17 minutes. This was a great result especially considering that the J 7 had a weight of 1,572 lbs (713 kg) and with added military equipment, the same altitude could be reached within 24 minutes.
For the next series of test flights, the J 7’s wings were equipped with conventional ailerons. These trials were held in late October 1917. The pilots were Leutnant Gotthard Sachsenberg and Theo Osterkamp. This time, the J 7 was pitted against the Albatros D.III. The J 7 proved to be a better fighter but the problems with the ailerons persisted. Both pilots gave a “green light” for the J 7 to go into production.
On 20th October, 1917 Idflieg made a decision to establish a new cooperation between Hugo Junkers and Anthony Fokker. Junkers-Fokker Werke AG was thus founded. It was hoped that the lack of production capacity of Junkers’ team would be supplemented by Fokker’s. This meant that there were two companies working on the J 7 project, Junkers (Jco) and Junkers-Fokker (Jfa). Despite the Idflieg’s hopes for good cooperation, this was never achieved as both sides sought control of the project.
In December, new modified ailerons were tested and the large nose radiator was also changed. While flying the J 7, the pilot, Tonny Fokker, had an accident upon landing. The plane was damaged but quickly repaired in time for the inspection made by Hauptmann Schwarzenberger from the Idflieg. He gave positive reviews of this plane and suggested that it should be used in the First Fighter Competition held in Germany. For this purpose, it was equipped with a new Mercedes engine and received new aerodynamically-balanced ailerons.
This competition was held from January to February 1918. Many front line pilots flew the J 7, including the famous Red Baron. He had positive comments for the J 7, in his report the plane being rated as having better climb rate and speed than other fighters in field use. However, he also noted the presence of some oscillation in the wings during sharp turns.
In January, Fokker once again had an accident during landing, but the damage was minimal. The plane was damaged again during its flight to Dessaou for wing modifications, but was repaired and ready for further testing by early February. These accidents also proved that its construction was much more robust than that of ordinary wooden planes. In March 1918, the last tests took place, with Leutnant Krohn as the pilot. His report read “.. On take-off the aircraft accelerates quickly and leaves the ground in a short time. It reacts instantaneously to the control. After ten degrees of control-stick movement, which suffices for an 80-degree bank, the control becomes very heavy. In a spiral, the aircraft reacts quickly to the controls. On the whole, the aircraft is at least as manoeuvrable as the new Albatros D.III or D.VI when diving at 155 mph (250 km/h) airspeed without any vibration in the wings..”
The ailerons were modified for the last time, which solved all previously mentioned problems with the controls. The J 7 prototype plane was used by a Fligertruppe in late March 1918. The J 7 was also used in the Second Fighter Competition held in July 1918. Despite proving to be an adequate fighter, the J 7 would never be accepted for service.
The J 9 and the D.I
At the same time as the J 7 was developed, Junkers began work on an improved model named J 9. Two prototypes were built, simply marked as J 9/I and J 9/II, the first of which was ready by April 1918. The J 9 was similar in construction to the J 7, but it was better suited for possible mass-production. By March 1918, Idflieg was negotiating with Junkers about the possible production of six planes for more testing. Hugo Junkers was disappointed with this, as he expected the signing of a major production contract. He thought it was a waste of precious time and that the plane did not need further testing. By early May, he managed to convince military officials to put the J 9 into production. A contract was signed for the production of 100 all-metal planes, including other Junkers models CL.I and the J.I, with around 20 copies of the J 9, now officially designated as the D.I. The first group was to be built by late July, with 6 in June and 14 by July.
The D.I (J 9/I) prototype made its first flight on 12 May, 1918 (Some sources incorrectly state April), piloted by test pilot Leutnant Krohn. The D.I prototype was ready to participate in the Second Fighter Competition. For this, it was equipped with the Mercedes D. IIIaü engine. During this competition, the D.I prototype presented itself well. The second D.I prototype (J 9/II) was equipped with the Benz Bz. IIIbo V-8 195 hp engine. Due to problems with this engine, it was not used in this competition. During these tests, the J 9/I was equipped with two Spandau machine guns located above the engine compartment, with one on each side. At the end of the Second Fighter Competition, several front fighter pilots were asked to test these new models. As most pilots, such as Oberleutnant Goering, thought that biplanes were the future, they marked the D.I as a complete failure.
A second commission rejected the notion that it was a complete failure, referencing its demonstrated performance. One demerit marked by this commission was the lack of downward visibility from the cockpit. This was based on the German air fighting tactics which had been adopted due to Allied air superiority. This tactic involved attacking Allied planes using high speed dives from above, and thus downward vision was deemed critical. The D.I lacked this due the to the large low-placed wings, but it compensated with the metal construction that made it more resilient to low caliber rounds.
On the 21st August 1918, Idflieg place an order for 100 more Junkers all-metal planes, including the CL.I and the J.I, of which around 20 were D.I fighters. At the beginning of August 1918, three D.Is were ready for static machine gun testing. Three more were almost completed with five more to be constructed by early September 1918. For more firing tests, two were sent to Adlershof. Due to the installation of the offensive armament, some small modifications were needed.
Despite entering production, there were still some modification that were needed. The first D.I produced had a longer fuselage and larger wings. As it was tested, there were problems with vibrations of the fuselage and maneuverability. As this could endanger the entire production, a series of quick modifications were done to the remaining four, possibly five, produced aircraft. These were built with modified, shortened fuselages and smaller wingspans. In total, around nine operational fighters and two prototypes were ready by the war’s end.
The D.I was designed as a single seat, all-metal low-wing fighter plane. It consisted of a metal airframe of steel ribs covered with corrugated duralumin sheets. Duralumin is a trade name for one of the earliest types of aluminum alloy. The corrugated surface of the duralumin offered increased strength, rigidity, and projectile resistance without a significant weight penalty. This method of aircraft skin construction would later be used in larger Junkers bombers in World War II becoming an iconic hallmark of the company, going on to inspire the look of the Citroen H van of the late 1940s. Aluminum construction low wing monoplane designs in would later come into widespread adoption, becoming the standard by World War II. In this way, the C.I’s design was truly ahead of its time.
The airframe was designed by Hugo Junkers, but it said that even he was never completely satisfied with its design. It nevertheless did its job and was robust, durable, and easier to maintain and repair. It offered the pilot a greater chance of survival during a forced landing than a wooden airframe. The D.I’s metal airframe provide good protection from most weather conditions in comparison to standard wooden built planes. The D.I could be left out in the elements and exposed to strong rain and wind without fear of damaging the plane. Due to use of lighter metals, the D.I’s total weight was 1,835 lbs (843 kg).
The main engine chosen for this plane was the BMW III water-cooled 6-cylinder inline, supplying 185 hp (138 kW). With this engine, the maximum speed that could be achieved was 118 mph (185 km/h).
The pilot was located behind the engine and had a good visibility of the to the front, sides, above, and rear, but the downwards visibility was somewhat limited due to the plane’s large and low wings. The wing’s design was similar to previous prototypes, as it was divided into a few parts. The central part of the wings was directly connected to the fuselage and the remaining were connected by fasteners. Under the pilot there were two fuel tanks. The total fuel capacity is not precisely known.
The landing gear was fixed, like on all planes of the era. The landing wheels were mounted on an axle that was connected to the plane by triangular-shaped steel bars. The main armament consisted of two Spandau (7.92 mm) machine guns mounted above the engine compartment.
Around 40 aircraft were ordered by Idflieg to be built by Junkers, 20 in May and a second group of 20 in August. Junkers completed around 27 planes before production was stopped in February of 1919.
The Junkers-Fokker joint company was also involved in the planned production of the D.I. The exact production details are not known. The Junkers-Fokker company was given an order to produce 20 more D.I, but it only produced 13. During the production run from June 1918 to February 1919, around 40 D.I fighters were built in total by both companies in addition with two prototypes..
What is interesting is the lesser known fact that Idflieg wanted to give a contract for the production of 50 D.I planes to Hansa-Brandenburg but, as the war ended in November 1918, this never took place.
The war ended before more could be produced, and thus only limited numbers were sent to the front. These were given to front line units, possibly in the Flanders sector in October 1918. Later, in early 1919, during the Entente advance after the Armistice, five D.I fighters were captured. Four were found at Hombeek in Belgium. Of these four, only one was in flying condition, two were badly damaged, and the condition of the fourth is unknown. One more was found(missing half of its parts at an airfield near Brussels. There is little information about their use in combat.
However, there is evidence that gives some indication of the D.I seeing some combat. On the plane captured at Hombeek in Belgium, there were markings behind the pilot’s cockpit that may have been kill markings, but this is at best just speculation. The aircraft captured near Brussels had machine gun bullet holes, but the origin of these is unknown.
At the war’s end, the US Air Service, after analyzing the collected data and field reports, made a report “.. no one was found who had ever seen one of these airplanes in flight …. Some of the RAF pilots, however were sure that it had been used in service..”
The Junkers D.I did see combat action after the war against Soviet Bolshevik forces in the Baltic countries. The D.I was used by Kampfgeschwader Sachsenberg (under the command of Leutnant Gotthard Sachsenberg), being mostly used in the air support role, covering the German Freikorps units that remained there after the war.
Leutnant Gotthard Sachsenberg was very impressed with the D.I’s overall performance. His report reads: ”.. The Junkers aircraft have proven themselves beyond all expectations. The weather resistance of the aircraft is so great that it was possible to allow the aircraft to stand for weeks on end in the open during snow, rain, and thaw of the March season. A tarpaulin cover over the propeller and the engine sufficed to provide protection. Since neither tents nor hangars were available, no other aircraft except the Junkers would have been able to serve in Russia at that time.. the advantage of the weather resistance, the exceptional speed and the invulnerability of the aircraft outweighed the small disadvantages. In crashes and emergency landings relatively little occurred …. the Junkers aircraft, with improvement, will without doubt, take first place as a combat type…”.
Today, only a single D.I has survived the War and can been seen at the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace near Paris.
Junkers D.I Specifications:
28 ft 6 in / 9 m
23 ft in / 7.25 m
7 ft 4 in / 2..25 m
159 ft² / 14.8 m²
One BMW III water-cooled 6-cylinder, 138 kW (185 hp)
The Fokker Dr.I was a triplane built by Fokker-Flugzeugwerke during the First World War. The design, based off of Britain’s Sopwith Triplane, is well known thanks to the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, for being the plane in which he scored his final kills.
A Borrowed Idea
In the early part of 1917 the Sopwith Triplane of the Allies began appearing on the battlefield, quickly trouncing German Albatros D.III fighters with its superior maneuverability and climbing ability. The Idfleig, the German bureau overseeing aircraft design immediately ordered development of a triplane, known as dreidecker (3 winged) in German.
Nearly all of the German aircraft manufacturers followed suit. Fokker set about to develop its own triplane by modifying an unfinished prototype biplane. This initial prototype, like Sopwith’s design, utilized a rotary engine and steel tube fuselage. However the initial prototype, the V.4 did not have external interwing bracing. The next prototype, the V.5 introduced bracing between the wings to minimize flexing on the upper wing. The prototypes were met with much excitement for their exceptional maneuverability and climb rate over anything else the Germans had previously produced. The Red Baron himself, Manfred von Richthofen was believed the Dr.I held much promise for the fortunes of German air power and demanded his superiors to commence production immediately, as well as promising his men that they would soon be able to “move like devils and climb like monkeys.”
The appearance of the Dr.1 is characterized by its three-wing design – therefore dubbed a ‘triplane.’ The design also featured small sustentation surface of an aerofoil shape mounted between the wheels of the landing gear. The tail was also completely mobile with unbalanced ailerons possessing more surface area than the ailerons of the upper wing. The wings had deep section hollow box-spars that provided lightweight strength to the wings. The lack of interplane struts on the initial prototype resulted in excessive wing vibration during flight, so interplane struts were added. The ribs were of plywood, as well as the leading-edges covers at the spar, with the leading-edges made of wire. The middle wings had some cut-outs to improve downward visibility of the pilot. The fuselage was constructed using welded steel-tubing bracing with diagonal wires to create the rigid box-shaped structure, being a fabric-covered with triangular plywood fillets, except the undercarriage and center-section, which were made of steel streamlined tubing.
The tail-plane had a triangular shape, being framed in steel tubing the same way as the balanced rudder and elevators. The wheels featured an elastic shock cord, while a steel-tipped tailskid was installed at the rear.
The first prototype Dr.1 flew in July of 1917. Production of the Dr.I commenced on August 11th of 1917. In preproduction the triplane carried the designation F.I. Two were made and issued to Richthofen and Leutenant Werner Voss. These two aces promptly used these planes on the battlefield, scoring kills within the first few days of flying in early September. Voss took to the skies on August 28th and by September 11th had scored 8 kills.
The result of this evaluation period led Voss and Richthofen to recommend the Dr.I for production as soon as possible, declaring it superior to the Sopwith Triplane. Orders were placed for 300 Dr.I’s.
On September 14th the commander of Jasta 11, OberLeutnant Kurt Wolff was shot down whilst flying Richthofen’s F.I by a new Sopwith Camel of Britain’s Naval 10 squadron. Voss, whilst flying on September 23rd, scored his 48th victory just before being shot down in an epic dogfight wherein he managed to damage all 7 of his opponent’s SE-5a’s in the skirmish.
The Fokker Dr.I in Use
The Dr.I, upon its arrival to the battlefield in October was well regarded for its climbing ability and light controls. The ailerons were not very effective, however the tailplane elevator and rudder controls were very yielding. Rapid turns to the right were very quick thanks to the directional instability afforded by the rotation of the rotary engine, a characteristic that was taken advantage of by pilots.
Although not a particularly fast plane, it balanced this shortcoming with great maneuverability thanks to its light weight, while also having good upward visibility. It also had a decent climb rate, characteristics that all seemingly made the Dr.I a formidable adversary to its Allied opponent, the Sopwith Camel. This made of the Dr.1 a good aircraft for dogfights, yet structural and construction problems in the wings would hamper the aircraft’s promising initial assessment.
The Dr.I was armed with twin 7.92 Spandau machine guns, which could fire simultaneously or independently in synchronization with the propeller.
The Dr.I, for all its improvements over previous German aircraft, had numerous shortcomings. Among them was its tendency to ground looping upon landing. This occurs when the aircraft tilts on landing such that one wing makes contact with the ground. For this reason skids were attached to the wingtips of the lower wing on the production version. Also while the Dr.I had excellent climbing ability, its dive and level flight speed were less than desirable, leaving it vulnerable to faster Allied planes in many situations.
Following the proper introduction of the production model Dr.I in October, by the end of the month two consecutive top wing failure accidents promptly caused all triplanes to be grounded. The wing structure of the Dr.I was thoroughly investigated and numerous problems were discovered, the first of which was weak attachment of wingtips, ailerons, and ribs. Further, the doping of the fabric and wood varnishing was found to be of poor and inconsistent quality, leading to water absorption and premature rot in crucial wing spars.
Fokker’s corrective action was to improve quality control on the production line, as well as modifying and repairing existing models. The problem was believed to have been solved, and the Dr.I continued to see use well into 1918, but later the wing failures returned.
Much later in 1929, research at NACA revealed that a triplane configuration like the Dr.I’s exerted as much as 2.5 times more lift coefficient on the upper wing. The extreme difference in this force no doubt contributed to many of the wing failures seen in the Dr.I over its operational lifespan. Examples such as this show the importance of research and competence in advanced aerodynamics during the design phase of an aircraft.
As had been seen in September 1917, the Dr.I was inferior to the capabilities of the British Sopwith Camel by the time production had commenced. Despite this, German production went on for the initial 300 ordered.
Fokker D.VII would eventually replace the Dr.1 on the battlefield, with surviving dreideckers relegated to training and home defence units, re-powered with a Goebel Goe II 100 hp engine. By the time of the armistice was signed, the Dr.1 was tested by Allied pilots at fighter flying schools in Nivelles (Belgium) and Valenciennes (France), being deemed as an aircraft with impressive performance.
V.4 – The initial prototype
V.5 – First production prototype
V.6 – Enlarged prototype powered with a Mercedes D.II engine
V.7 – Prototype with Siemens-Halske Sh.III engine
7.12 m / 23 ft 4 in
6.23 m / 20 ft 5 in
5.7 m / 18 ft 8 in
5.77 m / 18 ft 11 in
2.95 m / 9 ft 8 in
18.66 m² / 200.85 ft²
1 9-cylinder rotary Oberursel UR II engine (110 HP), or a LeRhône Type 9Ja (110 HP)
Maximum Take-Off Weight
586 Kg / 1,291 lb
406 kg / 895 lb
586 kg / 1,291 lb
5.7 m/s (1,122 ft/min) or 1000 meters in 2’45’’
185 km/h / 115 mph at sea level; 165 km/h / 102,5 mph at 4000 m
The Spandau LMG 08 was the air cooled aircraft version of the German Army’s MG 08 machine gun. The infantry version of the MG 08, like the Vickers Machine Gun, was water cooled and based on the design of Hiram Maxim’s famed Maxim Gun.
After the success of the MG 08 in infantry use, Spandau set about lightening the weapon and adding large slots to the water jacket for aircraft use. The first letter in lMG 08 is actually a lowercase L which stands for luftgekühlt meaning air cooled. From the beginning the lMG was designed to fire in a fixed position from an aircraft.
Early designs had so many cooling slots that the weapon was considered “over-lightened” and the rigidity of the cooling jacket was considered “fragile.” Various slot patterns were experimented with until the final design of the LMG 08/15, a refined version of the weapon with many improvements as well as a lighter weight. The final weight for the refined lMG 08/15 came out to 26 lbs compared with 57 lbs for the original iteration of the MG 08. The various versions of the lMG were all designed to be interchangeable so aircraft could be easily upgraded to newer versions. Like the Vickers, the closed bolt design lent itself to easy synchronization with the propellers, with most German fighters appearing with twin LMGs by late 1916 with the introduction of the Albatros D.I and D.II.
The ammunition belt of the lMG 08 utilized the design of the Parabellum MG14 for its light weight, rather than that of the infantry version of the MG 08. After a cartridge was fired the belt was fed into a side chute on the side of the breech block. The chute would guide the empty belt into a storage compartment to prevent the empty belts from interfering with any aircraft mechanisms. Empty cartridge cases however were expended out of a round hole on the receiver just under the barrel on all version of the MG 08. In most aircraft the empty cases were guided out of the aircraft.
Use of the Spandau lMG 08
The lMG 08 was used on almost all German fighter aircraft of the WWI period. After its introduction in 1915, synchronization technology was rapidly being developed. On the Fokker E.I the introduction of the synchronizer system with a single mounted lMG 08 led to a period of German air superiority over the Western Front known as the Fokker Scourge. Later aircraft almost universally used a twin synchronized setup, including Germany’s most famous ace, Baron von Richthofen ‘The Red Baron.’
There were various styles of cocking handles in use, seemingly dependent upon pilot preference. Safety interlocks were also introduced to ensure the safety of the ground crew who at times could be in the line of fire. Another modification seen in aircraft use was a countdown style rounds counter.
Great Britain (1912) Machine Gun
The Vickers Gun or Vickers Machine Gun as it is often called was one of the first armaments fitted to an airplane for combat in the early 1910s. The weapon, originally water cooled and based on the successful Maxim gun, was designed and manufactured by Vickers Limited of Britain and fitted to many early British and French fighter planes.
The origins of the Vickers gun can be traced back to Hiram S. Maxim’s original ‘Maxim Gun’ that came to prominence in the 1880s as a deadly armament of the British Empire. This machine gun was extremely efficient due to its novel recoil based feed operation, which utilized the recoil of the weapon to eject the spent cartridge and insert another one. The weapon was also water-cooled for maximum efficiency and due to this could be fired for long durations.
The Vickers Machine Gun Design
Vickers improved on this design by lightening the overall weight of the weapon as well as simplifying and strengthening the parts of the internal mechanisms. Another significant improvement was the addition of a muzzle booster, which restricts the escaping high pressure gases from the barrel, forcing more energy to the backwards motion of the barrel without increasing recoil force.
The Vickers attained a solid reputation upon its introduction in 1912. Despite its bulk and weight of around 30 lbs (15 kg), not including water and ammunition, it was praised by crews for its dependability. Thanks to its water cooling it could be fired practically continuously, requiring only a barrel change for roughly every hour of operation.
Use in Aircraft
The first use of the Vickers Gun on an aircraft was on Vickers’ own experimental E.F.B.1 biplane prototype, the first British aircraft ever to be designed for military purposes. The gun recieved a few modifications for aircraft use. The water cooling system was deemed unnecessary due to the more than adequate flow of cool, fast-moving air over the barrel in flight. However the water jacket assembly had to be retained due to the barrel action mechanism, but several rows of aircooling slots were added.
An enclosure was added to cover the belt feed to prevent wind from kinking the incoming ammunition belt. The belt links were a disintegrating type which meant each belt link was ejected along with each spent cartridge as the weapon fired.
The closed bolt design of the Vickers Gun lent itself to forward firing use in aircraft due to its ease of integration with a synchronizer system. In a closed bolt type of firing mechanism there is virtually no delay between the trigger being pulled and the firing of the weapon, unlike the open bolt design utilized by the Lewis Gun. The introduction of the synchronizer gear system allowed for forward firing through a propeller’s field of rotation.
Colt was licensed to manufacture Vickers Machine Guns in the U.S. and had a large order for the guns from Russia in 1916. After the Russian revolution kicked off in early 1917, the Russian orders were cancelled. The thousands of guns that had been produced sat in storage until a need arose in Europe for a machine gun that could fire larger caliber incendiary rounds to destroy German hydrogen filled balloons. It was decided to use the 11 mm French gras round. All of the previously Russian sized 7.62s were altered to accept the 11mm round. Additionally they were modified for aircraft use, with the appropriate cooling slats cut into the water jacket assembly. These 11mm Vickers became known as “Balloon Busters.”
The aircraft version of the Vickers Gun was by far the most used weapon on British and French fighter aircraft of World War I and the interwar period with some still in use towards the end of World War II. Most of the fighter planes developed in early WWI utilized a single .303 British (7.7mm) Vickers Gun such as the Sopwith Triplane. Later fighters like the Sopwith Camel were able to double their firepower with twin synchronized guns. Advances in aircraft design that took place through the 1930s saw the fixed armaments on aircraft shift towards the wings, allowing for larger, more powerful, and faster firing Browning 1919 machine guns to be fitted, thus signaling the end of the Vickers machine gun’s use in aircraft. The conventional infantry version of the weapon would continue to see service with British ground forces until 1968.
German Empire (1916) Fighter Plane – 1,866 Built
The Albatros D.III was a bi-plane fighter manufactured by Albatros Flugzeugwerke Company in the Aldershof district of Berlin, Germany. The plane helped secure German air superiority and several top German aces flew the D.III, including Manfred von Richthofen – The Red Baron. It was armed with 2 7.92mm LMG 08/16 machine guns which were an air cooled and synchronized version of Germany’s MG08.
Design of the D.III
Designed by Robert Thelen, the D.III was based off of the D.I and D.II that preceded it, utilizing the same basic fuselage. This fuselage design was semi-monocoque, meaning that the skin of the aircraft, which was plywood, could bear some weight and add structural rigidity.
After seeing the success of the French Nieuport 11 and 17, the Idflieg which was the bureau overseeing German aviation development at the time requested that the new D.III adopt a sesquiplane layout similar to the Nieuports. A sesquiplane configuration consists of a modified biplane design with shorter and and narrower lower wings with the advantage being less drag at speed. As a result, the top wing was lengthened, and the lower wing’s chord was shortened, meaning the wing measured less from leading edge to trailing edge. The bracing, between the top and bottom wings was reconfigured to a “V” shape leading owing to the single spar used in the lower wings. Because of this the British coined their own nickname for the D.III: “The V-strutter.”
Water Cooled Mercedes Power
The D.III utilized a water-cooled Mercedes inline 6 cylinder 4 stroke engine appropriately designated as the D.IIIa. The water cooling and overhead camshaft yielded more horsepower than the radial engines that were more common, with the D.IIIa pumping out 170 hp. In the interest of weight savings the crankcase was aluminum, whilst the separate cylinders were steel and bolted onto the crankcase. Unlike previous designs each cylinder had a separate water jacket.
Several problems were discovered during the D.III’s introduction. The first of which was the placement of the aerofoil shaped radiator above the cockpit. Although it was well placed to avoid battle damage, it tended to scald the pilot if there was a leak or puncture in the radiator for any reason. The design was changed to relocate the radiator right of the cockpit.
Another issue had to do with several lower wing failures. Even The Red Baron himself, Manfred von Richthofen experienced this with a crack appearing on his new D.III and was forced to make an emergency landing. Initially this puzzled engineers and was attributed to poor workmanship during manufacturing, but in reality the lower wing was experiencing excessive flexing under aerodynamic load. The eventual cause was determined to be the wing’s spar which was located too far aft. As a result of the changeover to the sesquiplane layout, only a single spar was used in the lower wing. Modifications were made to the design and existing aircraft to strengthen the wing. In spite of the modification pilots were advised to avoid steep or prolonged dive maneuvers.
The D.III was well regarded among pilots from its introduction despite having heavier controls. It offered improved stability, maneuverability, and climbing ability over the preceding D.II. Downward visibility was also much improved thanks to the narrower lower wing.
The Albatros D.III was the most dominant fighter in the air during April 1917. The British forces attacking at Arras, France pushed for strong air support in the battle, but were their pilots were not nearly as well trained as the German pilots. To make matter worse, the British planes in use such as the Sopwith Pup, Nieuport 17, and Airco DH.2 were vastly inferior to the D series aircraft in use by the Germans. The British would go on to lose 275 aircraft. By contrast the Germans only lost 66 aircraft during the conflict.
Great Britain (1917) Fighter Plane – 5,490 Built
The legendary Sopwith Camel was the successor to the earlier Pup. The Camel utilized a biplane design and twin synchronized Vickers machine guns. It first flew in late 1916 as the British continued to develop faster and more powerful fighters to keep pace with German advances in aeroplane design. The Camel was deemed far more difficult to fly than the preceding Pup and Triplane, but despite this would go on to shoot down more German aircraft than any other Allied plane.
After combat losses, it became apparent that the Pup and Triplane were no longer competitive against the German Albatross D.III. Sopwith Chief Designer Harry Smith recognized the need for a new fighter to be developed. While being designed, the Camel was referred to as the F.1 or the “Big Pup.”
As was standard at the time, the airframe was a wood boxlike structure, with aluminum cowlings around the nose and engine area. Metal wire rigging was used throughout the construction to enhance fuselage and flight surface rigidity. A conventional fabric covered body and plywood cockpit area ensured weight savings were maximized. The nickname of “Camel” came from a “hump” shaped metal fairing that covered the machine guns in order to prevent freezing at altitude. The F.1 was also sometimes referred to as the “Sop,” short for Sopwith. The lower wings featured a dihedral of 3 degrees, meaning the wings are angled upwards and are not perpendicular to the fuselage. However to simplify construction the top wing was flat, giving the plane a unique “tapered gap” between the upper and lower wings. Also the top wing features a cutout section above the cockpit for pilot visibility.
After its introduction in June 1917, the Camel became notorious for being difficult to fly. Rookie pilots crashed many times upon takeoff. Part of the reason was the fact that the center of gravity of the plane was very close to the nose owing to the plane’s sizeable powerplant relative to the size of the airframe. However the fact that 90% of the weight of the aircraft was in the front third of the aircraft gave it great maneuverability, with the weight of the engine, pilot, and armaments centered within the wing root section of the fuselage.
The Camel lacked the variable incidence tailplane and trimming that had enabled the Triplane to fly “hands off” at altitude. This meant that a pilot would have to constantly apply pressure to the control stick to maintain level flight at low altitude or speed. Great physical strength and endurance was required to fly the Camel at length.
The Camel had a rotary engine, not to be confused with a radial engine or a rotary wankel. With a rotary engine, the entire engine and crankcase spins relative to the fuselage, with the propeller directly connected to the crankcase. Thus engine speeds in RPM exactly the match the RPM of the propeller. The torque of the relatively powerful rotary engine combined with the weight distribution of the aircraft led to a constant “pull” to the right, a phenomenon common to rotary engines. Although not necessarily a desired feature, pilots used this to their advantage for turning in dogfights. However, in the event of a stall the Camel would go into a dangerous spin.
The difficulty of flying the aircraft is obvious from the fact that about half of all Camels lost during the Great War were due to non-combat related incidents. Early on there were many pilot casualties on their first solo fights after training, so a two-seat, dual control version was developed to mitigate the dangers of training on the aircraft.
A staggering 5,490 Camels were produced. Most were deployed to the Western Front. After the war they did not see much use in service. Remarkably only 7 are known to exist as of 2016, however there are many flying replicas of the aircraft.
The Camel is credited with downing 1,294 German aircraft, more than any other Allied plane. Among the plane’s kills is the famed German ace Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen also known as the “Red Baron.”
The Camel was powered by a variety of rotary engines and by design was able to be fitted with engines from other manufacturers such as Bentley. The primary engine used was the 130 HP Clerget 9B, a French design produced in France and Great Britain which also saw service in the Pup and Triplane.
The most powerful engine available was the Bentley BR1 which produced 150 HP thanks to its aluminum cylinders and pistons as well as a dual spark ignition. It was also significantly cheaper than the Clerget.
Great Britain (1916) Fighter Plane – 147 Built
The Sopwith Triplane was a creation of Britain’s Sopwith Aviation Company around 1916. Its three stacked wings gave it good maneuverability and stability in flight relative to other planes of the day. The aircraft had the nicknames Tripehound, Trihound, Triplehound, or Tripeand it was popular among pilots. The Triplane first saw service with Royal Navy Air Squadron No.1 in late 1916. Many orders were placed by the RNAS as well as the Royal Flying Corps. Some aircraft were also acquired by the French Navy. One each was sent to Greece and Russia for evaluation. Only two original examples of the Tripe exist today.
The most noticeable aspect of the Triplane is its three wing design, which was one of the first of its kind. In the interest of pilot field of view Chief Engineer Herbert Smith decided to use a narrow chord design, meaning the wings were short as measured from leading edge to trailing edge. Because of the lift lost when narrowing the chord, the third wing was added to the design. All three wings have functional ailerons and the tailplane is a variable incidence type which means it can be trimmed enough for the pilot to fly hands-off. In early 1917 a smaller tailplane was introduced improving maneuverability. The Triplane was fitted with a single Vickers gun.
WIth the Tripehound’s entry into active service late in 1916, it quickly proved popular among pilots with its relatively superior maneuverability and speed. The first adversaries the Tripehound went up against were German Albatros D-IIIs which it greatly outclassed in climbing and turning ability, as well as being 15 mph faster. Every engagement with the enemy demonstrated the Triplanes’ superior power.
The Triplane was powered first by a Clerget 9B, 9 cylinder rotary engine developing 110 HP (82 kW). This powerplant was built in both France and Great Britain by numerous manufacturers. Later, 130 HP 9B engines were fitted, further enhancing the Triplane’s dominance, although the engine was tuned perhaps too aggressively as it was prone to overheating.
The Morane-Saulnier N was a mid-wing monoplane aircraft that became the first French fighter aircraft. Built in 1913, it was in service with the Aeronautique Militaire in the early days of WWI. Also used by the British forces, mainly as a fighting scout airplane due to the shortage of similar planes from England. This plane also entered with limited numbers in service with the 19th Squadron of the Russian Air Force. The main roles were interception, scout and fighter. Armed with a single Hotchkiss 7.7 mm or 7.9 mm machine gun – later on with a Vickers gun –, the propeller was equipped with steel deflector plates, as the machine gun fired. At the same time, it was the first fighter plane to incorporate a rudimentary version of a synchronizing gear for the machine gun, so the weapon could fire between the blades of the propeller. Given its imperfection, the aforementioned plates were necessary to prevent “loose” bullets to damage the blades. But it was also the first model to incorporate a machinegun in a single seated aircraft, as previous models use to have an additional man to serve the machine gun. Dubbed as “the Bullet” by the Royal Flying Corps pilots due to the shape of the spinner.
A Monocoque mid-wing aircraft, the airscrew had a large spinner, dubbed ‘la casserole’, that left few openings for cooling the engine. This left the airplane non-operable in hot-weather. The aircraft wings were made of wood with fabric, having flexible tips to allow warping. Despite its monocoque design, in reality the circular section was formed by a wooden frame with fitted light stringers. The elevator was fitted to a triangular fin, while the undercarriage usually had a M shape. These characteristics made of the Saulnier N a very aerodynamic airplane, but also a quite complicated plane to control. The aircraft was a lightweight at a point that it had a very fast landing speed and rather complicated handling, as the controls were very sensitive.
The Bullet in Service
The Morane-Saulnier N is a plane that, during service made history in many ways. It began its career as most of the military aircraft of the early days of WWI: as an observation and scout plane. After the later-renown aviation pioneer and first combat pilot Roland Garros performed some combat actions in 1915, this airplane became the first fighter engaging in aerial combat on April 1 1915, near the English Channel, in Belgium. As a result of this action, the Saulnier became for a period of time the standard fighter of the Aeronautique Militaire, granting the allies some air superiority. Besides the earlier French Airforce, the Saulnier N entered in service with British Squadrons 3rd and 60th, armed with Lewis Guns, the Russian 19th Squadron and three units with the Ukrainian Air Force.
Roland Garros was the first combat pilot while flying with a Saulnier – N, armed with a Hotchkiss machine gun. But the Saulnier N was also the plane where other two WWI French aces became aces. He first was Navarre, who was the first French ace. The second ace was Pegoud, an exhibitions pilot before the war, who shot down six enemy aircraft.
Morane-Saulnier N – Basic Version
Morane-Saulnier Nm Variant with re-designed tail section, with limited units
Morane-Saulnier I A more powerful version of the Morane-Saulnier N (with a 110 hp Le Rhone engine), which entered in service with the Royal Flying Corps with 4 units. Armed with a Vickers 7,7mm machine gun and having more speed (168 Km/h / 104 mph) and service ceiling (4,700 m / 15,420 ft), but slightly less autonomy than the basic model (10 minutes’ difference). Also a bigger version than the original plane.
Morane-Saulnier V The biggest version of the Saulnier N, having more range (up to three hours) thanks to the extra fuel tanks. Problems with controls made the aircraft to serve for only 5 months with the Royal Flying Corps. 18 entered in service with the Imperial Russian Air Service, later serving with the Red Air Fleet during the Russian Revolution.