Elias Clark Productions

An imgur album with images of the scale model and reference aircraft is available here.

Eduard 1:72 Fokker Dr.I
Eduard Fokker Dr.I, 1:72 Scale.
A Brief History of the Fokker Dr.I

One of the most, if perhaps not the most, readily recognizable aircraft from World War 1 is the Fokker Dr.I (Dr. stands for Dreidecker, which is German for Triplane), made famous by such pilots as the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen.

The First World War was the first major conflict that saw significant use of aeroplanes, which is unsurprising given that the first successful heavier-than-air flight with a powered aircraft occurred in 1903, just 11 years before World War 1. The word 'significant' is important, as the Italians did make use of aviation in the Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912). Initially, the Italians used airplanes for reconnaissance, and later, for bombing, though at this point in time, 'bombing' meant literally dropping (or throwing) explosives by hand out of the aircraft. [4,5]

Based in part on the example from the Italo-Turkish War, the first uses of aviation in World War 1 were reconnaissance and ground attack. Observation balloons were particularly popular because of their ability to stay in the air for long periods of time and the great visibility they offered to operators. In response to reconnaissance and ground attack aircraft, dedicated fighter aircraft were eventually designed and brought into service. As part of the technological feedback loop that was the Great War, strategic bombers were developed by the British, Germans, and Russians. Additionally, aircraft carriers were also designed and used.

The first aircraft to be taken down by another aircraft was an Austrian reconnaissance aircraft (an Albatros B.II, to be specific) that was rammed by a Russian flying a French Morane-Saulnier Type G over the Eastern Front in September 1914. Incidentally, the Russian pilot (Pyotr Nesterov) was the first pilot to fly a loop (in September 1913). Shortly afterwards, machine guns began to be mounted on airplanes, and the era of aerial combat began. One of the very first aircraft with a mounted machine gun was the Vickers E.F.B.1, which first flew before the war and was developed into the Vickers FB.5. The gunner sat in the very front of the airplane with the pilot behind, and in order to ensure clear firing angles, the engine and propellor were mounted behind the pilot in a pusher propellor configuration. While a clever way to deal with the issue of gun placement, pusher configuration aircraft of this era tended to have relatively lackluster performance.

Jacob's Fokker Dr.I
One of Josef Jacob's Fokker Dr.I's
Intuitively, for a single seat fighter, the armament should be located right in front of the pilot so that the gun(s) could be aimed by pointing the airplane where you want to shoot. This configuration also allows the gun(s) to be reachable by the pilot in the event of jams or stoppages. However, this means that the propellor will likely end up right in front of the machine guns. One early attempt to mitigate this problem was the addition of 'deflector blades,' which were literally pieces of metal mounted on the back side of the propeller that would ideally prevent your own bullets from shredding your propellor. However, this sort of system is only effective for certain types of ammunition, and even when it does work it doesn't work very well, as bullets striking the metal puts a significant strain on the engine. It wasn't until synchronization gear were developed that the issue of how to mount guns was 'solved.'

The first synchronization gears to be use in field were developed by the Germans and mounted on the Fokker Eindecker monoplanes, in mid 1915. This led to what was called the 'Fokker Scourge,' in which the Germans were able to achieve air superiority over the Western Front. In addition to the new synchronization gears and superior aircraft, German pilots, including Max Immelmann, developed many new strategies for aerial combat that are still used today. Eventually, Royal Flying Corps and Aéronautique Militaire doctrine and aviation design caught up those of the Germans, in a back-and-forth contest that serves as sort of a microcosm of the entire war.

For a while in 1916, the Entente powers managed to regain air superiority over the Western Front, and new uses for aircraft, including close air support, were conceived. German pilots began to use fighter aircraft as forward observers to spot incoming Entente airplanes, sort of an early kind of combat air patrol. By the end of 1916, the German air force was beginning to regain the upper-hand with the introduction of new, more powerful and powerfully armed aircraft. In February 1917, the Sopwith Triplane was fully introduced on the frontlines. It was also the first military triplane to go into operational service and due to its remarkable performance, German aviation designers and engineers almost immediately began to develop their own triplanes, which eventually resulted in the Fokker Dr.I.

Eduard 1:72 Fokker Dr.I
Another view of the Eduard Fokker Dr.I, 1:72 Scale.
After multiple different prototypes, the Fokker triplane was ordered into pre-production in July 1917 and began arriving on the frontlines in late August. Despite numerous shortcomings (including a low top speed and poor cockpit ergonomics), the Dr.I was highly maneuverable and one of the most potent aircraft in the skies above Europe. However, early versions had one significant problem: poor quality control on the Fokker production lines meant that moisture and humidity could cause structural damage and wing failure. Further, according to a purported investigation in 1929 by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the upper wing on the Fokker Dr.I had a much higher lift coefficient than the lower wings, and thus had a much higher wing loading (I go into a tiny bit of detail on wing loading in my write-up on the TBD Devastator). I use the word 'purported' as I cannot find any specific, primary source, reference to NACA investigations and testing on the Fokker Dr.I. The closest I was able to dig up [6] was testing on the Thomas-Morse MB-3A in which structural failure due to high wing loading on the upper wing of a biplane is described (see also Charles N. Monteith's book "Simple Aerodynamics and the Airplane"). If anyone has information about NACA testing on the Fokker Dr.I, please let me know!

Eventually, measures were put in place to better waterproof the wing spars, and design modifications were made to increase structural integrity. These measures helped, and the Fokker Dr.I showed its abilities over the Western Front for at least a short while. It was highly maneuverable, but unfortunately was comparatively slow and performance at high altitudes was lacking. Further, it was an extremely tiring aircraft to fly, in part because of its instability (which was also from where it derived its maneuverability). Despite these limitations, the Fokker Dr.I proved to be very effective as a fighter, with many pilots racking up numerous aerial victories, disproportionate to small scale of Dr.I production. Its distinctive shape and prominent pilots helped cement its reputation as one of the most well-known aircraft of the Great War, if not of all time.

Josef Jacobs

Jacobs and Fokker Dr.I
Josef Jacobs in front of a Fokker Dr.I
Josef Carl Peter Jacobs was a pilot in the Luftstreitkräfte, having joined the Imperial German Army Air Service at the outbreak of World War I. In 1917, he was made the commander of German fighter squadron Jagdstaffel (Jasta) 7. While most of the other pilots in Jasta 7 flew biplanes such as the Fokker D. VII and those manufactured by Albatros and Pfalz, beginning in February 1918 Jacobs began to primarily fly his distinctive black Fokker Dr.I. His first kill with the Dr.I occurred in April 1918. This was his first of over 30 claims with the triplane.

As the war continued through 1918, German supplies and logistics continued to suffer, in part due to war weariness and the Entente blockade of Germany. Jacobs had difficulty finding replacement rotary engines for his aircraft until he came upon the very clever idea of offering nearby German soldiers a case of champagne for every rotary engine from a downed Allied aircraft they could bring him.

Overall, Josef Jacobs was the leading Fokker Dr.I ace of World War 1, with over 40 confirmed victories over Triple Entente aircraft, at least 30 of which were in a Dr.I. After the war, he became a flying instructor for the Turkish Air Force and then went into the aviation business. He was also an accomplished sportsman, participating in the first AVUS race in Berlin. During World War 2, he served in the Luftwaffe but, due to anti-Nazi views and a refusal to allow Hermann Göring become a major shareholder in his company, he had to move to Holland. He lived until 1978, and was the last living pilot to have received the Pour le Merite (the Blue Max).

The Scale Model

The kit was Eduard's ProfiPACK 1/72 scale Fokker Dr.I. Overall, the kit went together quite well, with almost no filler or sanding needed. The added photoetch parts were also of good quality and added significant detail to the kit. Overall, I'd highly recommend it if you're looking for a Fokker Dr.I in this scale. An imgur album of the scale model and reference photo is available here.

[1] Franks, Norman and VanWyngarden, Greg. Fokker Dr.I Aces of World War I (Aircraft of The Aces No. 40). Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2001.
[2] Holmes, Tony. Legends of the Skies (Aircraft of the Aces). Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2004.
[3] Guttman, Jon. Sopwith Camel vs Fokker Dr I, Western Front 1917-18. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2008.
[4] Maksel, Rebecca. "The World's First Warplane." Air & Space Magazine, Air & Space Magazine, 21 Oct. 2011, www.airspacemag.com/daily-planet/the-worlds-first-warplane-115175678.
[5] Johnston, Alan. "Libya 1911: How an Italian Pilot Began the Air War Era." BBC News, BBC, 10 May 2011, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13294524.
[6] Tate, Mike. "Fokker DR.I - Thoughts on Wing Failures." The Aviation History Online Museum, 2000. www.aviation-history.com/theory/dr1wing.htm
[7] The Internet

Constructed April 2018, Posted March 2019

Fokker Dr. I of Jasta 7