"It climbs like a monkey and manoeuvres like the devil"..... Baron Manfred von Richthofen.
Loosely based on the Sopwith Triplane, early Dr.1's or 'Drideckers' suffered from structural problems in the wings causing several fatal accidents. The problem was never really resolved. Investigations had shown that poor quality control and technical issues with the glue used on certain joints had caused failures of the top wing, but the aircraft was already being replaced by the Fokker D.VII as the necessary changes in manufacture were made. Post-war tests indicated that the lift co-efficient of the top wing was significantly greater than the lower wings, which almost certainly increased stresses on the wing bracing structure, which lacked bracing wires and had instead interplane struts. Whatever the cause of the failures, they must be considered as a possible reason why only 320 units were ever built. It may also have been due to the Dr.1's relatively poor speed performance, as a fast scout could dictate the time and place of battle, whereas a slow machine must fight whenever overtaken. The march of progress in 1917/18 was rapid, with the Allies fielding several aircraft capable of considerably higher speeds than the Dr.1.
Brought into active service in August 1917 and withdrawn mid 1918, the Dr.1 became an icon of air combat of the era in the minds of the public, despite being produced in small numbers and deployed for a comparitively short time. With it's rotary engine and short wingspan it was extremely manoeuvrable, a good match for the Sopwith F.1 Camel. Debate continues to this day regarding which of the two was the superior dogfighter. Pilots of both machines claimed they could out-turn and defeat the other, but perhaps this was a subjective issue. Very probably, in the business of air combat in WW1, life and death depended as much on pilot skill and willingness to fly the machine to the edge of it's flight and structural limits as much as the performance potential of the aircraft itself. Mindful of the history of structural failures it is doubtful whether the majority of Dr.1 pilots would be inclined to push their luck too far, even in combat. Whatever the truth of the matter, despite it's problems the Fokker Dr.1 will always stand alongside the Sopwith Camel as the perfect icon pair, representative of a new found ferocity in air combat.
Famous Dr.1 pilots
Manfred von Richthofen (80 victories) is widely remembered flying his all-red Dr.1, and Werner Voss (48 vicories) fought an epic battle with six (some sources claim eight) SE5a's, some of which were being flown by RFC aces. Voss was killed in the action, but not until he had put holes in each and every one of his opponents aircraft.
Powerplant: either 110hp Oberursel URII or Swedish built Le Rhone nine cylinder rotary air cooled engine
Dimensions: Wingspan 23ft 7inch, Length 18ft 11inch, Height 9ft 8.5inch, Wing Area 201.5sq ft
Fuel capacity: 16.5 gallons, endurance 1.5 hours
Performance: 115mph at sea level
Service ceiling: 19,600ft
Airframe: single bay triplane configuration with single bracing strut each side. Wings single spar wood with plywood leading edges and wire trailing edges. Welded steel tube fuselage and tail. Fabric covered with ailerons on top wing only. No fixed tail fin.
Empty weight: 893 pounds
Max take off weight: 1,289 pounds
Armament: two Spandau machine guns mounted forward of cockpit on top of fuselage
The Fokker Dr.1 in Aces High
It should be remembered that aircraft of this vintage were hand built by various artisans making much use of timber, so that no two were identical and therefore were likely to have had different flight characteristics. The Aces High Dr.1 appears to have been modelled on a particularly good one, although first time pilots might think otherwise until they become accustomed to the wild gyrations caused by the gyroscopic forces of the spinning mass of the rotary engine. Once understood and mastered this feature enables the Dr.1 to perform some uncanny manoeuvres, especially at low airspeeds, which makes it a difficult target in a dogfight. In fact anyone tempted to take on a Dr.1 flown by an experienced pilot would likely not think of their opponent as a target for very long, as these gyrations combined with a fearsome rate of climb and tight turn tends to put them into the role of aggressor rather than victim. An unexpected sideslip into the trees awaits the unwary Dr.1 pilot should he not take account of the eventual finality of gravity at low level, but with any sort of altitude even the novice can throw this diminutive demon around with scant regard for aerodynamic principles or structural integrity. The Dr.1 holds together well in a dive, being far more forgiving of stress on the airframe than the Camel, Bristol F.2B or DVII, and shows little sign of the structural issues which plagued the original.
As with it's real world namesake, the Dr.1 can 'hang on the prop' when being attacked from above, often firing with great accuracy then falling away briefly, only to float back up and fire again. Novice to intermediate pilots tend to prefer it above all others, and while many 'aces' move on to other types some stay with the triplane and enjoy great success.
Great Fighters of the World by Key Publishing LTD 2009
Aircraft of World War 1 by Hippo Books 1965
The International Encyclopedia of Aviation by Octopus Books LTD 1977