Albatros DIII - Side View

Albatros D.III

German Empire Flag 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.

Albatros D.III - The Red BaronAfter 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.

Flaws Emerge

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.

Albatros D.III - Wrecked at FlandersAnother 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.

Performance

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.

Bloody April

Albatros DIII - Climbing

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.

Albatros D.III Specifications

Wingspan  9 m / 29 ft 6 in
Length  7.33 m / 24 ft 1 in
Height  2.9 m / 9 ft 6 in
Wing Area 23.6 m² / 254 ft²
Engine 1 water cooled inline Mercedes D.IIIa engine
Maximum Take-Off Weight 886 kg / 1,949 lb
Empty Weight 659 kg / 1,532 lb
Maximum Speed 175 km/h / 109 mph
Range 480 km / 300 mi
Maximum Service Ceiling 5,500 m / 18,000 ft
Crew 1 (pilot)
Armament 2 x 7.92 mm LMG 08/15 machine guns

Gallery

Sources

Albatros D.III. (2016, March 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia., Avistar.org (n.d.) Albatros D.III Images: Albatros D.III – Flying by DeciBit, Albatros D.III – Side View by Serge Desmet / CC BY-SA 1.0

About Ed Jackson

Ed Jackson is a U.S. Air Force veteran with an interest in historical aviation living in Okinawa, Japan where he teaches as well as pursues graduate studies. Ed is also a graphic artist specializing in antique autos and aviation related art. See his work at .

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