Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Siemens-Schuckert D series fighters

When the French Nieuport 17 fighter, reached the front lines in March 1916, it proved superior over existing German fighters. Soon captured examples were whisked away to German aircraft manufactures with the request to produce an improved craft.

The D.I

The Siemens-Schuckert Werke produced their version of the Nieuport 17 designated the D.I. The most important difference was the powerplant - instead of the Le Rhone 9J of the Nieuport , Siemens-Schuckert chose to use their own 110 hp Siemens-Halske Sh.I rotary engine. Visually, instead of the Nieuport 17's circular, fully "closed" cowling the D.I had a small, close fitting, semi-circular cowling with an open bottom, to allow adequate cooling for the slow revving rotary engine. This gave the D.II the appearance of the earlier Nieuport 11. The wing area was a little less than the Nieuport, the gap between the wings was reduced slightly and the interplane struts were of different design. Late production models were fitted with modified tail skids, and had large pointed spinners on their propellers. An An order for 150 aircraft was placed on 25 November 1916, deliveries were slow and the D.I was obsolete before it was available in numbers, being outclassed by the Albatros D.III. Only 95 were produced with most being sent to the fighter training schools.

The D.II
D.II undergoing stress testing

Development work on the D series aircraft continued with the introduction of the new Siemens-Halske Sh.III engine, which developed 160 hp. The new engine was fitted to a series of original prototype designs from Siemens, the D.II, D.IIa and D.IIb. These featured a much rounder and wider front fuselage to hold the larger engine, leading to a rather stubby-looking aircraft which pilots later referred to as the flying beer barrel. Flight tests started in June 1917, and while the aircraft did not have a very high top speed, they showed outstanding rates of climb. The only serious concern was the extremely long landing gear needed to keep the huge 2-bladed prop clear of the ground.
Three more prototypes were ordered, two D.IIc with longer span wings and one D.IIe, with the original sized wings. After completion in October 1917, the design proved promising and in December an order for twenty D.IIc was placed with a smaller 4-bladed propeller, that allowed for shorter landing gear legs. A second order of 30 aircraft in February 1918.


First production D.III

The D.IIc were designated the D.III. Approximately 41 D.IIIs were delivered to frontline units between April and May 1918. Most aircraft were supplied to Jasta II, whose pilots were enthusiastic about the new aircraft's climbing ability and was well-received by its pilots, evaluating it as the ideal fighter for dogfight. In tests against the Fokker D.VII and Albatros D.V, the D.III was the faster of the three.
However, after only seven to 10 hours of service, however, the Sh.III engines started showing serious problems with overheating and piston seizure.
In late May 1918, the D.III was withdrawn from service for upgrading and Jasta II replaced its D.IIIs with the older Fokker Dr.I.

In the words of the Jasta.II commander, Hptm Rudolf Berthold, "The Siemens fighter must be made available again for front-line use as quickly as possible for, after elimination of the present faults, it is likely to become one of our most useful fighter aircraft.",
The engine problem was later traced to the Voltol mineral oil that was used to replace the now-scarce castor oil.
Furthermore, the close-fitting engine cowling provided inadequate cooling to the engine.
All remaining D.III aircraft were returned to the Siemens-Schuckert factory, where they were retrofitted with new Sh.IIIa engines and cutaway cowlings that provided improved airflow. A further 30 new production D.IIIs incorporated these modifications. Total production amounted to about 80 aircraft.

The D.III never returned to front-line duty and finished the war as an interceptor with home defense squadrons.

The D.IV

A D.III wing redesign by Heinrich Kann, a new young member of the design team, resulted in three prototypes being built early in 1918.
The new aircraft, which would be designated D.IV, was faster than the D III (although only by 6 mph). Its main advantage was its time of climb to 16,400 feet or above, where it overtook the D III and it could reach 19,680 feet nearly five minutes quicker than the D III.
A production order was placed in March 1918, and eventually 280 machines were ordered (only 123 were completed). The first aircraft went to operation units in August, starting with Jasta 14 and Jasta 22. Only about fifty D IVs reached operational units before the end of the war.
The D IV was popular with the pilots. Staffelfuhrer Lt Lenz, the first pilot at Jasta 22 to receive the new aircraft wrote a glowing report on it in October 1918. He described it as the best single seater at the front, with superior climbing ability and maneuverability was good. It was especially useful above 4,000 meters, where it out-flew the Fokker D VII and he suggested using the Fokker aircraft at lower levels. He did acknowledge that engine overheating was still a problem and recommended that it should be used as an interceptor rather than on patrols. He also thought it was best used by more advanced pilots.

Production of the D.IV continued after the cease-fire, with many being sold to Switzerland where they operated into the late 1920s.

References for this blog may come from Wikipedia, WW1, Warplanes of the First World War, The Complete Book of Fighters, The British Fighter since 1912, and others.

Monday, August 14, 2017

American Ace, Field Eugene Kindley

Kindley was born March, 1896, at Prairie Grove, Arkansas.
After he completed his education, he moved to Coffeyville, Kansas where he became a motion picture operator. In May of 1917 he joined the Kansas National Guard.
He volunteered for a transfer into the aviation branch of the United States Army Signal Corps and here he attended the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois.

Kindley established himself as an unlucky and somewhat untalented flier, with a series of accidents, mechanical failures, and landing mishaps. He became part of the first group of American pilots to be transferred to England for combat training in 1917. In the spring of 1918, he completed training and commissioned as a first lieutenant in the United States Army Air Service.

On his first flight, he was assigned to ferry a Sopwith Camel from England to the western front, but crashed on the White Cliffs of Dover. Kindley was sent to hospital to recover. After his release, he was assigned to the Royal Air Force's 65 Squadron on the Western Front on 22 May 1918. Here he scored his first victory, flying a Sopwith Camel, on June 26th, 1918 over Albert, France, a Pfalz D.III of Jasta 5.

In July 1918, he was reassigned to the newly former 148th Aero Squadron as a flight commander where in the same month he scored the units first victory, an Albatros D.V near Ypres.

On the 13th of August Kindley's patrol engaged Jasta 11. That day he scored his fourth victory, shooting down a Fokker D.VII possibly flown by Lothar von Richthofen who was wounded in the battle.

September proved to be a busy month as he scored four more victories and on the 24th he led a flight of Camels in a successful attack on seven Fokkers near Bourlon Wood, France. Three days later, found him dropping bombs on and strafing German infantry, destroying a German observation balloon, taking out a German machine gun nest, shooting down an enemy airplane, and scaring two Fokker biplanes away from fellow fliers even after his ammunition had been exhausted.

These missions in late September 1918, earned him the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), an Oak Leaf Cluster (DSC) and the British Distinguished Flying Cross. 

While with the 148th Aero Squadron, flying a Camel, he scored 11 confirmed kills, ending the war with a total of 12 confirmed.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Sopwith Scooter and Sopwith Swallow, two Sopwith designs that never went past the prototype stage.

In June 1918, the Sopwith Aviation Company flew an unarmed parasol monoplane derivative of the Sopwith Camel, the Sopwith Monoplane No. 1, also known as the Sopwith Scooter. It used a normal Camel fuselage, with the wing mounted just above the fuselage, with a very small gap. The wing was braced using RAF-wire (streamlined bracing wires) to a pyramid shaped cabane above the wing. It was powered by a single 130 hp (97 kW) Clerget 9B rotary engine.

The Scooter, which was used as a runabout and aerobatic mount by Sopwith test pilot Harry Hawker, demonstrated excellent manoeuvrability, and formed the basis of a fighter derivative, the Monoplane No. 2, and later known as the Sopwith Swallow.

Like the Scooter, the Swallow used the fuselage of a Camel, but it had a larger, slightly swept, wing of greater wingspan and area, which was mounted higher above the fuselage to allow the pilot to access the two synchronised Vickers machine guns. It was powered by a 110 hp (82 kW) Le Rhône engine.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Belgium Ace, Jan Olieslagers

Before the Great War, Jan Olieslagers was already a very well known person as the motorbike world champion and later as very successful record holding pilot in his Bleriot monoplanes. 

When the Germans invaded Belgium, he and his two brothers joined the army as volunteers and donated their three Blériot XI monoplanes to the war effort. Jan was promoted to Sergeant, then commissioned before the end of 1914.
January 1915 saw him flying a Nieuport 10 and his fighter-pilot skills became evident and on September 12th, 1915 he became the first Belgian pilot, as well as one of the first pilots overall, to claim an aerial victory, when he forced down an Aviatik C.I.

He then had a string of four unconfirmed claims before he traded his Nieuport 10 for a Nieuport 11. He scored his second confirmed victory on 17 June 1916, destroying a Fokker D.II over Pijpegale, Belgium. Seven more unconfirmed claims of aerial victories, while flying the Nieuport 11, closed out 1917.

Olieslagers habitually took the fight to the Germans and was indifferent to the paperwork to staking claims and he usually did not bother with claims for wins behind the German lines. All this lead to his poor record of approvals that was sufficient to keep his scores low.
He seldom took leave and tended to busy himself around his home aerodrome and the airplanes assigned to him. He would spend hours with rookie pilots, helping to ease their entry into the deadly art of aerial warfare.

On November 4, 1917, he fainted while landing and crashed onto Les Moeres aerodrome. He was taken to hospital in a coma, but aroused a few days later.

He returned to flight duty in January 1918 flying his newly acquired Hanriot HD.1, but would not score again until May 8th, on that day, he had one of two claims confirmed. On the 19th, a Albatros D.V became his last official victory, although he would have one more unverified win.
On November 9th, 1918, engine problems brought Jan Olieslagers down in a field near Eeklo. It was his 518th and final combat sortie. He had fought in 97 dogfights over a four-year stretch.
He finished the war with a stunted tally of six confirmed victories but this total could have been much higher had he took claiming victories seriously.

His awards included; Order of Leuplod (Belgian), Croix de Guerre (France), Legion of Honor (France), Order of Saint Stanislas (Russian) and Belgian War Cross.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Tarrant Tabor

Walter G. Tarrant was a well-known woodworking contractor at Byfleet, Surrey. His company supplied countless structural components to other aircraft manufacturers during WW1. In 1917 Tarrant along with Marcel Lobelle from the nearby company of Martinsyde, and by W H Barling from the Royal Aircraft Factory set about designing and building the world's largest bomber aircraft.

Construction was primarily in wood with conventional biplane strut-braced wings and a monocoque fuselage built up from ply veneers. The monocoque construction gave a large open space within the fuselage. The pilots were situated in the nose, with a partition separating them from the engineer's station and the engine controls mounted on either side of the opening in the partition. The fuel tanks were in the top and sides of the fuselage to maintain the clear internal space.

The original design was to be powered by four 600hp Siddeley Tigers, arranged in tandem pusher/tractor pairs at midgap. It soon became evident, however, that the Tiger would not be ready in the timespan required so in order to maintain a comparable power/weight ratio, Tarrant elected to fit six 450hp Napier Lions instead, at the same time adding an upper, third wing with the same dimensions and structure as those of the bottom wing, transferring the support for what became the central wing's large overhang to the top wing. The two additional Lion tractor engines were mounted directly above the lower pairs.

The intended bomb load was twenty 230 pound bombs carried under the lower wing center section. Diagonal center section struts passed from the upper wing, through the central wing and fuselage meeting on the lower wing. This in effect, created a huge Warren truss of great strength. This structure design would thus have distributed the bomb load to all the wings without compromising the cylindrical fuselage structure.

The fuselage was a finely-streamlined, cigar-shaped structure which carried a biplane tail unit, comprising two tailplanes, the lower of which incorporated a horn-balanced elevator, and the upper a trimming surface operated by handwheel in the pilot's cockpit. A second elevator was mounted in the tailplane gap.
The landing gear was huge, as you can see, with each wheel assembly being attached by struts designed to distribute landing loads equally to the three wings. 

The wingspan was of over 131 ft (40 m), overall height of 37ft 3in compared, for instance, to 20ft 8in of the Bristol Braemar triplane bomber. Loaded weight would have been 44,672 pounds.

Work on the aircraft briefly stopped at the end of the War, when it was no longer needed as a bomber. The design was altered to allow it to be used as a commercial or transport aircraft and construction resumed.
The Tabor was readied for its maiden flight from the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough on 26 May, 1919. With two pilots and five passengers the plane was taxied around the landing field using only the four lower engines. Satisfied with the behaviour of the aircraft the crew decided to take-off. The tail was off the ground but it was still running on the main wheels, intermittently lifting off.
When the pilots brought both of the upper engines to full power the aircraft pitched forward, causing the aircraft to nose over into the ground and to inflict fatal injuries on both men.

Later analysis suggested that the upper engines were so far above the fuselage that they forced the nose down when full power was applied.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

German Ace, Heinrich Bongartz


Bongartz was born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany on 31 January 1892. Bongartz was a schoolteacher in civilian life. At the outbreak of WW1 he enlisted in the infantry in August 1914 and saw action in the Battle of Verdun. He later transferred to the Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Service) in early 1915, to pilot training with Flieger-Abteilung (Flyer Detachment) 5 and was commissioned a Leutnant in March, 1916. Upon graduation in October, he was posted to a reconnaissance unit, Kampfgeschwader (Tactical Bomber Wing) 5. From there, he had a short lived tour with Kampfstaffel (Tactical Bomber Squadron) 27.

To his delight, Bongartz was finally assigned to flying fighter aircraft with Royal Prussian Jagdstaffel 36 in April 1917.
His initial success as a fighter pilot came during “Bloody April”, so called such because of the severe losses suffered by the Royal Flying Corps. Bongartz contributed to the British bloodshed by claiming four victories during April. He became an ace in May and ended the year with 10 victories. His aerial gallantry had earned him both classes of the Iron Cross.

On July 12, 1917, he shot down number 11 but the next day, Bongartz was wounded for the first time, the first of five wounds he would receive during the war. October and November saw him raise his count to 20 and he was awarded the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern.
On 23 December 1917, he was personally awarded the Pour le Mérite by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
By March of the following year he had run his total to 33 confirmed victories.

April 29 1918, saw his final combat flight when Bongartz' outnumbered Fokker Dr.1 Triplane engaged Royal Air Force planes of No. 74 Squadron. He was severely wounded but managed a crash landing in friendly territory. Later upon inspection of his plane, mechanics counted about 28 bullet holes in the cowling alone.
His wounds resulted in the loss of an eye which ended his combat career, however after recovering, he became the commander of the Aircraft Test Center at Aldershof.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Sopwith Dolphin

First Prototype

In early 1917, the Sopwith chief engineer, Herbert Smith, began designing a new two-bay, single-seat biplane fighter (internal Sopwith designation 5F.1). In an effort to give pilots an improved field of view. 

The upper wings were attached to an open steel cabane frame above the cockpit and there was no centre section in the upper wing.
The pilot’s head was positioned above the upper wing, with the fuselage filling the gap between the wings.
To maintain the correct centre of gravity, the lower wings were positioned 13 inches forward of the upper wings, creating the Dolphin’s distinctive negative wing stagger.

The first Dolphin prototype was powered by a geared 150 hp Hispano-Suiza 8 and featured a deep "car-type" frontal radiator. Test pilot Harry Hawker carried out the maiden flight on 23 May 1917.

The new fighter was instantly found to be of a different class, noted as outperforming the Camel in both speed and height. Early military testing and Martlesham Heath found that the Dolphin offered “unsurpassed visibility and was very manoeuvrable”. Early flights also indicated speeds between 143 and 146mph. This was a huge improvement in speed from the Camel.

On 13 June, the prototype flew to Saint-Omer, France where it was evaluated by several front line pilots, including Billy Bishop of No. 60 Squadron, all reported favourably on it. On 28 June 1917, the Ministry of Munitions ordered 200 Dolphins from Hooper & Co. Shortly thereafter, the Ministry ordered a further 500 aircraft from Sopwith and 200 aircraft from Darracq Motor Engineering Company.

Only one prototype had been completed, two more were soon to follow with a number of revisions. The main change was the cowling was streamlined further, providing an even greater field of view. The radiators were moved around in an attempt to provide better cooling for the engine. The third prototype proved to solve the radiator issue, and gave the Dolphin another of its eccentric features, the two radiators, each mounted on the side of the cockpit. This arrangement kept the cockpit warm and comfortable as the cooling pipes pipes ran alongside the cockpit walls to the two side-mounted radiators. Pilot adjustable shutters in front of each radiator core allowed control of engine temperature.

This fourth prototype, powered by the geared 200 hp Hispano-Suiza 8B was selected as the production standard. Series production commenced in October 1917, with 121 Dolphins delivered by the end of the year.

Early 1918 saw the 19 Squadron at full strength with the new Sopwith and under field conditions the Hispano-Suiza engine had a few bugs to work out. Reports of aircraft shedding their propellers and gearing while being slowly run up from a cold start.This led to a procedure change to the start-up operation in order to correct the problem. Other minor field changes were made. One being a redesign of the spent machine gun shell chute. The original design allowed some spent shell casings to hit the radiators.

The official armament of the Dolphin was two fixed, synchronized Vickers machine guns and two Lewis guns mounted on the forward cabane crossbar, firing at an upward angle to avoid the propeller. The Lewis guns proved unpopular as they were difficult to aim and tended to swing into the pilot's face. Pilots also feared that the gun butts would inflict serious head injuries in the event of a crash. Most pilots discarded the Lewis guns, though a minority retained one or both guns for attacking high altitude reconnaissance aircraft from below.

Early on, some pilots voiced concerns regarding their heads sitting above the upper wing in the event of the aircraft flipping onto its back during a rough landing. To ease these concerns a number of different field installed roll bars were attached to the cabane frame above the cockpit, these were more likely a comfort for the pilots than actual protection. In reality when Dolphins did turn over, the tail remained elevated enough to protect the head and allow the pilot to exit. (there was only one instance of a serious injury recorded caused by a nose over)

These bars were mainly used on training Dolphins, as it was considered a nose over was more likely to occur with novice pilots and may provide them with a little of piece of mind.

Despite early problems, the Dolphin proved to be a formidable fighter and generally popular with pilots. The aircraft was fast, manoeuvrable and easy to fly. When functioning properly, the Hispano-Suiza afforded the Dolphin excellent performance at high altitude and the Dolphin was often sent against German reconnaissance aircraft such as the Rumpler C.VII, which routinely operated at altitudes above 20,000 ft.

As the end of the war drew closer, Sopwith started looking at updating the Dolphin design. the most impressive of these improvements became known as the Dolphin II and featured a 300hp Hispano Suiza, which gave very impressive performance figures for the time. The RAF were uninterested in this upgrade, but the United States ordered around 2000 of them, though ultimately the armistice came in before they could be delivered.

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