Perhaps the most well known of all Great War Fighter Aircraft, the Fokker Dr.1 triplane will always be associated with the exploits of the great German Ace- Manfred 'The Red Baron' von Richtofen. Yet, despite its reputation the Dr.1, was never really quite as good as its legend might suggest. In fact by the time it appeared in German Flying Corps service, in late 1917, it had actually been surpassed by the latest Allied fighters.
The Dr.1 began life as a German answer to the nimble little Sopwith triplane, being operated by the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service), in the spring of 1917. The Sopwith, with its rapid rate if climb and remarkable manouvrability soon earned the respect of many German pilots, and when one was brought down behind German lines every aircraft manufacturer in Germany clamoured to learn its secrets in order to develop a similar triplane of their own. The talented Dutch aviation engineer, Anthony Fokker, stole a march on his rivals by (rather illegally)having the wrecked Sopwith moved to his own factory for his own engineers to examine in detail.
Fokker's chief designer, Reinhold Platz, was given the responsibility for developing the company's triplane. Two designs were produced (V4 and V5) with the former being assembled from the airframe of biplane, originally being built to fill a Hungarian Army Air Corps requirement; this airframe was modified by the addition of a third set of wings, but it was soon discovered that the wings of the V4 vibrated badly and extensive development would be required to the struts, ailerons and elevators before the the first V4 triplane could be delivered to Austria-Hungary in August 1917. Meanwhile the Fokker factory had received a German contract to build a second V4 and two V5 prototypes for evaluation, and it was in this, the V5 form, that the Dr.1 (initially designated F.1) would be developed into the production fighter armed with a pair of 7.92mm LMG 08/15 belt fed fixed forward firing machine guns.
Anthony Fokker originally wanted his triplane to be powered by the 180hp Mercedes water cooled six-cylinder inline engine, and felt slighted when he discovered that the Albatros Werkes had been granted priority over the supply of this engine, to power their Albatros D.III fighter. Fokker had therefore to utilise the rather underpowered 110hp Thulin license-built version of the Le Rhone 9 nine-cylinder radial engine, or the similar Oberusel U.II (an unlicensed copy of the same engine). Thus powered, the Dr.1 in production form, was able to achieve a recorded maximum speed of 115 mph at sea level with a flight endurance of 1 hour 30 minutes.
The Dr.1 began arriving at the front in October 1917.and soon gained an exagerated reputation, mainly because it was used by a number of major German Aces including the legendary 'Red Baron' who personally favoured the type for its superb rate of climb and manouvrability. The maximum speed however, at this stage in the War, was inferior to contempory Allied fighters. In addition a number of machines were lost as a result of wing failure-the type being grounded for a while in late 1917 in order for wing strengthening modifications to be carried out.
Production ceased in May 1918 after the completion of just 320 aircraft. However the Dr.1 was never really encounted in large numbers-peak operational usage being in May 1918 when the German Flying Corps had 171 such machines operational over the Western Front.