Fokker Dr.1 Triplane

Fokker Dr.1 Triplane

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Fokker Dr.1 Triplane

Without doubt one of the most famous aircraft of the First World War and the one aircraft most people think of first when asked about fighter aircraft of this conflict.

The Fokker Dr1 was designed as a response to the Sopwith Triplane but was by no means a copy of that design. It was designed by the legendary Dutch designer Anthony Fokker. Its official name was the Dr.1 Dredecker and despite being famous only 320 Fokker DR 1s were built, a small numbered compared to contemporary fighters such as SPAD VIIs, Albatross or Sopwith Camels which were produced in their thousands.

The first of the Dredeckers were delivered to Jagdgeschwader I commanded by Manfred Von Richthofen in August 1917. Von Richthofen claimed his first kill in the aircraft with which he is most associated with on 1st September 1917 when he shot down a British R.E 8 whose crew probably mistook it for a Sopwith Triplane, as the Dredecker was the first three winged aircraft to enter German service. Initially the plane achieved few successes and on 30th October a German pilot was killed when his Dredecker’s upper wing became detached, another similar death followed and in November all Dredeckers were grounded. After inspection it was found that aileron attachment points and glue joints needed strengthening, within a month the DR I was back in service.

Following the winter of 1917-18 which saw little aerial combat the Dredecker entered its heyday but even when brought fame in the hands of the infamous Red Baron and his bright red DR I it was never the main combat aircraft of the German Jasta squadrons. Despite the famous Red Dr I of Von Richthofen most Dr Is were a streaky olive brown although most Jastas painted the tail and wheels in distinctive colours.

Despite its fearsome reputation the DR I was slower than the allied fighters it faced both in a dive and in level flight; it could be difficult to land and to handle and lubricant problems led to some engine failures in the summer of 1918. Despite this it was highly manoeuvrable and in the hands of a skilled pilot a deadly aircraft as many of the German Aces were to prove. One of Von Richthofen’s Dredeckers formed a display in a German military museum after the war but was believed destroyed towards the end of the Second World War. No original Fokker Dr I Dredeckers survive although several working replicas do.

Length5.77 m (18ft 11)
Wingspan7.2m (23ft 7)
Engine110 hp rotary engine
Max speed185km/h (115mph)
Range300 km (185 miles)
Weaponstwin 7.92mm machine guns

Sands Fokker Dr.1 Triplane

The Sands Fokker Dr.1 Triplane is an American homebuilt aircraft that was designed by Ron Sands Sr of Mertztown, Pennsylvania and produced by Wicks Aircraft and Motorsports. It is a full-sized replica fighter aircraft based upon the 1917-vintage Fokker Dr.1. The aircraft is supplied as a kit and in the form of plans for amateur construction. [1] [2]

Sands Fokker Dr.1 Triplane
Role Homebuilt aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Wicks Aircraft and Motorsports
Designer Ron Sands Sr
Status Plans available (2014)
Developed from Fokker Dr.1

The Triplane Fighter Craze of 1917

For the brief period of a year, roughly from mid-1917 to mid-1918, the triplane format suddenly came to dominate the world of fighter plane design, particularly in Germany. The triplane would have become a mere footnote in the history books were it not for the fact that one of them, the Fokker Dr.I, became one of the most famous airplanes of World War I.

It is a basic premise that an airplane with one wing is more aerodynamically efficient than an airplane with two. After all, who has ever seen a biplane bird? Nature, however, cannot always be translated into machinery in a straightforward manner. Although many of the earliest aircraft were monoplanes, they were found to possess some very dangerous characteristics. The problems were mainly structural rather than aerodynamic.

A series of fatal accidents involving wing failures in early monoplanes resulted in a ban on them by the British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in the summer of 1912. One of the world’s first formal aviation-crash inquiries was convened in 1913 to investigate the accidents. Despite the fact that the ‘Monoplane Committee exonerated the configuration, a prejudice against monoplanes persisted for more than 20 years.

Another reason for the distrust of monoplanes as fighters in World War I had to do with pilot visibility from the cockpit. In combat, the fighter pilot who saw his adversary first was usually the victor. Before the advent of radio, pilots needed a clear view of their flight commanders, who communicated with each other visually by means of hand signals and wing-waggling. They also had to be able to see their squadron mates to avoid accidental midair collisions.

The earliest successful fighter planes, the French Morane-Saulnier N and the German Fokker E.I, were monoplanes configured with the cockpit directly over the wing. From that position, the pilot enjoyed unlimited visibility to every quarter except downward, in which direction he could see nothing at all.

In many biplanes the pilot sat with one wing directly below him and another directly overhead, impairing his vision in both directions. A typical example was the British Sopwith Pup. Produced in 1916, the Pup was a beautifully proportioned little biplane that flew as great as it looked. British pilots, however, were less than satisfied with the visibility from its cockpit. Many photographs of Pups show portions of fabric cut away from the upper wing’s center section in an effort to improve the pilot’s view.

In retrospect, it may be said that the Sopwith Pup set a style that persisted for more than 20 years-that of the single-seat tractor biplane with synchronized machine guns firing through the propeller. At the time the Pup first appeared, however, the optimum configuration of a fighter was still in doubt. Today, the primary considerations for a fighter plane are speed, firepower and that newest of criteria, stealth. During World War 1, however, the emphasis was on rate of climb, maneuverability and pilot visibility.

In the spring of 1916, Herbert Smith, the chief designer at Sopwith, began work on a successor to the Pup. He set out to design a plane that could climb faster, fly higher, maneuver as well as if not better than its predecessor and, if possible, afford better visibility than the Pup. Surprisingly, the prototype that emerged from the Sopwith hangar on May 30, 1916, was not a biplane but a triplane.

The triplane configuration was not exactly a new concept that spring. Such pioneer aviators as Glenn Curtiss (founder of Curtiss Aircraft Co.) and AV Roe (founder of Avro, Ltd.) had already built successful triplanes in the United States and Britain, respectively. In Italy, Count Gianni Caproni di Taliedo, founder of Aeroplani Caproni, was producing a series of large, three-engine bombers, including several triplanes. In those earlier aircraft, however, the triplane format was simply a matter of expediency-an attempt to compensate for the low-powered engines of the period by building the greatest possible wing area, and consequently the maximum lift, into a reasonably compact airframe. Because speed was less of a consideration in bombers, the increased lift offered by the triplane format made sense. Herbert Smith, however, was adapting a refinement of the triplane concept to fighters. He sought to balance the advantages of extra lift and optimum maneuverability against the inherent disadvantage of increased drag.

The idea behind the Sopwith Triplane (curiously, it does not seem to have had any official name or designation) was that a wing with a narrow chord would provide a correspondingly small change in the center of pressure at various angles of attack. That meant that the fuselage and tail, which balanced the airplane, could be shorter than they needed to be on an airplane with wider chord wings. In theory, the shorter the fuselage was, the quicker the maneuverability would be in pitch and yaw. Dividing the wing area into three parts also allowed the wings to be constructed with a shorter span, which increased the rate of roll. Smith also designed it with ailerons on all three wings to increase maneuverability.

Another benefit of the triplane format was an improvement in climb rate and ceiling. Since the wing area was divided by three, the wings could be built with a narrower chord in relation to their span. Such high-aspect-ratio wings produce a very efficient ratio of lift to drag. Anyone who has ever seen an albatross or a sailplane in flight can testify to the aerodynamic efficiency of long, narrow wings. As a bonus, the narrow-chord wings above and below the pilot interfered less with his view than the wider wings of a biplane or monoplane. Moreover, the middle wing was mounted in line with the pilot’s eyes, so that he could easily see around it.

To further enhance the triplane’s maneuverability, Smith carefully grouped the heaviest weights-pilot, fuel, armament and engine-near the center of gravity. To a large extent, that was made possible by the use of a compact, aircooled rotary engine. Both rotary engines and the related radial aircraft engines were constructed with their cylinders arranged around a common axis. Unlike the radial engines, which were rigidly attached to the airframe and drove the propeller by means of a revolving crankshaft, on the earlier rotary engines the propeller was bolted directly to the crankcase, while the engine itself revolved around a crankshaft attached to the airframe. The entire engine acted, in effect, like a giant flywheel.

The Sopwith Triplane was designed and built in less than three months. Yet, when it was first flown on May 30, 1916, test pilot Harry Hawker was so pleased with the prototype that he looped it three minutes after the first takeoff. Two weeks later, the same prototype, N500, was dispatched to a front-line squadron for evaluation and flew its first combat mission 15 minutes after arrival.

The appearance of the Sopwith Triplane was nothing if not startling one observer likened its appearance in flight to an intoxicated flight of stairs. The impression from inside the cockpit was summed up by pilot Herbert Thompson, who wrote in his log book: The best machine I have ever flown. Thoroughly in love with it. Much later, Sir Herbert Thompson added, After fifty years I still am.

About the only reservation service pilots had about the new Sopwith was that its endurance, about 1 3/4 hours, was slightly less than ideal. Powered by a 130-hp Clerget rotary engine, the Sopwith Triplane carried a single synchronized .303-caliber Vickers machine gun. Its top speed of 117 mph was reasonably good for its day, but its rate of climb, 5,000 feet in 4 1/2 minutes, was considered phenomenal. It also had a ceiling of more than 20,000 feet, higher than that of most German planes, which gave the British fighter a significant tactical benefit — the ability to attack with a height advantage. In the event that a Sopwith Triplane was attacked, the pilot could simply execute a climbing turn that no German fighter could follow.

P>The first fully equipped squadrons of Sopwith Triplanes began to make their appearance at the front early in 1917, a period when the fortunes of British airmen were at their lowest ebb. So heavy were RFC losses that April 1917 became known in that service as Bloody April. The triplanes were not operated by the Royal Flying Corps, however, but by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Although there were never more than six squadrons of Sopwith Triplanes on the Western Front, their impact greatly exceeded their numbers.

There were many successful proponents of the Sopwith Triplane, but no discussion of that fighter can neglect mentioning the famous all-Canadian Black Flight, led by Flight Cmdr. Raymond Collishaw. Officially designated as B Flight of No. 10 Naval Squadron, the flight’s five black-nosed triplanes were each given an individual name appropriate to their sinister livery: Collishaw’s Black Maria, W. Melville Alexander’s Black Prince, John E. Sharman’s Black Death, Ellis Vair Reid’s Black Roger and Gerald Ewart Nash’s Black Sheep. Between June 1 and July 28, 1917, Black Flight shot down 86 enemy aircraft for the loss of one man captured (Nash on June 26) and two killed (Sharman on July 22 and Reid on July 28, both by anti-aircraft fire).

That incredible record was achieved despite the fact that Black Flight was operating against the very best pilots the Germans had – Jagdstaffel (Jasta) 11, commanded by the Red Baron, Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen. On June 28, Collishaw shot down and killed Leutnant Karl Allmenroder, a 30-victory ace and one of Richthofen’s best pilots, two days after that same German airman had shot down and captured Nash. Collishaw finished the war with a total of 60 victories, 30 of them scored while flying the Sopwith Triplane, and eventually became an air vice marshal in the Royal Canadian Air Force. The popular and influential Richthofen and other German airmen were stunned by the performance of the new triplanes. Suddenly the British had a machine that could outfly anything the German air service had. As a result, the Inspectorate of Aviation (Inspektion der Flieger, or Idflieg) immediately issued a demand for triplanes (Dreidecker). Soon, virtually every aircraft company in Germany was enthusiastically testing at least one new triplane prototype.

Albatros wasted no time in sticking a set of Sopwith triplane-style wings onto the standard German fighter of the period, the Albatros D.V. Pfalz did the same thing to its equally ubiquitous Pfalz D.III biplane fighter. Many companies, such as AEG, DFW, Shuumltte-Lanz and Euler, built otherwise identical pairs of prototypes with both biplane and triplane wings to hedge their bets. One Euler triplane had a set of wingsize ailerons installed above the upper wing, making it virtually a quadriplane.

The Siemens-Schuckert Werke (SSW) tried to create a high-performance fighter by building a triplane with two rotary engines, one tractor and one pusher, with the tail surfaces held on a latticelike structure. Nicknamed the Fliegende Ei (Flying Egg), the unusual looking SSW Dr.I crashed on its first flight.

LFG Roland built a graceful triplane featuring a wooden clinker-built fuselage, constructed much like the hull of a speed boat. Although its D.IV triplane was not adopted by the German air service, Roland’s unique fuselage construction was later used on a biplane fighter, the D.VI, which did go into production in 1918.

Designers in countries besides Germany also tried their hands at triplane fighters. In Austria-Hungary, triplane fighters were built by Oeffag, Lohner, Aviatik, Lloyd and WKF. The Aviatik 30.24 was essentially a triplane version of the standard Austrian fighter, the Aviatik (Berg) D.I. The Lohner 111.04, Oeffag 50.14 and WKF 80.05 prototypes were also adaptations of existing biplane designs. Oeffag’s large 50.14 was more original but gave a disappointing performance.

More novel still was the Hungarian Lloyd 40.15. Its top and middle wings were flush with the top and middle of the fuselage, while the bottom wing was mounted behind the landing gear axle. All three wings were of cantilever type, without external interplane bracing. In lieu of conventional ailerons, the Lloyd had pivoting wingtips fitted to the middle wing. Another peculiarity of the 165-hp Austro-Daimler-powered Lloyd was its fuselage that was built to conform to the shape of the wings’ airfoil, imparting a distinctly warped appearance. Details of the Lloyd 40.15 are scarce-including evidence as to whether it ever flew-but it seems likely that its bizarre configuration was yet another attempt to improve the pilot’s view.

Another unusual approach to improving visibility was utilized by the French in a little-known triplane version of the Nieuport 17. As a sesquiplane (1 1/2 wings), the little Nieuport was considered a delight to fly and had been favored by many Allied aces, as well as by the American volunteers of the Lafayette Escadrille. It had also impressed the Germans, who were emulating its sesquiplane wing arrangement before they began copying that of the Sopwith Triplane. In its triplane guise, however, the Nieuport was a very different kettle of fish. Its middle wing was staggered forward in the normal manner, but its top wing was staggered well back, above and behind the pilot. One would think that such an arrangement would have actually hindered the pilot’s view for landing, while also masking the approach of an enemy from above and behind.

In any event, the modification certainly did nothing to improve the Nieuport’s handling characteristics. Undeterred, Nieuport built another triplane, based on the earlier Nieuport 10 two-seater. This time the top wing was staggered forward and the middle wing was set back. Whether or not that triplane was any improvement over the previous version is not recorded, but the French authorities do not appear to have thought so, for they abandoned the experiment completely in December 1916. On January 26, 1917, however, one of their triplane Nieuport 17s, N1588, was delivered to the RFC and given the British serial number A6686. It was extraordinarily unstable and I didn’t like it at all, recalled Sir Vernon Brown, a British pilot fortunate enough to survive a test flight at Martlesham Heath.

Despite such unflattering comments, the British themselves fitted a similar wing arrangement on the fuselage of a French-built Nieuport 17bis, N1946, gave it the Royal Navy serial N521 and shipped it to No. 11 Squadron, RNAS at Dunkirk on March 29, 1917. Clearly inferior to the Sopwith Triplane, N521 saw little operational use before being retired for good in June.

Sopwith, meanwhile, built another triplane with a 150-hp Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine, but it displayed no significant improvement over the Clerget-powered production model. In any case, the RFC had found a better use for the Hispano-Suiza engine in the SE-5 biplane. By the same token, Austin Motors’ otherwise promising Osprey triplane of early 1918 was designed to utilize the 230-hp Bentley BR-2 rotary engine that had already been earmarked for another superior biplane, the Sopwith Snipe. The Sopwith Snark triplane of 1918 also performed well, but it was handicapped by the mechanical unreliability of its 320-hp ABC Dragonfly stationary radial engine.

Ironically, one of the few aircraft producers who was not enthusiastic about building triplanes was Anthony Fokker, a Dutch pilot and aviation entrepreneur who had set up shop in Germany. In 1916, Fokker had lost his initial lead in the German fighter business to Albatros through a combination of stagnant design and poor quality control. By the beginning of 1917, however, Fokker and his new chief engineer, Rheinhold Platz, had an entirely new fighter to offer the German air service. Called the V.1 (the V standing for Verspannungslos, or without external bracing), the new Fokker was a rotary-engine sesquiplane combining a streamlined fuselage with plywood cantilever wings. Two versions with in-line engines, the V.2 and V.3, were also built. All of them were so far ahead of their time that they would not have looked out of place among the Gee Bees, Lairds and Travel Airs at the Cleveland Air Races 15 years later.

Despite the excellent performance of the V.1, Idflieg remained lukewarm to its concept. Part of the problem was suspicion of the plane’s unusual flight controls, which included pivoting wingtips instead of ailerons. In view of the structural problems experienced with previous Fokker airplanes-and subsequently with the Dr. I triplane — Idflieg was probably justified in its concern. In any case, what the German air service really wanted from Fokker was a triplane. So on June 13, 1917, Fokker reluctantly shelved his promising sesquiplane program and began altering the VA, a prototype biplane intended for Austro-Hungarian evaluation, into triplane configuration.

Like the V.1, the V.4 triplane was a rotary-engine machine with unbraced cantilever wings of thick airfoil section, supported by plywood double-box spars. Unlike the V.1, however, the triplane had wings covered with fabric rather than plywood. With its short wingspan, short fuselage and a vertical tail surface that was all rudder, the Fokker proved to be very maneuverable, and its three wings endowed it with a superlative rate of climb. In its original form, the triplane was devoid of interplane bracing. After the wingspan was subsequently lengthened, the action of the ailerons tended to flex the upper wing, so simple, planktype interplane struts had to be added.

In late June 1917, Leutnant Werner Voss, then acting commander of Jasta 14, test-flew the Fokker triplane prototype at Schwerin and was extremely enthusiastic about it. He recommended it to Manfred von Richthofen, then commander of Jagdgeschwader (JG) I, Germany’s first permanent fighter wing. On July 18, Richthofen, who was recuperating from a head wound suffered on July 6, wrote his superiors from the hospital, demanding to know why the Fokker triplane was not in production.

Unknown to Richthofen, the Fokker had already proved itself by far the best of all prototypes the Germans had developed in response to the Sopwith Triplane scare, and Idflieg had placed an order on July 14 for 20 Fokker F.Is, as the type was initially designated. On July 26, Richthofen informed his pilots that they would soon be receiving new Fokker triplanes that are maneuverable as the devil and climb like monkeys. On August 11, a refined version of the F.I, redesignated the Dr.I, was approved for full-scale production.

The first two preproduction Fokker F.Is, bearing the serial numbers 102/17 and 103/17, were issued to Richthofen and Voss, respectively. Neither plane lasted very long. Richthofen scored his 60th and 61st victories with F.I 102/17, but on September 15, the Baron’s friend OberLeutnant Kurt Wolff, commander of Jasta 11 and a 33-victory ace, was killed while flying it, shot down by Flight Lt. Norman M. MacGregor of Naval 10. Ironically, by that time the British squadron had traded in its Tripehounds for a new, more potent biplane design by Herbert Smith-the Sopwith Camel.

Voss, then commanding Jasta 10 in Richthofen’s JG.I, flew F.1 103/17 for the first time on August 28. Delighted with his new mount, he went on a rampage, shooting down nine enemy aircraft by September 11. On September 23, Voss scored his 48th victory, but he was killed later in the day in an epic, single-handed dogfight against seven SE-5a’s of No. 56 Squadron, a crack RFC unit. In the course of his last fight, Voss executed seemingly impossible maneuvers and damaged all of his antagonists’ machines.

The spectacular performance of Voss’ new Fokker triplane was as jarring to the British as their Sopwith Triplane had previously been to the Germans. Unfortunately for the Germans, that advantage was to prove short-lived. On October 30, 1917, Leutnant Heinrich Gontermann, commander of Jasta 15 and a 39-victory ace, was killed when the top wing of his new Fokker Dr.I 115/17, disintegrated. The next day, Leutnant Gnther Pastor, a pilot from Jasta 11, was killed under similar circumstances in Dr.I 121/17.

All Fokker triplanes were promptly grounded. Upon investigation, it was found that the main wing spar was more than sufficiently strong, but the attachments of the ribs, wingtips and ailerons were weak. Worse yet, there was evidence of poor quality control in both the doping of the fabric and the varnishing of the wooden wing components, causing wood rot in the wingstructure after a short time.

The Fokker triplanes would remain grounded until redesigned and better constructed wings could be fitted. German pilots then continued to fly them with great success during the first half of 1918, but the rapid tempo of aircraft development had caught up with the Dr.I, and only 320 were built. Fast-climbing and maneuverable though they may have been, the triplanes were only effective when engaged on their own terms. With a top speed of only 102 mph, they were simply too slow, due to interference drag between the three wings. Occasional structural failures continued to occur as well, one instance of which put Richthofen’s brother Lothar in the hospital on March 13 1918.

Pilots were also experiencing chronic problems with the Dr.I’s 110-hp rotary engine, which had been designed to be lubricated with castor oil. A product of the tropical castor bean plant (Ricinus communus), genuine castor oil was unavailable to the Germans due to the Allied blockade. The Germans had to make due with a synthetic substitute that severely shortened engine life.

Rotary engines were in such short supply that many Fokkers, including those flown by Voss and Richthofen, were powered by engines salvaged from captured Allied aircraft. Fokker built experimental triplanes with other engines, but none of them amounted to much. The most bizarre variant was the V.8, a modification of Fokker’s Mercedes-powered V.6 triplane prototype. The V.8 actually had five wings-three forward and two more aft of the cockpit-with ailerons on both sets of upper wings. Reliable sources allege that Anthony Fokker personally flew the V.8 on at least two occasions. It is certainly difficult to imagine him persuading anybody else to fly it. By the spring of 1918, however, Fokker’s fighter designs were taking a more conventional form. When Manfred von Richthofen was killed on April 21, 1918, after achieving his 80th aerial victory, he was eagerly awaiting the replacement of his unit’s triplanes with a new biplane fighter, the Fokker D.VII.

Of the plethora of triplane fighters developed in Germany during 1917, the only one that came close to matching the success of the Fokker was the Pfalz Dr.I. Produced in October 1917, the Pfalz Dr.I was a three-winged version of the experimental D.VII biplane. Careful attention was paid to visibility by designing the Pfalz with wings of three different chords, the narrowest being in the center and the widest on top. The streamlined wooden monocoque fuselage blended with the cowling of the plane’s rotary engine. The Pfalz Dr.I could outclimb its Fokker counterpart by at least as great a margin as the Fokker could outclimb the earlier Albatros D.V.

Manfred von Richthofen, who flew the Pfalz Dr.I in December 1917, was very impressed with it. Although only 10 Pfalz triplanes were produced, nine of them were sent to the front. One reason why more of them were not built may have been that the Pfalz was a more complex and labor-intensive aircraft to produce than the Fokker. The Germans were also becoming disillusioned with the triplane formula by the time it appeared on the scene.

In addition, the Pfalz was powered by the 160-hp Siemens und Halske Sh-III, a unique rotary-radial engine in which the crankcase rotated in one direction while the crankshaft rotated in the opposite direction. By the time the new engine was perfected, Siemens had developed an airplane of its own for it, the SSW D.III biplane, which would eventually be developed into the D.IV, arguably the best German interceptor of the war.

With one notable exception, the triplane fighter craze was over by mid-1918. That exception was the Curtiss-Kirkham 18T, a two-seater built for the U.S. Navy in July 1918. Powered by a 400-hp engine designed by Charles B. Kirkham, only two 18Ts were built. With a speed of 160 mph, they were among the fastest aircraft in the world-and certainly the fastest triplanes ever flown. The plane’s Kirkham K-12 engine was later developed into the well-known Curtiss Conqueror, which was used in many aircraft during the 1920s and early 1930s.

By the early 1920s, the triplane fighter concept was dead, although the use of the triplane configuration to increase the lifting capabilities of bombers or commercial aircraft would be explored for several years more. The last military triplane to be produced in any quantity was the Mitsubishi Type 10, a single seat torpedo plane 20 were built for the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1922. The Type 10 had been created by a new chief designer whom Mitsubishi had recently recruited from an economically depressed postwar Britain: Herbert Smith, creator of the Sopwith Triplane.

This article was written by Robert Guttman and was originally published in the March 2001 issue of Aviation History magazine.

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Aurora’s 1/48 Fokker DR-1 Triplane Kit Review and Release History

Released in 1956 the FOKKER DR -I [sic] was the fifth model of Aurora ‘s original six “Famous Fighters” 1/48 World War One aircraft. This example is kit number 105-69.

In order, the 5 predecessors (using Aurora punctuation and spelling) were the French Nieuport 11, Sopwith Camel, SE-5 Scout and German Albatross D-3. (Curiously, although the Sopwith Tripe was one of their final WWI models, it was originally numbered 100.) In the early 1970s Aurora reworked many of the molds by adding fabric texture and removing raised insignia and data markings, issuing the models as the 700 kit series. The Dr.I was kit 750. The triplane was not one of the kits eventually issued by Aurora subsidiary K&B.

Release History

In 1955 Aurora began actively planning and cutting molds for a constant scale World War I aircraft series. The prototype of kit #101, the Nieuport II (and possibly others) were produced that year and Jim Cox made sketches and final box art for a 1955 release under the old Aurora Line logo. For some reason, the kits were not released until 1956.

Jim Cox did the box artwork and instructions for the DR-I. The kit sold so well that Aurora did not change the artwork until the 700 series, which used photos of built up models. The known variations of boxes for the DR-I are shown below in order of issue. Click on any thumbnail to enlarge the photo.

105-69 (1956) 105-69 (@1957-58) 105-79 (@1958-59) 105-79 (@1960-63) 105-100 (@1964 -75)

The original issue was molded in the beautiful, deep gloss maroon plastic (that Fred notes below) and black. The kit continued to be molded in this color through the 1950s. In the mid 1960s the plastic was changed to a medium red (without the high gloss) and black. Through all these issues, the decals remained the same as did the instructions except for minor changes such as the Aurora logo. In the 1970s most of the WWI line was improved, as was the DR-1 for the 1976 issue. This final issue is normally found molded in all medium low-gloss red with revised instructions and decals.

This review is of the 1956 original vividly decorated ‘long box’ model. Aurora changed their logo, box design and decoration many times. One version included a superimposed faux newspaper clipping of Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen. To the chagrin of retailers Aurora , like many model makers then and now, printed their suggested retail price (79₵!) on the box.

Inside are instructions, decals, and 33 parts injection molded in two colors, black and a peculiar metallic burgundy color. One oddity is a streamlined ‘air scoop’ shown to attach between the machine guns. One black piece is an identification button imprinted with “FOKKER DRI GERMANY .” The plastic is also peculiar in that, while it is not scratched or nicked, it produces a glassy ‘tink’ when parts strike each other! It is so smooth that it looks as if the factory coated it with a hard high gloss polished finish. It reminds me of the plastic used to make ‘glass’ bottles and drinkware. Later editions were molded with common red.

Parts Overview (click photo to enlarge)

None of the parts are attached to a sprue in my sample. Aurora originally boxed them on sprues, so these had been removed or fell off. Molding is impressive for the era with no airframe flash (A wisp of flash on the seat, and moderate flash on several manifold induction pipes of the Oberursel UR-2 rotary engine.), minor mold seam lines limited to struts, and almost no sinks. Typical of the era, there are visible ejector circles. Most are on the underside of parts except for those on the top of the bottom and middle wings and wing struts. The worst sink I found is a shallow dogbone shaped depression on the fuselage portion of the middle wing. Perhaps it is to mount the guns in?

Part detail (click on any image to enlarge)

Aurora was one of – if not the – first to make models to a standard size. This quarter-scale model averages out to 1/50 scale. With a top wing span of 25½ feet their Dr.I is too wide by 23 inches. The middle wing is 22½ feet wide while the prototype’s was 20½. I measured the fuselage from cowl face to trailing edge of the rudder at 19 feet 9 inches, 10 inches too long.

The cowl is wrong as the lower cut out is too shallow. Part thickness is out of scale for struts yet impressively thin for trailing edges, the horizontal stabilizer and the rudder. Certainly not what I expected! Test fitting reveals good fit. A pass of sandpaper along the fuselage should allow your glue to seal the slight gaps. Where the cabanes and interstruts mate into wing surfaces would require filler.

As was the fashion of the era, all insignia and data is molded onto the airframe. Removing it is a horrible exercise at best even on flat surfaces!

DR-1 Part Detail (click any image to enlarge)

Not much! The Oberursel is a suggestion at best, with undersized cylinders and v alve rocker shafts molded to the front of each cylinder. It lacks the prominent valve rockers, valve rocker shafts and pins.

Each 7.92mm Spandau LMG 08/15 machine gun would be unrecognizable if you didn’t know what they were supposed to be.

The cockpit is token: floor, seat, stick, instrument panel. Fortunately the pilot blocks seeing any of it.

Surface detail includes some raised lines representing access hatches, control horns, and control wire ports. Aurora included a pilot and mechanic. The mechanic is reasonably well detailed although the detail is soft. Aurora also included a small base of rough ground with chocks molded on.

DR-1 Part Detail (click any image to enlarge)

Instructions, Decals and Paint Guide

Aurora did a good job with the instructions, a labeled exploded view of the model and a detailed 24-step assembly sequence for the 33 parts! The only painting guidance is mention that the Red Baron’s triplane should be red except the wheels, guns, engine and propeller.

Decals include eight Balkenkreuz and the fuselage serial “FDRI.2009/17” with “DR” and “/17” smaller than the rest of the printing. Like the identical raised markings on the fuselage, this data is incorrectly produced from the correct “Fok.Dr.I 425/17.”

Instructions (front), decals and instructions (rear) (click any image to enlarge)

Another great trip down memory taxilane! Even today this kit is sought for building and collecting. Some collectors enjoy building the kit as they did in the 1960s – straight from the box. Those who wish to build it to current standards will find it ripe for detailing and in need of serious surface sanding. One could by several accurate modern kits for the price of one of these. No doubt you can make a respectable model with it, as evidenced by the many examples online. However, I would only buy and build one for nostalgia.

As such it will look striking in your display case. That ‘electric cardinal’ burgundy is beautiful!

*Highs*: Clean molding. Impressively molded. Vignette display base and ground crewman.

*Lows*: Much of the detail is soft and simplified, ejector marks and some seam lines abound, and there are those unfortunate raised areas for the inaccurate decals. Only basic interior detail occupies the small cockpit, the machine guns are toy-like.

*Verdict*: I would only buy and build one for nostalgia. As such it will look striking in your display case. That ‘electric cardinal’ burgundy is beautiful!

Operational history

Triplanes of Jasta㺚 at Erchin, France

Jasta㺌 flightline at Toulis, France

The first two pre-production triplanes were designated F.I, in accord with Idflieg's early class prefix for triplanes. These aircraft, serials 102/17 and 103/17, were the only machines to receive the F.I designation [8]  and could be distinguished from subsequent aircraft by a slight curve to the tailplane leading edge. They were sent to Jastas㺊 and㺋 for combat evaluation, arriving at Markebeeke, Belgium on 28 August 1917.

Richthofen first flew 102/17 on 1 September 1917 and shot down two enemy aircraft in the next two days. He reported to the Kogenluft(Kommandierender General der Luftstreitkräfte) that the F.I was superior to the Sopwith Triplane. [9] Richthofen recommended that fighter squadrons be reequipped with the new aircraft as soon as possible. [9]  The combat evaluation came to an abrupt conclusion when Oberleutnant Kurt Wolff, Staffelführer of Jasta㺋, was shot down in 102/17 on 15 September, and Leutnant Werner Voss, Staffelführer of Jasta10, was killed in 103/17 on 23 September.

The remaining pre-production aircraft, designated Dr.I, were delivered to Jasta11. [10]  Idflieg issued a production order for 100 triplanes in September, followed by an order for 200 in November. [11]  Apart from the straight leading edge of the tailplane, these aircraft were almost identical to the F.I. The primary distinguishing feature was the addition of wingtip skids, which proved necessary because the aircraft was tricky to land and prone to ground looping. [12]  In October, Fokker began delivering the Dr.I to squadrons within Richthofen's Jagdgeschwader I.

Compared to the Albatros and Pfalz fighters, the Dr.I offered exceptional maneuverability. Though the ailerons were not very effective, the rudder and elevator controls were light and powerful. [13]  Rapid turns, especially to the right, were facilitated by the triplane's marked directional instability. [13]  VizefeldwebelFranz Hemer of Jastaن said, "The triplane was my favorite fighting machine because it had such wonderful flying qualities. I could let myself stunt — looping and rolling — and could avoid an enemy by diving with perfect safety. The triplane had to be given up because although it was very maneuverable, it was no longer fast enough." [14]

As Hemer noted, the Dr.I was considerably slower than contemporary Allied fighters in level flight and in a dive. While initial rate of climb was excellent, performance fell off dramatically at higher altitudes because of the low compression of the OberurselUr.II, a clone of the Le Rhône 9J rotary engine. [15]  As the war continued, chronic shortages of castor oil made rotary operation increasingly difficult. The poor quality of German ersatz lubricant resulted in many engine failures, particularly during the summer of 1918. [16]

The Dr.I suffered other deficiencies. The pilot's view was poor during takeoff and landing. [17]  The cockpit was cramped and furnished with materials of inferior quality. [18]  Furthermore, the proximity of the gun butts to the cockpit, combined with inadequate crash padding, left the pilot vulnerable to serious head injury in the event of a crash landing. [19]

Wing failures

Heinrich Gontermann's crashed Dr.I (serial 115/17)

On 29 October 1917, Leutnant der Reserve Heinrich Gontermann, Staffelführer of Jasta㺏, was performing aerobatics when his triplane broke up. [20]  Gontermann was fatally injured in the ensuing crash landing. Leutnant der ReserveGünther Pastor of Jasta㺋 was killed two days later when his triplane broke up in level flight. [20] Inspection of the wrecked aircraft showed that the wings had been poorly constructed. Examination of other high-time triplanes confirmed these findings. On 2 November, Idflieg grounded all remaining triplanes pending an inquiry. Idflieg convened a Sturzkommission(crash commission) which concluded that poor construction and lack of waterproofing had allowed moisture to damage the wing structure. [21]  This caused the wing ribs to disintegrate and the ailerons to break away in flight. [21]

In response to the crash investigation, Fokker improved quality control on the production line, particularly varnishing of the wing spars and ribs, to combat moisture. Fokker also strengthened the rib structures and the attachment of the auxiliary spars to the ribs. [22]  Existing triplanes were repaired and modified at Fokker's expense. [23]  After testing a modified wing at Adlershof, Idflieg authorized the triplane's return to service on 28 November 1917. [24]  Production resumed in early December. By January 1918, Jastasن and 11 were fully equipped with the triplane. Only 14 squadrons used the Dr.I as their primary equipment. Most of these units were part of Jagdgeschwadern I, II, or III. [25]  Frontline inventory peaked in late April 1918, with 171 aircraft in service on the Western Front. [11]

Despite corrective measures, the Dr.I continued to suffer from wing failures. On 3 February 1918, Leutnant Hans Joachim Wolff of Jasta㺋 successfully landed after suffering a failure of the upper wing leading edge and ribs. [26]  On 18 March 1918,Lothar von Richthofen, Staffelführer of Jasta㺋, suffered a failure of the upper wing leading edge during combat with Sopwith Camels of No. 73 Squadron and Bristol F.2Bs of No. 62 Squadron. [27]  Richthofen was seriously injured in the ensuing crash landing.

Postwar research revealed that poor workmanship was not the only cause of the triplane's structural failures. In 1929, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics(NACA) investigations found that the upper wing carried a higher lift coefficient than the lower wing — at high speeds it could be 2.55 times as much.

The triplane's chronic structural problems destroyed any prospect of large-scale orders. [28]  Production eventually ended in May 1918, by which time only 320 had been manufactured. [29]  The Dr.I was withdrawn from frontline service as the Fokker D.VII entered widespread service in June and July. Jasta㺓 was the last squadron to be fully equipped with the Dr.I. [30]

Surviving triplanes were distributed to training and home defense units. Several training aircraft were reengined with the 75 kW (100 hp) Goebel Goe.II. [31]  At the time of the Armistice, many remaining triplanes were assigned to fighter training schools at Nivelles, Belgium, and Valenciennes, France. [32]  Allied pilots tested several of these triplanes and found their handling qualities to be impressive. [32]

Experimental engines

Several Dr.Is were used as testbeds for experimental engines. One aircraft, designated V.7, was fitted with the Siemens-Halske Sh.III bi-rotary engine. [33]  The V.7 exhibited exceptional rate of climb and ceiling, but it proved difficult to handle. [33] Serial 108/17 was used to test the 118 kW (160 hp) Goebel Goe. III, while serial 469/17 was used to test the 108 kW (145 hp) Oberursal Ur. III. [34]  None of these engines were used on production aircraft.

How the Red Baron's Knockoff Aircraft Became the First Great Warplane

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Fokker Dr.I at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. U.S. Air Force

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World War I was shaped by the new vehicles developed during the four years of conflict. A century after the start of the war, we’re looking back at the most remarkable vehicles—the planes, cars, tanks, ships, and zeppelins—it helped bring about.

Though the Allies won the war and the glory, the Germans gave us one of the most famous airplanes of the Great War. The Fokker Dr.1 triplane, flown by one of history's great fighter pilots, is among the most recognizable aircraft of the early twentieth century and it played a significant role in launching dogfighting as a new form of combat.

The Dr. 1 was a knockoff of a British Sopwith triplane, one of which crashed behind German lines and was studied extensively. The plane was fantastically successful its most famous pilot was Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the "Red Baron," who scored 19 of his final 21 kills in the Dr.1. He was shot down and killed in the plane in April, 1918.

Equipped with a 110-horsepower engine, the 1,300-pound plane could reach an altitude of nearly 20,000 feet. Its top speed of 103 mph was slower than Allied aircraft, but its excellent rudder and elevator provided unparalleled maneuverability and made it one of the best dogfighters in the war. Two 7.92mm Spandau LMG 08/15 machine guns rounded out the plane's armaments. It could only fly for about 80 minutes before being refueled, but was relatively cheap to manufacture (important for a Germany stunted by a British naval blockade).

Problematically, the Dr.1 was prone to wing failures---bad news for an airplane. Poor manufacturing and a design that put much more force on the top wing rather than the lower two meant the plane wasn't destined for mass manufacturing. Just 320 Dr. 1 were made, and none of the originals survive. However, they are popular replica aircraft for collectors and historical museums. Budding and wannabe aviators can "fly" the Dr.1 in a flight simulator at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The Fokker Dr.1 emphasized the need for maneuverability in air-to-air combat, something that persists to this day in the development of the latest fighter jets, including the F-35 Lighting. It also marks the first plane famous for air-to-air combat---famous enough to end up in Peanuts along with the Red Baron, the arch-nemesis of Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel biplane.

Fokker Dr.1

The Fokker Dr.I combined excellent maneuverability with a high rate of climb. It was favored by Manfred von Richthofen, and Werner Voss, two of Germany’s legendary fighter pilots. Both lost their lives in this type of aircraft in two of the most talked about air battles of the war.

The Dr.I was developed from the lesser known Fokker D.VI biplane, both featured cantilever wings (which did not require external bracing). This wing design was a tremendous breakthrough in aircraft development. However, many Triplanes suffered wing failures in flight, resulting in fatal crashes. The design was slightly modified, but evidence indicates the failures were caused by poor workmanship in the form of insufficient varnish which resulted in moisture absorption and deterioration of the wooden wings.

This aircraft was built by Hank Palmer and Louis Wilgus. It is fitted with a “modern” W-670, 220 HP Continental radial engine to make it more suitable for movie and photography work and to ensure its availability to fly in our weekend air shows.

Cole Palen purchased this aircraft in 1987 and flew it from Florida to New York, landing on grass runways all along the East Coast. Cole took the Fokker past the Statue of Liberty during his trip, giving New York City tourists on the Circle-Line an unexpected treat!

The wheels are thought to be original German World War I equipment according to its builders.

Fokker Dr.I – Specifications, Facts, Drawings, Blueprints

Such was the impact created in German military circle by the Sopwith Triplane that, apparently believing that the triple-wing arrangement was a magic formula for success, no fewer than fourteen German and Austrian manufacturers produced triplane designs of their own. Most of them did so after inspecting a captured British machine in July 1917, but they were well behind Anthony Fokker, who had seen the Sopwith in action at the front in April. It has often been implied that the Fokker Dr.I Triplane was a copy of the Sopwith Triplane, but Reinhold Platz, who designed the Fokker machine at his employer’s request, had never seen the British aeroplane, and indeed was quite unconvinced of the merits of a triplane layout.

The first three production machines were designated F.I, after which the new Dr. (Dreidecker = triplane) classification was introduced in the summer of 1917. Production Fokker Dr.Is (320 were built up to may 1918) were powered by foreign-built versions of the Le Rhône rotary engine – either the Oberursel UR.II or the Swedish-built Thulin version developing 110 h.p. Experimental installations included the 145 h.p. UR.III, the 160 h.p. Goebel Goe.III and the 160 h.p. Sh.III rotaries, none of these was adopted for service aircraft. In 1917 Platz produced an alternative triplane prototype, the V.6, which had 120 h.p. Mercedes D.II stationary engine, but the V.6 proved more clumsy than the rotary-engined Dr.I, and no further examples were built. Twin Synchronised Spandau guns were mounted on the top-decking to fire between the propeller blades.

The first Fokker Dr.I Triplane aeroplanes began to reach fighter squadrons during August 1917, but during combat a number of aircraft casualties disclosed that the wing structures was still rather suspect and the type was suspended from operations from October to December while attempts were made to rectify this point. The aircraft was then restored to service until the summer of 1918, by which time it had given way to the Fokker D.VII.

A number of celebrated German pilots flew the Fokker Dr.I Triplane, among them Werner Voss of Jasta 10, who, when he died, had a total of 48 Allied aircraft to his credit and the legendary Manfred von Richthofen – the “Red Baron”, who was killed on 21st April, 1918 while flying an aeroplane of this type.

Read all about the making of The Blue Max in AVIATION HISTORY Magazine… then watch the movie!

In 1927 it wasn’t as difficult to come up with WWI warbirds as it would be nearly 40 years later

The Blue Max was really almost 40 years in the making. 1927 was a banner year for aviation. In May, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic. In September a Supermarine S.5 seaplane won the Schneider Trophy with a record speed of 453mph. And on a snowy winter night in Buffalo, NY, six-year-old Jack D. Hunter was taken by his mother, who couldn’t find a babysitter, to see Clara Bow and Gary Cooper in Paramount Pictures’ WWI aviation epic, Wings.

“I sat motionless and starry-eyed through the dogfights and balloon-busting and plane crashes,” he would recall 70 years later of the black-and-white silent. (Hunter was red-green colorblind.) “I came away from the theater totaled by my first love affair, afire with a passion for flying machines.”

The late Jack D. Hunter with a portrait of himself as a young airman in 1939.
Credit: Bob Self, Jacksonville Times-Union

Learning German partly through his own efforts to translate Der Rote Kampflieger (The Red Battle Flier, the memoirs of Manfred von Richthofen), instead of becoming an Army Air Corps pilot, Hunter did intelligence work, going into occupied Europe at war’s end. Helping to infiltrate, expose and take down the budding Nazi resistance movement obliterated any admiration he had left for war heroes. “Bölcke and Voss and Bishop and McCudden and Ball and Guynemer and Luke had lost the idealistic, operetta-like glitter my boyhood had given them,” he wrote, “and had become in my mind what I’d seen around me as an adult: miserable, lonely, homesick men who killed to keep from being killed.”

One particular imprisoned SS Obersturmbannfuehrer simultaneously repelled and intrigued him: “Handsome, erudite, suave, amiable, and witty [but] also a thoroughgoing rat, a ruthless psychopath who’d kill at the drop of an umlaut, and you never knew when which side of him would turn up…. What happened in his early life that enabled this seemingly pleasant, balanced man to get so much fun out of war and its concomitant evils?

“There’s a novel in that,” Hunter thought. “And someday I’m going to write it.”

Returning home to build the American Dream came first. Not until 1962, when he was a 41-year-old journalist and speechwriter, did Hunter sit down to tell the story brewing in him all those years, which—writing longhand late into the night—he knocked out in seven months. No less than nine publishers refused to touch a novel about “a gaggle of nudnik Germans in a war nobody remembers,” but E.P. Dutton rolled the dice and inadvertently tapped into a rising tide of nostalgia for WWI aviation. Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome show was just getting off the ground in upstate New York the “Cross and Cockade” historical aviation society had taken off in 1960. When The Blue Max hit bookstores in March of ’64, the New York Times gave it an extensive review, Bantam bought the paperback rights, and in less than two weeks Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox optioned the movie. The producers were only too aware, however, that aviation buffs alone wouldn’t suffice for an audience. They would need big names to bring in the numbers.

“Bruno Stachel” gets a haircut from hairdresser Jay Sebring, later murdered with actress Sharon Tate and two others by members of the Manson Family.

“With the assignment of George Peppard, the winsome and totally apple-pie-American superstar, to the lead role,” recalled Hunter, “I saw that the Bruno Stachel of the novel would never make it into the movie.” At 37, Peppard was nearly twice the age of Hunter’s Stachel, or for that matter any actual German pilot of the war. To compensate, Swiss beauty Ursula Andress signed as Stachel’s love interest and nemesis, the Countess Kaeti von Klugermann. Stereotyped as a bikinied sex kitten in Dr. No, Fun in Acapulco and What’s New Pussycat?,she would add vengeful bitch to her repertoire, though her voice, as in Dr. No, and most of her other movies, was dubbed to disguise her thick Swiss-German accent. (No one was interested in her voice.) Britishers James Mason and Jeremy Kemp and Germans Karl-Michael Vogler and Anton Diffring ably filled out the cast.

“It’s cruel world, Herr Hauptmann. You said so yourself.”

George Peppard as Bruno Stachel. In 1965 Peppard was near the peak of his career, coming off Breakfast at Tiffany’s, How the West was Won, and The Carpetbaggers, where he met Elizabeth Ashley, his fiancée during filming of The Blue Max. (They divorced in 1972.) He had recently finished the WWII commando movie, Operation Crossbow,which also featured Jeremy Kemp. Peppard was infamously difficult to work with, for which his career suffered. He died in 1994 of lung cancer.

“Tonight is a family affair. Are you shocked?”

Ursula Andress as Kaeti von Klugermann. Already famous as the first Bond girl, in the summer she made The Blue Max, Andress posed nude for Playboy, “Because I’m beautiful.” The year the movie came out, she divorced her husband of nine years, John Derek, who had photographed the magazine shoot and masterminded her career. He would do the same for future wives (and Andress lookalikes) Linda Evans and Bo Derek. The Blue Max demonstrates that, though never underrated for her beauty, Andress was underrated as an actress.

“Stachel…there is something of the cobra in you. I’ll have to watch you.”

Jeremy Kemp as Stachel’s rival in love and war—and yet closest friend—Willi von Klugermann. The role put Kemp on the map, and he would soon play “Col. Kurt von Ruger” in 1970’s Darling Lili, which also starred many of the planes flown in The Blue Max.Kemp has gone on to have a long, successful career, but nobody who’s seen The Blue Maxcan think of him as anyone but Willi von Klugermann.

“Herr General, I see now I have notions of honor which are outdated.”

Karl-Michael Vogler as Otto Heidemann. Vogler made his first English-language appearance in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (on which Derek Piggott also got his start as a stunt pilot). In 1970 he appeared as Erwin Rommel, opposite George C. Scott in Patton. After that he worked primarily in Germany. He passed away in 2009.

“If I court martial him now it will reflect on the integrity of the whole German officer corps.”

James Mason as Gen. von Klugermann. By the time he appeared in The Blue Max Mason had been acting for 30 years, and achieving top bill for 20. He had recently starred in Lolita and would immediately go on to appear in Georgy Girl, for which he won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. His career was still going strong in 1984, when he died of a heart attack.

Stachel: “What are you going to put under the picture? Squadron commander’s wife nurses wounded hero?”
Holbach: “Yes.”

Anton Diffring as Holbach. Diffring was born in Germany in 1916, when WWI was still underway, and during WWII was interned in Canada as a subversive. He made a career of playing Germans in war movies, including Where Eagles Dare, Colditz Story, and Zeppelin, in which some of the Blue Maxaircraft also appeared. He died in 1989.

Director Guillermin in action. Note camera crewman in German uniform as an extra.

Star George Peppard took the role of Stachel so seriously that he actually learned to fly. “Before production on The Blue Max, I took an intensive four-month flying course, which gave me 210 hours on my pilot’s log, 130 of them solo,” he reported. “I then checked in at our location in Ireland and spent an additional month flying the re-creations of early aircraft built for the film.” He proved it on the cover of the May 1965 issue of Air Classics magazine, flying a Stampe in German colors.

Anthony Squire, a WWII flying boat pilot who learned movie work with the RAF Film Unit, would direct the air action. German WWI pilot Kurt Delang, with two victories as a senior NCO in Jasta 10, served as technical adviser. Director John Guillermin, thus far best known for Tarzan movies, was determined to make the most of his big break. “Life isn’t really filled with many heroes,” he said of the story, or perhaps the pilots he asked to fly his planes, “but there are men like [main character] Bruno Stachel who strive to achieve greatness against such overwhelming odds that the attempt, to lesser men, must seem not only impossible but madness.”

The crew

Stunt Pilot Derek Piggott gives flying instruction to star George Peppard on the set of The Blue Max. Peppard learned to fly for the role, and proved it on the cover of Air Classicsmagazine. Co-star Andress appears to have at least gone up for a ride.

Stunt Pilot Charles Boddington, who flies the triplane barrel roll just before The Blue Maxbridge scene. See also this view. In Sept. 1970 he was killed flying an SE.5 replica during the filming of Von Richthofen and Brown.

Stunt Pilot Lynn Garrison, who later bought the entire “Blue Max” fleet, and was instrumental in keeping the red triplane alive.He made his money flying as a mercenary in Africa and Latin America.

Stunt flier Lynn Garrison, a colorful ex-Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, airshow promoter and aircraft collector, helped assemble the fleet. In German and British paint schemes, a Caudron C.276 Luciole served as a reconnaissance plane for both sides. De Havilland D.H.82 Tiger Moths and a pair of Stampe SV.4Cs with their front cockpits faired over filled out dogfight sequences. A similarly converted French Morane-Saulnier MS.230 stood in for the Fokker E.V parasol monoplane in the film’s final sequence. Meanwhile Bitz Flugzeugbau GmbH of Augsburg, West Germany, built two Fokker Dr.I triplanes, and Rousseau Aviation of Dinard, France, constructed three Fokker D.VII biplanes. Personal Plane Services, in Buckinghamshire, England, built a Pfalz D.III, and the Hampshire Aero Club another. For the “enemy,” Miles Marine and Structural Plastics Ltd. of Shoreham, England, built two S.E.5a scouts.

A Bitz triplane and three Rousseau “D.VII-65s” warming up for takeoff in a “Blue Max” production scene. See also this view.

Given time and material constraints, some sacrifices to authenticity had to be made. The PPS Pfalz was a rebuilt de Havilland Gipsy Moth with a 4-cylinder 140-hp Gipsy Major engine, including a pair of fake cylinders and exhausts to enable it to pass for the original Pfalz’s 160-hp Mercedes inline-6. Similarly, the Bitz triplanes used Siemens-Halske SH-14 radials instead of Oberursel rotaries. Gipsy Queen 3 200-hp 6-cylinder inlines powered both the S.E.5as and D.VIIs since the Fokkers’ original Mercedes weighed almost twice as much, they required some 200 pounds of nose-ballast for balance. Rousseau named its models the D.VII-65.

“Most of the aircraft for The Blue Max were constructed in less than five months,” Piggott remembered, “and were flown for the first time only days before the filming began.” There was a friendly competition among the builders to deliver first. PPS took the prize with its Gipsy Pfalz. On the other hand, Rousseau delivered its D.VIIs by actually flying them from France to the set in Ireland, their German crosses and lozenge camouflage no doubt raising eyebrows below.

Behind-the-scenes home movie: aircraft of The Blue Max, Baldonnel, 1965. (Silent)
Courtesy Paul Purcell, YouTube

The PPS D.III reportedly flew well, though with heavy controls. On the other hand, the Hampshire Aero Club’s all-wood Pfalz earned the nickname “Rubber Wings” during filming. The steel-tube S.E.5as were strong and maneuverable, said to be easy to fly, but the D.VIIs were reportedly very heavy and—though their Gipsy Queens ran at twice the rpm of the original Mercedes—under-powered. Likewise the Dreideckers, originally famous for their agility, suffered from the lack of rotary engine torque. Garrison reported, “The [Bitz] triplane has the flying characteristics of a Link Trainer.”

Searching for a properly European location, since the Flanders fields were now in the most intensely populated, smoggy and air-trafficked part of the continent, the producers settled on Ireland. The aircraft ground scenes were shot at Weston Aerodrome near Dublin. In the film’s final sequence, Casement Aerodrome, to the southeast, stood in for Berlin Tegel. (Tempelhof wasn’t built until 1927). Back in 1928, when it was still named Baldonnell, Casement had been the site of a German aviation milestone, when a single-engine Junkers W 33, the Bremen, departed there on the first successful east-west crossing of the Atlantic.


The exteriors for “Berlin” in The Blue Maxwere shot in and around Parliament Square, Dublin. The tower-like structure at left center is the Campanile bell tower of Trinity College.

The Trinity College chapel served as German headquarters.

Weston Aerodrome, 1965. The grass field is now overlaid with a modern runway and taxi lane. The steeple in the right-distance may be The Wonderful Barn, about a mile away across the River Liffey. Mouse over the aerial view below to pinpoint the film site (all hangars and sets long since demolished), or click for map view.

Casement Aerodrome (now Casement Airbase), about three and half miles southeast of Weston, has also been greatly improved since 1965. Much of what was grass then was already under concrete by 1982. The building in which the dramatic final scenes take place (A) and in which Stachel is detained while Heidemann flies the “Fokker D.VIII” (B) were both movie props, and dismantled when production was complete. The sites are now (A) an enclosure where an aircraft was displayed for a period some years ago and (B)a light pole. The building just above (A) (with vehicles parked behind it) is the present Casement VIP Terminal.

Many thanks to Capt. Seán McCarthy of the Irish Air Corps Press Office, and Casement historians, Airman Michael “Mick” Whelan and Tony Kearns for their help with these photos.

The movie production was run as a near-military operation under command of technical advisor Cdr. Allen Wheeler. 1,100 officers and men of the Irish Army, under liaison officer Lt. Col. William O’Kelly, served as extras, switching uniforms as necessary and equipped with 2000 rifles, 24 field guns (75mm and 18-pounder), 20 mortars, 20 armored cars, 500 grenades and a plentitude of machine guns. Recreating the Somme no-mans-land required some 230 acres near Kilpedder, six miles from Ardmore in County Wicklow on Ireland’s eastern coast, upon which an entire semi-destroyed French village was built like a life-size diorama. Top explosives experts Karle Baumgartner of Germany and England’s Ron Ballanger came in to supervise the battle scenes. “We shipped in our own explosives,” said Ballanger, “because we had to have absolute knowledge of its properties. That meant getting special permission of the Irish government which, fortunately, proved most cooperative.” Using five radio sets and 25 miles of wiring, their team of 60 set off over 5,000 separate blasts—about seven tons of explosives per day, some thousand tons all told.

Battle scenes from The Blue Max. One of the aircraft appears to be an S.E.5a repainted to play a German Fokker.

The machine guns were oxyacetylene torches, intermittently lit by spark plugs activated from the pilot’s stick and burning lean to give a white-hot feather. Smoke was delivered by fireworks canisters, set off by electrically fired detonators, with a burn time of about a minute each and requiring asbestos shielding and flame-resistant paint to avoid setting the aircraft afire.

Filming the scene at 07:30, in which von Klugermann in his D.VII “buzzes” Stachel on his first visit to the aerodrome. Director Guillermin in cap. Film loader John Earnshaw in glasses. See also this even lower pass.

The pilots weren’t the only crew members risking their lives. As a Fokker hopped a tree row, leveled off and rushed the camera, film loader John Earnshaw noticed that he was actually looking down on its wheels. He hit the dirt just before one of them ripped the camera motor out of his hand. Camera operator Chic Waterson was struck on the head, but back at work the next day. Director of photography Douglas Slocombe was hospitalized for three weeks with a wrenched back. 20th Century Fox head of European production and Blue Max executive producer Elmo Williams admitted Guillermin was “indifferent to people getting hurt as long as he got realistic action…a hard-working, overly critical man whom the crew disliked.”

And the idea of a bridge fly-through followed by a crash wouldn’t go away. “Where and exactly why the crash was to occur was not yet determined,” recalled Piggott, “because so much would depend on the location used.” At Carrigabrick, east of the village of Fermoy in County Cork, a railway viaduct of wrought-iron lattice girders spanned the Blackwater River on stone pillars. Carrigabrick Castle, the five-story stone keep at one end, was tall enough to snag a low-flying aircraft for a climactic crash. Garrison flew a test run, and Piggott was told the bridge “had been flown under by the pilots of the RAF in the 1930s,” but he flew down to judge for himself.

Carrigabrick Viaduct

“From the filming point of view this bridge was ideal,” the stunt pilot noted, “since it was high enough to allow plenty of room for vertical error. However, this did mean that there could be no question of pulling up and over the top of the bridge once the run had been started.” To minimize horizontal error, Piggott precisely set pairs of scaffolding stakes in the ground, with one right out in the river (visible in the movie, far out ahead of “Willi von Klugermann’s” first fly-through). “Then if the pilot flew toward the bridge keeping the two poles exactly in line,” he reasoned, “he must pass through without any problem.”

Practicing in a Dreidecker at the airfield, though, Piggott found he required several tries to align the poles. “This was worrying,” he said, “since if I did not get through the bridge on the first run, it was immaterial how well I might have done the others.”

The camera ship was a French Aérospatiale SA 318C Alouette II helicopter, flown by Gilbert “Gilly” Chomat, with a cameraman filming from a side mount. Beginning with over-water passes through the bridge’s widest span, Piggott flew 15 successive runs. “Gilbert was able to follow behind me and go through with the helicopter filming all the way,” he recalled. “It was interesting to notice that the ‘take’ selected for the film was not one following the aircraft sedately…. In order to make it more exciting the helicopter had been lifted during the run so the triplane appears to duck down under the top of the bridge.”

The next day’s schedule, however, targeted the landward span. “I can remember flying over to the location for the first go under the narrow arch and feeling more like Willi than Stachel,” Piggott wrote. “Circling over the bridge and looking down, the narrow arch looked quite impossible….I was very aware of the fact that the little triplane could not climb over the bridge at the last moment. The biggest danger was the possibility of over-correcting and weaving from side to side.”

The risk of accidentally performing the scripted crash had everyone on edge. “The film crew had felt the strain of waiting days for this moment,” Piggott recalled some were “scarcely able to watch the first run.”

According to Google Maps, and discounting elevation change for the sake of argument, the top of Carrigabrick Castle is about 400 feet away from the narrow, landward underpass under which “von Klugermann” makes his last flythrough. Assuming that a diving Triplane would be near maximum speed (115mph) and using an online gee-force calculator, it can be seen that von Klugermann would not only have to go out of his way to hit the tower, but banking more than 180° in that distance would require him to pull almost 4½ gees. Furthermore, as Fokker Triplanes were notorious for wing failures, we might assume that his aircraft would have come apart in mid-turn, launching him on a tangent into the riverbank. This no doubt accounts for Stachel, upon returning to base, insisting to Heidemann that “He hit the trees. He hit the trees!”—because an expert like Heidemann would never believe it possible for the Fokker to have hit the tower!

“All I had to do,” he knew, “was to settle down quickly on each run and keep those two poles lined up until the bridge had gone by. I made myself oblivious to the huge stone pillars on either side and did not even glance at them.” The Alouette, with a main rotor span 10 feet wider than the Dreidecker’s wings, could not follow. “In many ways I had the easy job,” Piggott said. “All I had to do was fly through the arch, whereas Gilbert flying the helicopter had to both follow me closely and then pull up and over the top of the bridge at the very last moment….By very clever use of the zoom lens…they were able to film the triplane at close quarters and see it go right through the arch.”

Local historian Paudie McGrath, then just 14 (later of the 1st Motor Squadron and 3rd Garrison Ordnance Company, IDF), never forgot the “the beautiful sight each day of upwards to nine aircraft flying over the town of Fermoy…towards the viaduct which spans the River Blackwater east of the town…swoop from the sky and make their final approach in preparation for the flight under the viaduct, then turning right and climbing over the castle, followed by the aerial photography crew in the helicopter. That was the first time I had ever seen a helicopter.”

Guillermin wasn’t the only stickler for realism. “I was rather afraid that the whole of this episode might be thought to be faked or done with models, and therefore I suggested that we should put a flock of sheep at the foot of the bridge,” Piggott remembered. “On the first few runs the sheep were scared by the noise and moved about very realistically, but they soon became bored with the aircraft and took hardly any notice at all.” Filming also had to pause in mid-flight as a railway truck rolled innocently through the scene, apparently inspecting the track and, as Piggott reported, “happily quite unaware of what was going on.”

“That day I really earned my pay,” he wrote, “with fourteen runs through the narrow arch and two more through the large one. I slept very soundly that night!”

Derek Piggott flies a Bitz Triplane under Carrigabrick Viaduct, east of Fermoy in County Cork, Ireland. Built in 1872 (and closed in March of 1967), the railway was still in operation at the time of production. Both viaduct and castle still stand to this day the former is being considered as a pedestrian walkway and viewing platform. Note sheep under the flight path.

Irish weather prevented flying the third day. Instead the crew mounted a small camera on one of the triplanes to get over-the-shoulder footage. The next day Piggott made two runs wearing Stachel’s helmet, then landed to switch film magazines and don Willi’s helmet. The pass that “kills” Klugermann in the film threatened to kill Piggott. “These last two runs were distinctly exciting,” he understated. “The triplane was buffeted about and I had to bring it back to the center line several times when it had been shifted bodily by the gusts together with the cross wind. This time it was quite a pleasant relief…to know that these were the last runs.”

Though somewhat panned for its bedroom scenes (shockingly for a mainstream movie in 1966, Andress semi-exposes a nipple, though in the pre-ratings era the film still received MPAA approval and was released uncut), The Blue Max—one of the last official CinemaScope releases—was universally praised for its aerial action and Jerry Goldsmith score, and won a British Film Academy Award for Best Color Art Direction. TV Guide said it “impressively captures the reality of war in the trenches and in the air.” Roger Ebert, before he was a critic of repute (or evidently much of an aircraft expert), wrote, “they kept shooting the same Messerschmitt out of the sky from different camera angles, but so what? It was a good war movie.” And Monthly Film Bulletin said, “The reconstructed SE-5s, Pfalz DIIIs and Fokker D-VIIs [sic] look as though they were worth the quarter-million dollars spent on them.”

Where are they now?

The ill-fated SE.5 replicas built by Miles Marine and Structural Plastics Ltd, G-ATGV and G-ATGW, were both written off within a month of each other in 1970.

On August 18, 1970, while filming Zeppelinover the Irish Sea, SE.5 G-ATGW (shown here under construction at Shoreham) rammed the Aérospatiale Alouette II camera helicopter, the same one used to film The Blue Max. Both aircraft were destroyed and all crew members killed.

On September 15, 1970, while performing a low-level maneuver during the filming of von Richthofen and Brown at Weston, Charles Boddington struck the ground in SE.5 G-ATGV and was killed. Aircraft written off.

Four additional SE-5s (N908AC, N909AC, N910AC & N912AC) built after The Blue Maxfor Darling Lili and used in You Can’t Win Them All, Von Richthofen and Brown and Zeppelin were technically Slingsby T56s, 7/8-scale replicas built on converted Currie Wotbiplane kits. They were all sold to The Fighting Air Command in Denton, Texas, in the early 1980s, by which time none of them were airworthy.

The Caudron C.276 Luciole, which played reconnaissance planes for both sides, was crushed in a hangar collapse

Some sources state the Caudron was a C.277,or there were two Caudrons, a C.275 (destroyed) and C.272 (went to France). The Fighting Air Command only took delivery of one, serial number 7546/135, N907AC, former EI-ARF, after the hangar accident.

Caudron 276 Luciole in RFC colors…

…and in German colors. Both exhibit same false cowling, but there seems to be a difference at the tail wheel. Different aircraft? Photo: Sgt. Technician Paddy O’Meara

The Stampe SV-4 and De Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth are very similar, and as all served as “filler” in The Blue Max, sources are confused on how many of each took part in the production. Above, left to right, are three DH.82s, one SV-4C and the two Miles SE.5s. Some sources list three Stampes (F-BBIT, F-BNMC/G-ATIR, F-BAUR) and one Tiger Moth (G-ANDM). What seems certain is that Stampe N901AC (ex-F-BAUR) was the one that came to the US as part of the sale of the fleet to the “Fighting Air Command” in Denton, Texas, in the early 1980s.

Three De Havilland Tiger Moths and a Stampe SV-4 wearing German lozenge camouflage in The Blue Max. Tiger Moths all now wearing normal cowlings.

1948 Stampe SV-4C, serial number 1060, N901AC, former EI-AVU and F-BAUR. Flew in Texas in the 1980s. Was also used in the movie Pancho Barnes starring Valerie Bertinelli, where she was flown through the open doors of a large hangar. Now based in Bermudian Valley Airpark, East Berlin, PA. Many thanks to current owner Pat Fischer for help with its history. Photos © Jason Harry and Zane Adams, used by permission.

The two Pfalz D.III fighters flown in the The Blue Max were built separately, but have stayed together through their careers. Both appeared in Darling Lili, and were later part of the sale to the Fighting Air Command in the 1980s. Both now reside with The Vintage Aviator Ltd., in New Zealand.

Pfalz D.III G-ATIJ, built by Hampshire Aeroplane Club, Ltd., serial number PT16, N905AC, former EI-ARD. Currently a static display at The Vintage Aviator, New Zealand.

Pfalz D.III N906AC, built by Personal Plane Services Ltd., serial number PPS/PFLZ/1, former EI-ARC. Flew as part of the Fighting Air Command in colors of Werner Voss. Currently flying with The Vintage Aviator, New Zealand, in the colors of Lieutenant Fritz Höhn of Jasta 21, who ended the war with 21 victories.

The three Fokker D.VII-65 replicas built by Rousseau Aviation of Dinard, France, for The Blue Max, recognizable by prop spinners at the top of the nose rather than the bottom, as on originals, and by carrying underwing bombs. LIke most of the fleet, they also served in Darling Lili, then fell into disrepair. Their subsquent whereabouts are better documented than most of the rest of the movie fleet. In the ’80s all three briefly resided with The Fighting Air Command in Denton, Tex.

The first Rousseau D.VII-65, #N902AC, which in Texas flew in the colors of German ace Rudolf Berthold, now flies in New Zealand as ZK-FOD with The Vintage Aviator Ltd. Has been restored to more accurately resemble an original D.VII.

The second D.VII, #N903AC, is currently at the Stampe & Vertongen Museum at Antwerp International Airport, Belgium. A landing accident rendered it un-airworthy, but it is being gradually restored. Still has its Gipsy Queen engine.

The third Blue Max Fokker D.VII, #N904AC, on display at the Southern Museum of Flightin Birmingham, Alabama, includes a mockup of the original Mercedes engine.

The Fokker DR.1 triplanes built by Bitz Flugzeugbau GmbH of Augsburg, West Germany, for The Blue Max. Not part of the sale to the Fighting Air Command, they have had wildly different subsequent histories.

It’s the red Fokker Triplane that’s had the most dramatic life story. In October 1978 it vanished from Garrison’s Ireland hangar. Police turned up no leads. Three years later, leafing through an issue of Air Progressmagazine, Garrison recognized it in an ad, about to be auctioned off on behalf of a defunct Orlando air museum. He showed up with a sheriff, took possession, and had it trucked to a hangar in Chino, CA. While awaiting full restoration, it was stolen again. Changing hands repeatedly, slowly going to pieces, the Dreidecker was rediscovered in a Southern California backyard, covered in weeds. The find was announced in 2008 on the Internet, where Garrison had long searched for any trace. His son Patrick fetched it home to Pearson Field, Washington, where restoration is underway today.

“All of the original parts for the Blue Max Triplane have been located,” Garrison reports, “with the original rudder being located in a collection in Texas, and the original twin Spandau movie guns that have been located in a collection in the Pacific Northwest.” It’s just a matter of time and money before the Dreidecker flies again. To get the full story, or donate, visit

Bitz Triplane F-AZPQ. Now owned and flown by “Les Casques de Cuir” (“The Association of Leather Helmets”), in the colors of Manfred von Richthofen. Photo © Jeroen Stroes, used by permission.

The twice-stolen Bitz Triplane N403BM. Finally recovered by the Garrison family and undergoing restoration. Photo © Blue-Max-Triplane, used by permission.

1931 Morane-Saulnier MS.230

Morane-Saulnier MS.230 F-BGMR stood in for a Fokker D.VIII monoplane in The Blue Max.

Among the last to appear in the film, the Morane’s scenes were actually some of the first shot, to establish the feasibility of stunt pilots working with the helicopter camera ship. Derek Piggott recalled, “We went up one evening when there were towering cumulus clouds rising to about ten thousand feet. The evening light gave a slightly golden tinge to some of the clouds, and the billowing white turrets contrasted against the deep blue above and the almost mauve shadows below…. The aim was to shoot some long lengths of uninterrupted manoeuvres keeping as close as possible [to the helicopter] and literally tossing the aircraft from one attitude to another to keep the action fast…. I was completely uninhibited! We finished with a long, long spin of thirteen or fourteen turns down into a valley, between the towering clouds. It was an exhilarating experience…. I knew that it had gone well and that there had been magic that evening.”

As F-BGMR, the Morane later flew as the camera ship in filming Darling Lili. The German crosses are still faintly visible on its upper wings. Photo © R.A.Scholefield, used by permission.

By the early 1980s the Morane, re-registered as EI-ARG and then G-BJCL, had been repainted in French colors and was flying out of Wycombe Air Park (Booker Airfield). Photo © Baldur Sveinsson, used by permission. Visit his site.

Since 1989 the Blue Max Morane-Saulnier MS.230, re-registered as N230MS, resides at the Fantasy of Flight Museumin Polk City, FLA.

To Hunter’s probable chagrin (he passed away in 2009), most fans of the movie have never actually read the novel, which even he admitted is full of character ruminations that don’t translate well to the screen. The Bruno Stachel they know is as Peppard portrayed him: a survivor of the trenches, more worldly upon stage-entrance than his literal counterpart but more oblivious upon exit, dreaming he’s achieved everything he’s ever wanted even as his superiors plot his (ig)noble end. “He got killed at story’s end,” Hunter groused, “to satisfy Hollywood’s lingering Victorianism, which required bad guys to die or otherwise get the shaft.” (In the novel Stachel not only survives but goes on to two sequels.)

All right, nits can be picked. Planes go down smoking profusely from nothing more flammable than wheel struts. Spandaus fire without ammo feeds. German pilots wear Uhlan uniforms and WWII-era goggles. Their late-war Fokkers carry underwing bombs, and bear the early-war cross pattée instead of the 1918-correct Greek cross. (When Hunter challenged Art Director Fred Carter on that, he was told simply, “That kind of cross photographs better.”)

Peppard and Hunter at the New York premier of The Blue Max, 1966

Derek Piggott (left) with former Sgt. Technician (“and a good one!” say his mates) Paddy O’Meara, Irish Air Corps, at the September 2008 reunion of pilots, technicians and film production personnel who helped make, among others, The Blue Max, Darling Lili, Zeppelin, and The Red Baron, all in Ireland. Photo: Tony Kearns, used by permission.

And the bridge scene strains credulity. Any pilot flying under the Carrigabrick viaduct would have to pull a neck-breaking 180° bank across the river to “accidentally” hit the castle—though to its credit, a Fokker Dreidecker is one of the few aircraft ever built that might actually pull that off.

But the fact remains, the crew of The Blue Max not only built their own air forces, they flew them against each other in air-combat maneuvers, and earned $5 million at the box office doing it, worth nearly $37 million today. Director and aviation enthusiast Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) calls it one of his favorite World War I movies of all time, and the very best when it comes to the air war. How can any movie buff—or aviation buff—think otherwise? CGI artistry simply can’t compete with actual pilots wagering their lives, flying for-real wood-and-wire aircraft just they flew them at the dawn of aviation. As those ages of both filmmaking and air warfare draw now swiftly to a close, such scenes are not ever likely to be captured so well again.

Buy or stream The Blue Max

Icons of Aviation: Fokker Dr1 Triplane

The Fokker Dr1 Triplane is one of the most famous airplanes to come out of the First World War, mostly because of its association with the Red Baron Manfred von Richthofen. But in reality, the Fokker was plagued by problems, was made only in small numbers, and served for only a short time.

Fokker Dr1 on display at the USAF Museum

In April 1917, the British naval air corps introduced a new fighter over the Western Front. The Sopwith Triplane was the first three-winged aircraft to play a serious role in the war, and it quickly proved to be a formidable weapon against Germany’s biplane Albatros D fighters.

The Germans were impressed with the design, and wanted a triplane of their own. The task fell to Anthony Fokker. Fokker’s team was already working on a new biplane dubbed the Fokker D6, and he now modified this design into a triplane. The first prototype was test-flown by German ace Werner Voss in July, and advice was also sought from Manfred von Richthofen. The German Army turned over a Sopwith Triplane that had crashed behind its lines: Fokker personally flew the repaired British plane and incorporated some of its design features, but the German triplane also differed significantly from the Sopwith. The Fokker had two synchronized machine guns firing from the engine cowl, in contrast to the single machine gun carried by the Sopwith. The Sopwith Triplane had ailerons on all three wings, but Fokker’s design placed control surfaces only on the top wing. The bottom two wings were attached to the fuselage, and the top wing was supported by steel-tube V-struts. There was no tail-wheel: the Fokker used a steel-tipped wooden skid instead. The axle between the main landing gear wheels was covered with a short airfoil that acted as a sort of half-wing, adding lift.

The triplane was fitted with a 110-horsepower Oberursel 9-cylinder rotary engine. This underpowered engine, combined with the high-drag three-wing design, gave it a significantly lower speed (about 115 mph) than the British fighters, but the three wings combined with its relatively small size gave the German triplane a phenomenal rate of climb as well as superb maneuverability–traits which had been strongly emphasized by Richthofen and Voss during the design process.

In August 1917 the design was completed, and was designated the Fokker Dr1 Dreidekker. On August 30 Voss took one of the first production models on a combat patrol and shot down a British fighter. On September 1 Richthofen took another Dr1 on a combat mission and shot down an English RE8, his 60th air victory, and his first in the aircraft that would forever be associated with his name. He shot down another British fighter the next day.

The first batch of Dr1’s to be manufactured were assigned to Voss’s Jasta 10 and Richthofen’s Jasta 11 squadrons. These were elite hand-picked units with experienced pilots, most of whom were already high-scoring aces. In their hands, the Dreidekker proved to be a lethal weapon, capable of defeating even the new British Sopwith Camel and SE5a. Within four weeks, Voss had shot down 20 Entente aircraft. (Just a short time later, Voss was shot down and killed when he singlehandedly took on a flight of five British SE5a fighters, all of them flown by high-scoring aces.)

But there were problems. It was not an easy plane for rookie pilots to fly: the handling was very touchy, particularly during landings. It also had a limited gasoline supply, which allowed it to stay in the air for only 80 minutes. The rotary engines used castor oil as their lubricant, and by 1918 this was in short supply and was replaced by several different inferior substitutes, leading to an epidemic of engine failures. Almost immediately after their introduction, in two separate incidents, two Dr1’s had crashed after their top wing broke off during flight. All of the Dr1’s were immediately grounded for a month while the crashes were investigated. Fokker declared that the problem was the result of poor workmanship during assembly and immediately designed stronger attachment points, but the accidents continued. (In March 1918, while in combat with British Sopwith Camels, the Dr1 flown by Lothar von Richthofen, the Red Baron’s brother and himself a high-scoring ace, was crippled when the leading edge of the upper wing broke off: Richthofen was seriously injured in the crash.)

These incidents tarnished the Dreidekker’s reputation and the German air service began searching for a replacement. Only 318 Fokker Dr1’s were produced, and no more than 171 were ever in service at one time, serving in 14 different squadrons. By June 1918, the Dr1 was being replaced by the Fokker D7 biplane.

Nevertheless, the Dr1 gained a fearsome reputation, mostly because it was flown by some of the best combat pilots of the First World War. In addition to Voss (60 air victories) and Richthofen (80 victories), the Dr1 was flown by aces Ernst Udet (63 victories), Josef Jacobs (47 victories), Paul Baumer (43 victories), Lothar von Richthofen (40 victories), Karl Bolle (36 victories), and Karl Allmenroeder (30 victories). From the factory, the Dr1 was painted in a streaked olive-brown scheme, but the members of Richthofen’s elite Jasta 11 squadron customized their personal aircraft with individualized paintjobs so they could easily recognize each other in the air. The often-gaudy colors led their British opponents to refer to the Germans as “The Flying Circus”.

A replica Dr1 in the livery of Lother von Richthofen

In the end, the Fokker Dr1’s wing troubles and slow speed doomed it to obsolescence. As it was replaced by the Fokker D7, the Dreidekker was sent to rear units and used for training. After the war ended in November 1918, a number of Dreidekkers were taken to France and England for flight testing. But within a few years, only a few Dr1’s are known to have still been in flying condition. One of these, serial number 528/17, was used as a test plane by the German Army and was used during the filming of at least two 1920’s war movies, but it disappears from records in the early 1930s and was likely destroyed in a crash. Serial number 152/17, one of the personal Dr1’s used by Manfred von Richthofen, was on display at a Berlin air museum. It was destroyed during a World War Two bombing raid. There are other stories which have another von Richthofen plane, serial number 425/17, being moved from Berlin to safety in the countryside, only to have been chopped up for firewood by war refugees. In 1932, Anthony Fokker assembled a complete Dr1 from existing spare parts it was displayed by another Berlin museum and was also destroyed in a bombing raid.

Today, no authentic wartime Fokker Dr1’s exist. However, copies of the original factory blueprints still survive, and a number of replicas have been built from these plans. Those that are intended to fly are usually built with small radial engines instead of the original rotaries, and have modern avionics in the cockpit. In 1966, however, Twentieth Century Fox built two Fokker Dr1’s, fitted with vintage LeRhone rotary engines, for its George Peppard movie “The Blue Max”.

In 1994, the US Air Force Museum in Dayton OH placed a replica Fokker Dr1, built from factory drawings, on display. It is painted in the livery of Arthur Rahn, a 6-victory German ace.

Watch the video: 4Kᵁᴴᴰ Fokker u0026 Fokker Triplane WWI Fighter Aircraft Awesome Flying Display (December 2022).

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