History Podcasts

Albatros D.I

Albatros D.I

Albatros D.I

The Albatros D.I was the first in a series of biplane fighters that helped the Germans gain control of the air over the Western Front early in 1917, but it was only produced in small numbers and was soon replaced by the Albatros D.II and Albatros D.III.

During 1915 the Fokker monoplanes dominated the skies over the Western Front. By the start of 1916 the Allies had caught up the introduction of the new British D.H.2 and French Nieuport 11 fighters had seen the Germans lose that control. The German air service decided to order the development of a series of biplanes that could challenge the Allies. The Halberstadt D.II was the first to be ordered into production, in March 1916. They were followed by the Fokker D.I of May 1916. Both of these types entered service in June-July 1916, but neither had a long life-span. The Fokker aircraft suffered from a series of wing failures, and was withdrawn by the end of 1916. Later models failed to address these problems. These early D fighters were powered by 120hp engines, which only provided enough power for them to carry a single machine gun.

Albatros were also working on a biplane fighter early in 1916. The company had produced biplane racing aircraft in 1914, and used this experience to produce a prototype of what would become the D.I. The resulting fighter 'looked right'. The engine was carried within a streamlined nose, aided by the large spinner. The very front of the fuselage close to the engine was rounded, but the sides soon became flat (the D.V introduced an oval cross-section). The fuselage was built around a series of wooden frames (or formers), connected by six main spruce longerons. The outer skin was made up of three-ply plywood which was pinned and glued onto the longerons.

The D.I was a single bay biplane, with the main struts towards the end of the wings and inverted V struts in the centre. The two wings had the same chord (distance from front to back) and similar spans, with the lower wing being very slightly shorter. The wing tips were at a slight angle. Ailerons were carried in the upper wing, and were controlled by a crank lever that was connected to control wires in the lower wing. The fabric covered wings were constructed around two main spars, with three-ply ribs. The front spar was close to the leading edge, the rear spar towards the centre of the wing. At the trailing edge the ribs were connected by a wire.

The D.I was powered by a Mercedes D.III engine which provided 160hp, a great increase on the 120hp engines in use in other German biplane fighters. The only weakness was the fuselage mounted Windhoff box radiators which were vulnerable to battle damage or to leakage. In either case this would cause the engine to seize. Ear and side mounted radiators were banned on German fighters after 10 November 1916 and were replaced during the production run of the Albatros D.II.

The design of the D.I was completed by mid-April 1916. In June Albatros received an order to produce twelve prototypes (presumably including this aircraft). The exact sequence of events is unclear, but this batch of twelve aircraft might have included the prototype for the D.II.

The D.I was a generally successful design. Pilots found it easy to fly. Although it was less manoeuvrable than the Halberstadt fighters or than rotary engined machines it could out-dive most enemy aircraft and was faster than the D.H.2 and more heavily armed then either the D.H.2 or the Nieuport 11.

The aircraft had two flaws that were uncovered in combat trials. The upper wing was set too high, blocking the pilot's view up and forward. The twin guns were aimed through the inverted V centre wing struts, which interfered with the pilot's vision when aiming at fast moving targets. Both of these problems were solved on the Albatros D.II, which was placed into production in August 1916, one month after an order for fifty D.Is had been placed.

The first few D.Is entered service with small fighter flights attached to bomber units (Kampfgeschwadern). These were soon replaced with Jagdstaffeln (or Jastas), large fighter units whose main role was to destroy enemy aircraft that crossed the German front lines. At first the Albatros aircraft operated alongside the Haberstadt and Fokker biplanes, but by the end of 1916 the Albatros D.I and D.II dominated.

The Albatros D.I entered service in large numbers in the autumn of 1916. Jasta 2 received six on 16 September, and scored its first victory with the type on the same day. On the following day the Jasta flew its first operation as a squadron, and by the end of the month had claimed 25 victories, most of them after the arrival of the D.III.

The number of D.Is at the front peaked in November 1939 when fifty were in use. By the end of January 1917 there were still 39 D.Is at the front, but numbers tailed off during 1917. By November there were only 9, but the type was still in use as late as September 1918 (although still in single figures).

Engine: Mercedes D.III
Power: 160hp
Span: 27ft 10in upper, 26ft 3in lower
Length: 24ft 3in
Height: 9ft 8in
Empty weight: 1,530lb
Loaded weight: 2,032lb
Max speed: 102mph
Armament: Two synchronised 7.92mm LMG 08/15 Spandau machine guns

Books on the First World War |Subject Index: First World War

Design and development

The D.I was designed by Robert Thelen, R. Schubert and Gnädig, as an answer to the latest Allied fighters, such as the Nieuport 11 Bébé and the Airco D.H.2, which had proved superior to the Fokker Eindecker and other early German fighters, and established a general Allied air superiority. It was ordered in June 1916 and introduced into squadron service that August. [1]

The D.I had a semi-monocoque plywood fuselage, consisting of a single-layered outer shell, supported by a minimal internal structure. This was lighter and stronger than the fabric-skinned box-type fuselage then in common use, as well being easier to give an aerodynamically clean shape. At the same time its panelled-plywood skinning, done with mostly four-sided panels of thin plywood over the entire minimal fuselage structure, was less labour-intensive (and therefore less costly to manufacture) than a "true" monocoque structure. [2] The Albatros D.I was powered by either a 110   kW (150   hp) Benz Bz.III or a 120   kW (160   hp) Mercedes D.III six-cylinder water cooled inline engine. The additional power of the Mercedes (Daimler) engine enabled twin fixed Spandau machine-guns to be fitted without any loss in performance. [2]

The D.I had a relatively high wing loading for its time, and was not particularly manoeuvrable. This was compensated by its superior speed and firepower and it quickly proved the best all-round fighter available. [2]

The Red Baron’s “other” Planes Yes He Had More Than Just One Fokker

Though more than 100 years have passed and his record of aerial success was surpassed in WWII, to this day the flying ace that virtually everyone knows of is Manfred von Richthofen, “The Red Baron.” His red Fokker Dr.1 triplane is lodged in our collective memories. Actually, the plane is perhaps more widely known than his kill tally of eighty.

At air shows throughout the Western world, replicas of his famous red Dr.1 can be seen tooling through the sky, turning on a dime and chasing down the Sopwith Camels, Spads, and other Allied planes of the time.

“The Red Baron” flies regularly at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Red Hook, New York. If the announcer suggested that the “Red Baron” had taken to the air, and the crowd didn’t see a red triplane, most would be confused and disappointed, but not those who really knew about “the Baron”.

Red Baron Triplane WW1. Photo: photobom CC BY 2.0

You see, most of Manfred von Richthofen’s kills did not come while he was piloting the famous triplane. Actually, just the last seventeen of his eighty kills came while he was flying the Fokker Dr.1.

While he did shoot down two planes in the three-winged forerunner of the Dr.1, the Fokker F.1, the others he achieved in aircraft from two different aircraft producers: Albatros and Halberstadt.

Fokker Dr.I. Replica of the famous Manfred von Richthofen triplane at the ILA 2006.Photo: Oliver Thiele CC BY 2.5

Before we discuss the “other” planes flown by the Red Baron, here is a brief bio of WWI’s “Ace of Aces”.

He was born in 1892. Both his father and mother were Prussian aristocracy. Manfred, along with his two younger brothers–one of whom, Lothar, became an ace in his own right–spent his youth in the typical ways of the rich and privileged of the 19th century. He studied with private tutors, but spent most of his time hunting, riding, and doing gymnastics. He was supposed to have excelled at all three.

Kunigunde Dame von Richthofen, born von Schickfus und Neudorff, with her grandson Manfred von Richthofen

Family von Richthofen. Sitting in the middle Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, standing from left to right- Manfred von Richthofen, Kunigunde Dame von Richthofen, Lothar von Richthofen, Bolko of Richthofen and Ilse von Richthofen

When WWI began, Manfred served in the cavalry, being an accomplished rider. He saw action on both the Western and Eastern Fronts, but when the war bogged down into the trench warfare synonymous with the conflict, he grew bored and was eager to transfer to the air service, which he had become interested in as a boy.

He transferred to the Imperial German Army Air Service, known as the “Luftstreitkräfte” (“air combat force”) in May 1915. He underwent two months of training as a gunner and observer, and then served a short period in the summer and fall of 1915 flying observation missions first over Russia, and then France.

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

At the time, the most famous German pilot was Oswald Boelcke, who wrote the “Dicta Boelcke,” a set of unofficial rules of aerial combat that still lays the groundwork for air to air combat today.

Richthofen met Boelcke, and this meeting convinced the young Baron to apply for fighter school. He also convinced his brother Lothar to join him. Lothar would end the war with 40 victories.

Manfred completed the course in one month and had a reputation as a below-average pilot. He crash-landed many planes initially and was lucky to have come out relatively unscathed. By comparison, his brother was considered the better pilot, and actually shot down more planes in a shorter time than Manfred, who was frequently out of action with wounds.

Richthofen’s Albatros D.V after forced landing near Wervicq. This machine is not an all-red one

Still, Richthofen learned from his mistakes, took the “Dicta Boelcke” to heart, and used the skills he learned as a hunter to become the greatest ace of them all.

Manfred is reported to have shot down a plane while he was a gunner on observation duty, and also a French Nieuport in his first days flying fighters, but those reports could not be confirmed. His first seventeen kills, starting with his first officially confirmed kill, came while he was flying the Albatros D.II aircraft on September 17, 1916. This was equal to the number he shot down flying the Fokker Dr.1.

Manfred von Richthofen (in the cockpit) by his famous Rotes Flugzeug (“Red Aircraft”) with other members of Jasta 11. His brother Lothar is seated on the ground.

The Albatros D.II, as indicated by the name, was the second Albatros fighter. Obviously, the DII included changes and improvements, as both airplane design and flight science were growing by leaps and bounds through the necessity of war. Most of the improvements to the original D.I were made in response to pilots’ complaints about visibility.

The upper wing was moved forward and lower – the pilot could actually look over the wing at times when needing greater vision. The engines’ radiator was also low in the engine housing, which meant that when damaged, gravity helped it leak that much faster.

Albatros D.II

Eventually, the D.II had its radiator fitted into an airfoil-shaped housing on the top of the center wing. Still, if it was shot, scalding water could get in the pilot’s face. Later versions of the Albatros D series flown by Richthofen put the radiator in the front of the fuselage, canted to the right. This still made visibility tough, hence the lowered wing.

Other changes in the Albatros series included improvements in the strength and design of the wing struts, and improvements in engine efficiency and output, with a lightening of the weight of the plane relative to the output of the engine.

Albatros D.III fighters of Jasta 11 at Douai, France. The second closest aircraft was one of several flown by Manfred von Richthofen

The D.II had a top speed of 110 mph, a ceiling of nearly 17,000 feet and a rate of climb of almost 600 ft per minute–contrast that with the most famous “climber” in modern history, the F-16, which climbs at 50,000 ft per minute. A pilot could fly for about one and a half hours on full tanks.

The armament consisted of a variety of 7.92 mm guns throughout its service life. The plane was powered by a 6-cylinder Mercedes engine, had a wingspan of just under 28 feet and was 23.3 feet in length.

The D.III had a top speed similar to the D.II but a greater rate of climb. The D.V increased speed to 116 mph. Each had a higher ceiling than its predecessor.

Albatros D.III (Oeffag) series 253, with later production rounded nose

From kill number 18 to kill number 52, Richthofen flew a collection of various Albatros and Halberstadt planes. Each Albatros iteration made improvements on the last, and it was while flying an Albatros that Richthofen adopted the color red for his plane.

He was not alone in painting his aircraft in unique colors. Many German pilots adopted the custom – most famously those of the famous “Flying Circus,” or Jagdgeschwäder (“Fighter Wing”) 11. Richthofen eventually rose to command this famous and successful group of pilots, who wanted both friends and enemies to know who they were.

Richthofen’s all-red Fokker Dr

The Halberstadt D.II was similar in shape and design to the Albatros company’s planes. It had a thicker front section which tapered off radically towards the tail, though its streamlined appearance was marred visually by the radiator and top engine housing.

Many Allied planes, and later German planes, had their engines completely encased by the fuselage/cowling, to reduce damage and also mitigate the effect of the spray of oil and water from damaged engines.

German Halberstadt CL.II 14207 17 𔄛” of Schlasta 2. Note fairing for radio generator

The Halberstadt had been used early in the war, and Oswald Boelcke made his reputation in it. It had a top speed of only 93 mph, but was a solid plane. It also apparently turned well, as Boelcke pushed the plane to its limits in the search for advantage over his rivals.

Richthofen flew the plane near the end of its operational life – during WWI, advances in technology occurred almost weekly – and scored thirteen victories in it.

Boelcke’s Fokker D.III fighter on display. He scored eight victories with this plane between 2 and 19 September 1916.

The Red Baron also briefly flew the Fokker F.1 triplane, which had been made famous by the ace Werner Voss. Voss’ famous last battle, in which he held off eight British planes alone for a long time before finally being shot down, was fought in the unbelievably swift-turning F.1.

Improvements in the wing design of the F.1 spawned the Dr.1, which Richthofen made his own.

A Brief History of the Albatros D.V

L ooking back through the history of the First World War and in particular, the primitive selection of flying machines active at the time, the names of various aircraft that made their mark on history, quickly rise to the surface. Names that for aviation people have become so very familiar. On the Allied side of the lines, Sopwith's legendary Camel, the French Nieuport and SPAD series, the Bristol Fighter. Aircraft that carried crosses on their wings have also become almost household names, at least in aviation circles.

The first was the Fokker E.III or Eindekker, which was the first type in service to successfully fire through the blades of its propeller. The best known of the Teutonic winged warriors was without question, the distinctive Fokker Dr.1 Dreidekker or Triplane, made famous twice through history, first by a member of the German aristocracy who became the most accomplished aerial combatant of the conflict, and then, decades later, by a cartoon beagle. Only 320 of these machines were built during that period and they only enjoyed a place in front line service for a matter of months.

Far more successful and also well remembered was the Fokker D.VII, another masterpiece from the genius of Reinhold Platz that was given the distinction of being identified by name in the Treaty of Versaillles, but again, it enjoyed a frontline career of barely eight months. Without question, the German combat machine of the Great War that we should be remembering more than any other, is the Albatros series of single seat fighting scouts that carried the fight in the skies over France for longer than all of the Fokker fighters combined.

B y the second half of 1916, Germany needed a new fighting scout to take over from the Fokker E.III 'Eindekker' which had enjoyed a period of superiority but which was by then, coming to an end. Various heavier and better armed machines had emerged but failed to deliver the performance that was required until the new Albatros D.I appeared in August of that year. Designed by Robert Thelen, the new fighter featured two 7.92 mm Spandau machine guns and a 160hp Mercedes engine which combined gave it superior firepower and superior climb and cruise speeds. By the end of 1916, over 50 D.Is were active over the front, but Albatros had already introduced the improved model D.II. This featured a revised layout between the cockpit area and the upper mainplane, substantially improving visibility for the pilot. Another improvement was the deletion of the bulky fuselage-mounted radiators in favour of a flush wing mounted unit. Over 200 DIIs were already in service by January 1917, but not wanting to rest on their laurels, Albatros engineers had already produced the next revision, the D.III, such was the demand to constantly improve the combat aircraft of the time in order to maintain that edge.

T he Albatros D.III introduced the distinctive 'V' strut braced sesquiplane arrangement borrowed from the French Nieuport scouts. This served the design well providing even further improved speed and climb performance from the D.II. Throughout 1917, Albatros D.IIIs enjoyed sustained success over the front and production of this model continued until early 1918, even though the new D.V and D.Va began to appear at the front in July.

Roden 1/32 Albatros D.I

The Albatros D1 was the sire of a series of fighters that was to become numerically the most important German fighters of the First World War. Introduced in 1916 the Streamlined airframe was mated to the powerful, as compared to rotaries, Mercedes inline engine. The introduction to combat by Pilots such as Oswalde Boelke and his fledglings in Jasta 2 put an end to the dominance of the DH2 and other allied pushers.

With few alterations this aircraft was produced as the DII variant, and a wing change to the sesquiplane arrangement created the DIII series which served into 1918.

Roden has followed their excellent Albatros DIII with the DI. Most of the major components are interchangeable, the exceptions being the early squared wings, the pylon center section struts, ear type radiators, and interplane struts. Assembly is straight forward and with care provides a fairly easy build for a bird of this era and scale.

Once the oils had dried I began the basic interior construction. Again Rodens Out of the Box version is pretty good. I added a few PE parts left over from my previous Albatros DIII build from both Eduard and Toms Model Works. I also utilized Eduards Pre Painted German WWI PE seatbelt set to male the seatbelts. This set offers a variety of belt styles from early Fokkers to 2 seaters.

Now I took the opportunity to plan out my rigging sequence and location points.

All struts were painted with my grey mix.

Rigging was done using 4lb. Test fishing monofilament colored with a silver sharpie. All went well with the exception of the cabane rigging. I manged to somehow pull the line too tight causing the glue join to let go. This resulted in a closed hole with no easy method of re-drilling! So I just used silver stretched sprue on the wires that I couldn’t re -do with fishing line.

I highly recommend this kit as a first WW1 build for relatively experienced modelers.

Albatros Flugzeugwerke GmbH

The Albatros Flugzeugwerke produced their first aircraft in 1912, the Albatros L.3, a single-seat scout type. This was followed by the L.9, a single-seat scout type designed by Claude Dornier, who later was to join the Zeppelin Company as their chief designer.

The Albatros company, co-founded and owned by Dr Walter Huth, had been in existence since 1909 and was founded with a capital of 25,000 marks. It was situated, together with other aircraft manufacturers, at the airfield at Johannisthal, near Berlin. As the Prussian Army became more and more interested in aviation, the manufacturers came up with a variety of offers in an attempt to secure contracts from them. On 2 October 1909, Dr Huth approached the War Ministry and offered to buy a French Latham aircraft for the military and supply an instructor to train military pilots, if they would pay for any repairs and maintenance costs. The offer was declined as the Wright Company had offered a similar package – for free. This prompted the Chief of the General Staff, General von Moltke, to put forward a recommendation that the War Minister sanction the training of suitable officers as pilots. At the end of 1909, von Moltke had been well aware that the French were already buying numbers of aircraft in addition to building some of their own, and were training military pilots.

The General Inspectorate of Military Transportation tried to maintain an impartial stance towards the various aircraft manufacturers, or so it was thought. For some unknown reason, they seemed to favour the Albatros Company, but this came to a head in 1911 when Otto Weiner, one of the directors of Albatros, urged Colonel Messing of the Inspectorate not to deal with the Luftverkehrsgesellschaft (LVG), claiming that the company was just a sale agent for Albatros. The LVG Company was owned by Arthur Mueller, and he allegedly persuaded Otto Weiner that the Army would rather deal with him than Albatros. Albatros claimed, however, that they reserved the right to sell directly to the Army and LVG would receive 750 marks for each aircraft sold. The fact that the LVG Company had saved the Albatros Company from collapse in the spring of 1911, after it had had a request for a subsidy from the Army rejected, seems to have been forgotten by Otto Weiner. LVG had purchased four aircraft from Albatros at a cost of 100,000 marks, which enabled the company to continue production.

The War Ministry supported LVG’s complaint of unfair dealing, and ensured that all transactions concerning the contracts issued for the purchase of aircraft from the various companies was done on the basis of ability to provide.

The first of the Albatros reconnaissance/trainers, the B.I, appeared in 1913. The aircraft was initially used as a trainer, but with the outbreak of war it was used both as a trainer and reconnaissance aircraft. Powered by a 100-hp Mercedes D.II engine, the B.I had a top speed of 65 mph and an endurance of 4 hours. Only a small number were built before being replaced by the B.II. The B.II, like the B.I, had an extremely strong, slab-sided fuselage made up of four spruce longerons covered with plywood. As in all the early aircraft, the pilot sat in the rear cockpit, which gave him a very limited view for take-off and landing. Used for training and reconnaissance duties, the B.II was replaced by the B.III with only minor modifications.

The arrival of Allied fighter aircraft prompted the development of a faster reconnaissance aircraft. Albatros produced the (OAW – Ostdeutsche Albatroswerke) C.I, powered by the 150-hp Benz engine, but only two were built. A second Albatros, the (OAW) C.II built in 1916, powered by a straight eight Mercedes D.IV engine was produced. This time only one was built.

Early in 1915, the company embarked on a singularly ambitious project, a four-engined bomber. Designed by Konstr. Grohmann, the Albatros G.I, as it was known, had a wingspan of 89 ft 6½ in (27 metres), a wing area of 1,485 sq ft (138 sq metres) and a fuselage length of 39 ft 4¼ in (12 metres). It was a very large aircraft. On the lower wing, four 120-hp Mercedes D.II engines in nacelles were mounted, driving four tractor propellers. The first flight took place on 31 January 1916, and was flown by a Swiss pilot, Alexander Hipleh. The G.I became the forerunner of the G.II and G.III, although the two latter aircraft were twin-engined bombers.

A completely different design early in 1916 produced the Albatros C.II. Called the Gitterschwanz (Trellis-tail), the design was of the pusher type, looking very similar to the De Havilland DH 2. Powered by a 150-hp Benz Bz III engine, the C.II did not measure up to expectations and only one was built. This was quickly followed by the Albatros C.IV, which reverted back to the original basic design. A 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine was fitted into the C.III fuselage, to which a C.II tail assembly and undercarriage were fixed. Again, only one of these aircraft was made.

A purely experimental model, the Albatros C.V Experimental, was built at the beginning of 1916. This had a wingspan of 41 ft 11½ in, supported by I-struts in an effort to test the inter-plane bracing. Powered by an eight-cylinder 220-hp Mercedes D.IV engine, the C.V Experimental supplied a great deal of information to Albatroswerke. The C.VI followed soon afterwards, and was based on the C.III airframe and powered by a 180-hp Argus As III engine, giving the aircraft a top speed of 90 mph and enabling it to carry enough fuel for a 4½-hour flight duration. In 1917, a night bomber version, the C.VIII N, evolved. Bombs were carried beneath the lower wings, but it was only powered by a 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine. Only one was constructed.

At the same time as the night bomber was being built, a two-seat fighter/reconnaissance aircraft, the Albatros C.IX, was being made. With a straight lower wing and a considerably swept upper wing it presented an unusual aircraft, but only three were built. This was followed by one version of the Albatros C.XIII, and again it was for experimental purposes. A return to the original design of the two-seater reconnaissance produced the Albatros C.XIV. There was one difference: the C.XIV had staggered wings, and again only one was built. The C.XIV was later modified into the C.XV. It was too late for the development of this aircraft in any numbers, as the end of the war came.

The air supremacy of the Imperial German Air Service during 1916 had been gradually eroded by the rapid development of the Allied fighter aircraft. In a desperate attempt to gain control again, the Albatros Werkes was approached to design and build a fighter that would do just that. Looking at the highly manoeuvrable Nieuport that was causing some of the problems, the company’s top designer Robert Thelen set to work and produced a design that combined speed and firepower. If his aircraft couldn’t outmanoeuvre the Nieuport, the Albatros could catch it and blast it out of the sky.

A 160-hp Mercedes engine or the 150-hp Benz, which was enclosed in a semi-monocoque plywood fuselage, powered the first of the Albatros series, the D.I. The cylinder heads and valve gear were left exposed, as this gave assisted cooling and greater ease of access for the engineers who had to work on the engine. Engine cooling was achieved by mounting two Windoff radiators, one on each side of the fuselage and between the wings, and a slim water tank mounted above and toward the rear of the engine, at an offset angle slightly to port. The extra power given to the aircraft enabled the firepower, twin, fixed Spandau machine guns, to be increased without loss of performance.

The fuselage consisted of three-eighths thick plywood formers and six spruce longerons. Screwed to this frame were plywood panels, and the engine was installed with easily removable metal panels for both protection and ease of maintenance. The wings, upper and lower, and the tail surfaces were covered with fabric. The fixed tail surfaces and upper and lower fins were made of plywood. The control surfaces were fabric covered over a welded steel-tube frame with a small triangular balance portion incorporated in the rudder and the one-piece elevator.

The undercarriage, a conventional, streamlined steel-tube V-type chassis, was fixed to the fuselage by means of sockets, and sprung through the wheels with rubber shock cord.

The Albatros was a very satisfactory aircraft to fly, but it was discovered to have a major drawback during combat. The top wing, because of its position to the fuselage, obscured the pilot’s forward field of vision. The problem was solved by cutting out a semi-circular section of the top wing in front of the pilot, and by lowering the wing so that the pilot could see over the top.

The first Jasta to receive the Albatros D.I, on 17 September 1916, was Jasta 2, which was commanded by the legendary Oswald Boelcke. Three weeks later Boelcke was killed when his Albatros was in involved in a mid-air collision with his wingman Erwin Böhme as they both dived into attack the same British aircraft, a DH.2 of No. 24 Squadron RFC.

In the middle of 1916, the German Naval High Command decided that it would be a good idea to have a single-seat fighter floatplane as a defence aircraft. The Albatros D.I was used as the basis of the Albatros W.4, although the latter was considerably larger in overall dimensions. The wingspan was increased by 1 metre.

Late in 1916, the Albatros D.III appeared with subtle, but noticeable changes to previous models. However, by the summer of 1917, this too had been superseded by the Albatros D.V and D.Va, just as the S.E.5s and SPADs (Société Pour Aviation et ses Dériéves) of the Allies started to regain control of the skies. The same problem seemed to dog the Albatros throughout its lifetime: the lower wing had a tendency to break up in a prolonged dive. In one incident, Sergeant Festnter of Jasta 11 carried out a test flight in an Albatros D.III, when at 13,000 feet the port lower wing broke up, and it was only his experience and a great deal of luck that prevented the aircraft crashing into the ground. Even the legendary Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen experienced a similar incident on 24 January 1917, while testing one of the new Albatros D.IIIs that had recently arrived at Jasta 11.

Tests were carried out, and it was discovered that the single spar was positioned too far aft, causing vibration which increased as the dive continued. This eventually resulted in the structure of the wing collapsing under the erratic movement. A temporary stopgap was achieved by fitting a short strut from the V interplane to the leading edge. Instructions were then given to pilots not to carry out long dives in the Albatros, which, as one can imagine, drastically reduced the faith pilots had in the aircraft, especially when under combat conditions.

Albatros D.I - History

In Stock (Ships in 1-3 business days) List price: $71.99
You pay: $52.39
(All prices in U.S. Dollars)

Manufacturer: Roden
Stock Number: ROD 614
Scale: 1/32
View all products of type "Albatros"

This model kit requires assembly. Cement, paint and other construction materials not included unless specifically stated in the description.

1915 was a very successful year for the Kaiser's aviation. The arrival of the first true fighter, Fokker's E.III Eindecker, enabled the Germans to prevail for a long time in the skies of the Western Front. However, the nations of the Entente Cordiale soon began preparing for Germany a small but potent surprise in reply: the legendary Nieuport 11, which appeared in 1916. This tiny biplane soon achieved dominance in its air battles and completely forced out Fokker's monoplanes from the sky.

During that period, when the main zone of aerial combat was at a height of 3,000 to 4,000 meters, the newest Fokker fighter the E.IV lost its advantage and became an easy victim for the Nieuports in spite of its powerful armament of two synchronised LMG.08 machine guns. At the same time, Idflieg (Inspectorate of Flying Troops) was talking to all the leading aircraft manufacturers, because of the urgent necessity of developing more advanced fighters. The success of the Nieuport convinced everybody that the biplane fighter design was the most promising, taking into account the relative power of the available engines, and also what was equired for tight maneuvering in a duel at close quarters. By the spring of 1916, the first prototypes from the Fokker and Halberstadt firms were ready for testing. They greatly surpassed the performance of existing monoplanes however, they still came up short in comparison with the Nieuport 11.

Around that time, in April 1916 a radically new type was introduced by the Albatros Flugzeugwerke GmbH, which up until then had only produced two-seat multi-purpose airplanes (mostly reconnaissance and light bombing types). One of the main differences from the other competing designs was the powerful 160 hp engine of the Albatros D.I, while the Fokker and Halberstadt machines had 100 and 120 hp engines. Another innovation of the design was its fuselage. While other contemporary types had truss frames covered with linen, the Albatros D.I had a streamlined plywood construction (so-called "semi-monocoque"), which managed to be simple and strong at the same time. The powerful specification of the machine was completed by two synchronised Spandau machine guns, hidden under the smooth lines of the top panels.

The Albatros D.I reached a height of 4,000 meters during testing, in only 22 minutes, quicker than any other fighter. The speed and maneuverability of the new machine were more than satisfactory and it is not surprising that this development by designer Robert Thelen was viewed by the military as a great encouragement. In July of 1916 Idflieg recommended that the Albatros D.I be put into production. The order was for 50 machines, which was then the normal practice for the German Army any new development was ordered in limited quantity (20-50 units), and its initial operational experience, and any failures, gave some guidance to the constructor as to the necessity for any improvement of the design, or else led to an increased order for the existing design.

Series production Albatros D.I's were given the serial numbers D.422/16-471/16. Taking into account the obvious success of the fighter, Idflieg issued an order for a second batch with the following numbers: D.472/16-521/16. However, production of the Albatros D.I remained in number only 50 machines, because a more modern version was ready the Albatros D.II, which replaced it in the second batch.

The appearance of the Albatros D.I at the end of the summer of 1916 was a nasty surprise for the British and it was clear that their de Havilland DH2 had immediately lost its advantage. Allied aces such as James McCudden noted the outstanding capability of the Albatros D.I and gave due respect to its fighting prowess in the air.

History and Hobby

I’ve been a bit busy as of late and have not posted on this blog for a while. I hope to back soon but in the meantime I hope my readers will enjoy this guest blog from my friend Paul, a bit of an authority on WW1 airplanes. Enjoy!

An often overlooked theater in WWI was the Austro-Italian front. Often miss-identified as a German Albatros D III is this Austro-Hungarian variant, the Oeffag (Albatros) D III. This replica was built from the ground up and is photo chronicled at: http://s306.photobucket.com/user/kolomay/library/?sort=3&page=1

The following press release is taken from the Aerodrome forum, Fight in the Skies Society:

Schleißheim (DE) 11th April 2012, Koloman Mayrhofer and Eberhard Fritsch announced that yesterday in the late morning, after a 94-years-long break, a WWI designed Albatross fighter has flown again.

On the Schleißheim aerodrome (Munchen, DE) the OEFFAG Albatross D.III s/n 253.24 replica produced by the two friends, started the test flight operations.

“We’re very happy we reached our goal of making the plane flying” says Koloman Mayrhofer “especially because the replica is historically accurate and it’s fitted with and original six in line cylinders Austro Daimler engine, produced in 1917!”
“We would like to thank all the people involved in the project” continued Mayrhofer “without their passion and devotion, this 20-years-long journey wouldn´t have reached its natural end”.

The text pilot Roger Louis “Tex” Texier, after all the pre-flight inspection controls were done by his C.S. Francis DePenne, performed two flights over the day and afterward declared: “together with Mayrhofer we scheduled to use the first flights just to gain confidence with the aircraft characteristics, but” continued the well experienced test pilot “already on the second flight I felt so connected to the aircraft that I couldn’t help by doing some acrobatics manoeuvres”. These manoeuvres included a series of touch-and-go, a stall, some close turnings and a Immelmann, that aroused the enthusiasm of the crowd on the ground.

The pilot also gave his first impressions: “the Albatross it’s really different from all the other WWI aircrafts I was able to flight: the tail surfaces are extremely sensible unlike the ailerons the powerful engine grant good acceleration and climbing characteristics…. A real race horse!”.

As the flight program developed, despite bad weather conditions, it was possible to achieve a total of nearly 3 hours of flight by the end of the week.

The flight test activities of the aircraft are carried under the experimental certification of the LBA (German NAA) supervision, and are scheduled to last until 22nd of July.

The Albatros D. was a single engine plane, but two different types of engines were used to power it. One option was the Benz Bz.III, the other the Mercedes D.III engine. When the Albatros was first produced, they were the most powerful engines fitted to any fighting scout plane.

Captured Albatros D.V (serial D.1162/17) with British roundels.

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.

Watch the video: Luftstreitkräfte WW1 Biplane The Albatros - WW1 Luftstreitkräfte Biplano El Albatros (January 2022).