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Paul K. Guillow, Inc. Balsa Wood Airplanes FOKKER DR-1 TRIPLANE

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Kit Number: 204 Wing Span: 20" Scale: 1/16: Plan Blown to 60" Wingspan...

[IMAGE] Introduced over the western front in August 1917, the Fokker Triplane soon became the favorite plane of Germany’s greatest World War 1 ace, Baron Manfield von Richthofen. After scoring numerous aerial victories, von Richthofen was shot down in a triplane on April 21, 1918 by Captain Roy Brown of the R.A.F.

The Fokker Dr. I Dreidecker (triplane) was a World War I fighter aircraft designed by Reinhold Platz and built by Fokker-Flugzeugwerke. The Dr.I saw widespread service in the spring of 1918. It became renowned as the aircraft in which Manfred von Richthofen gained his last 20 victories, and in which he was killed on 21 April 1918.

In April 1917, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) introduced the Sopwith Triplane. The Sopwith swiftly proved itself superior to the Albatros and Halberstadt scouts then in use by the Luftstreitkräfte. Fokker-Flugzeugwerke responded by converting an unfinished biplane prototype into the V.3, a small, rotary-powered triplane with a steel tube fuselage and thick cantilever wings. Initial tests revealed that the V.3 had unacceptably high control forces resulting from the use of unbalanced ailerons and elevators.

Instead of submitting the V.3 for a type test, Fokker produced a revised prototype designated V.4. The most notable changes were the introduction of horn-balanced ailerons and elevators, as well as longer-span wings. The V.4 also featured interplane struts, which were not necessary from a structural standpoint, but which minimized wing flexing. On 14 July 1917, Idflieg issued an order for 20 pre-production aircraft. The V.4 prototype, serial 101/17, was tested to destruction at Adlershof on 11 August 1917.

Two pre-production triplanes, designated F.I, were delivered to Jastas 10 and 11 for combat evaluation. These aircraft, serials 102/17 and 103/17, were the only machines to receive the F.I designation. They arrived 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 (Kommandierenden General der Luftstreitkräfte) that the F.I was highly satisfactory. The combat evaluation came to an abrupt conclusion, however, when Oberleutnant Kurt Wolff, Staffelführer of Jasta 11, was shot down in 102/17 on 15 September, and Leutnant Werner Voss, Staffelführer of Jasta 10, was killed in 103/17 on 23 September.

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In September, Idflieg issued a production order for 100 triplanes. Delivery of these machines, designated Dr.I, commenced in October. They were identical to the F.I except for the addition of wingtip skids. All aircraft were delivered to squadrons within Richthofen's Jagdgeschwader 1.

Compared to the Albatros and Pfalz fighters it replaced, the Dr.I offered remarkable maneuverability and initial rate of climb. The ailerons were light but not very effective. The rudder and elevator controls were light and powerful. Rapid turns, especially to the right, were facilitated by the triplane's marked directional instability. Vizefeldwebel Franz Hemer of Jasta 6 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 maneuvrable, it was no longer fast enough."

As Hemer noted, the Dr.I was considerably slower than contemporary Allied fighters in level flight and in a dive. Due to the low-compression Oberursel Ur.II, a clone of the Le Rhône 9J rotary engine, performance fell off dramatically at high altitudes. As the war continued, the lack of castor oil made rotary operation more difficult. The poor quality of German ersatz lubricant resulted in many engine failures, particularly during the summer of 1918.

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Furthermore, the Dr.I proved tricky to land and prone to ground looping, as evidenced by the wingtip skids. The cockpit was cramped, and the proximity of the gun butts to the cockpit, combined with poor crash padding, left the pilot vulnerable to serious head injury in the event of a crash landing.

On 28 October 1917, Leutnant der Reserve Heinrich Gontermann, Staffelführer of Jasta 15, was performing aerobatics when his triplane broke up. Gontermann was fatally injured in the ensuing crash landing. Leutnant der Reserve Günther Pastor of Jasta 11 was killed three days later when his triplane broke up in level flight. Inspection of the wrecked aircraft showed that the wings had been poorly constructed. Examination of other high-time Dr.Is 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 destroy the wing. This caused the wing ribs to disintegrate and the ailerons to break away in flight.

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. Existing triplanes were modified at Fokker's expense. After testing a modified wing at Adlershof, Idflieg authorized the triplane's return to service on 28 November 1917. Production resumed in early December. By January 1918, Jastas 6 and 11 were fully equipped with the triplane. Despite corrective measures, the Dr.I continued to suffer from wing failures. On 18 March 1918, Lothar von Richthofen, Staffelführer of Jasta 11, 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. Richthofen was seriously injured in the ensuing crash landing.

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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 problems destroyed any prospect of large-scale orders. Production eventually ended in May 1918, by which time only 320 had been manufactured. As the Fokker D.VII entered widespread service in June and July, surviving triplanes were withdrawn from frontline use and distributed to training and home defense units. Many training aircraft were reengined with the 100 hp Goebel Goe.II. At the time of the Armistice, most remaining triplanes were assigned to fighter training schools at Nivelles, Belgium, and Valenciennes, France.

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Very few triplanes survived the Armistice. Serial 528/17 was retained as a testbed by the Deutschen Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (German Aviation Research Institute) at Adlershof. After being used in the filming of two movies, 528/17 is believed to have crashed sometime in the late 1930s. Serial 152/17, in which Manfred von Richthofen obtained three victories, became the centerpiece of the Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung in Berlin. During World War II, it was evacuated to Poland for safekeeping. Its subsequent fate is unknown, but 152/17 is presumed to have been destroyed near the end of the war. Today, only a few original Dr.I artifacts survive in museums.

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