Fokker D.VII – the lethal weapon

[3d by Marek Rys]

So long as a strong man fully armed guards his own home, his goods are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than himself attacks and defeats him, the stronger man takes away all the weapons he relied on and shares out his spoil. /Luke 11, 21-22/.

These words of the Gospel of Luke describe perfectly the terms imposed on the defeated Germany by the victorious Entente Powers. Clause four of the Armistice Terms signed on November 11, 1918 ordered the immediate demobilization of the air force and handing over 2000 (1700) aircraft, particularly the Fokker D.VII fighters. The Fokker D.VII was the only aircraft mentioned by its name. Why was that? Why was this type of plane so important to those dictating the terms of the armistice? The answer is both simple and obvious. Performance of the Fokker D.VII was superior to any aircraft used by the victorious powers. It was an aircraft that would highly influence designs of numerous inter-war fighter planes. It was good enough to remain in service with various national air forces until the mid-thirties.

Fokker D.VII – Anthony Herman Gerard Fokker’s and Reinhold Platz’s child prodigy

Anthony H. G. Fokker was a Dutchman born in Blitar on Java Island. In 1910 he came to Germany, where in Mainz he finished an aviation course. Being a talented businessman, he founded a workshop in Johannisthal, where he built his first aircraft named Spinne. The plane was purchased by many, including the military, which enabled Fokker to expand his modest workshop and open a flight school. In 1913 Fokker relocated his factory to Schwerin-Görries with Martin Kreutzer as his chief designer (It was a bit of an overstatement to call it a factory, since at that time there were only, or as many as 25 workers). In 1914 the Fokker factory built a mixed construction monoplane based on the Morane Saulnier N design. Its fuselage and tail unit frames were welded of steel tubing, while the wings were of wooden construction. The entire airframe was fabric-covered. Mixed construction became a trademark of all 1913 to 1918 Fokker designs.
A monograph of Fokker’s designs deserves a separate, in-depth publication. The Fokker E.I to E.IV aircraft, built strictly for fighting enemy planes, are worthy of mention. The Fokker E.I was the first fighter aircraft armed with synchronized machine gun that could fire through the arc of a spinning propeller. Gun synchronizer (a device that prevented a machine gun from firing when the propeller blade was in front of the barrel) was designed in the Fokker factory by Heinrich Luebbe’s team. The Fokker E.I to E.II aircraft, although not very modern in 1915 and early 1916, gave the Germans a temporary air supremacy over Allied planes which apart from deflectors had no synchronization gear.

Fokker V.36 with the fuel tank installed inside the undercarriage axle fairing, oval radiator and increased wing span.

At the end of 1915 the Fokker factory faced difficulties. The Inspectorate of Aviation Troops (Idflieg) blamed the company for poor performance of the Fokker D.I to D.IV fighter biplanes and equally poor workmanship presented by those planes.
The real story of the Fokker D.VII development began with Martin Kreutzer’s death. His post of chief designer was taken by Reinhold Platz, a brilliant, self-taught man of remarkable technical intuition. With Anthony Fokker’s good understanding of plane’s in-flight performance and hunt for technological innovations they both created a team of great creative potential. Anthony Fokker suggested using a thick profile of the wing, similar to that used by Junkers with thickness ratio up to 20%. This, along with the use of stressed plywood skin observed in designs of the Swedish engineer Villehad Forssman, who worked in Germany, would strengthen the wings structure and improve their aerodynamics.
An entire series of experimental planes – Versuchflugzeug V.I to V.IV was built. The experimental V.II (or V.2) became a starting point for the design of fighter biplane, while the V.IV (V.4) became a prototype for the Dr.I triplanes.
The Fokker Dr.I, despite its many shortcomings and relatively poor quality of workmanship, became a favourite aircraft of many aces including the “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen.
Only 320 triplanes were built. In the spring of 1918 at the front lines they were becoming a relic of the past and were no match for Allied fighters such as inline engine powered Spad S 13C1, Se 5a or rotary engine powered Sopwith Camel.

Fokker D.VII stripped of the fabric covering – left and right side view.

Idflieg held a two-stage D-Jagdflugzeug-Wettbewerb – a competition for a fighter plane design to choose the best one out of the offers presented by the Albatros, LVG Roland, Rumpler, Pfalz, Siemens-Schuckert and Schutte-Lanz.