Thursday, February 23, 2017

The WWl Triplane



Reproduction Fokker Triplane DR.l

Most likely the best known World War One aircraft is the Fokker Triplane DR.l, however triplanes would have become a mere footnote in the history books were it not for the fact that one of them, Richthofen’s red Fokker Dr.I, has become the most publicized. (of his 80 victories only 19 were while flying the DR.l) 
The triplane only saw brief usage, roughly from early-1917 to mid-1918. 

In basic theory an airplane with one wing is more aerodynamically efficient than an airplane with multiple wings and although many of the earliest aircraft were monoplanes, they were found to possess some very dangerous characteristics. The problems were mainly structural rather than aerodynamic.

A series of fatal accidents involving wing failures in early monoplanes resulted in a ban on them by the British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in the summer of 1912.

 French Morane-Saulnier N
The earliest successful fighter planes, the
 French Morane-Saulnier N and the German Fokker E.I, were monoplanes configured with the cockpit directly over the wing. From that position, the pilot enjoyed unlimited visibility to every quarter except downward, in which direction he could see nothing at all. 
In combat, the pilot who saw his adversary first was usually the victor.

German Fokker E.I


On the other hand, in biplanes the pilot sat with one wing directly below him and another directly overhead, impairing his vision in both directions. During World War 1 the emphasis was on pilot visibility, rate of climb and maneuverability.

In the spring of 1916, Herbert Smith, the chief designer at Sopwith, began work on an aircraft that could climb faster, fly higher, maneuver as well as if not better than its predecessors and, if possible, afford better visibility. Surprisingly, the prototype that emerged from the Sopwith hangar on May 30, 1916, was a triplane.

Sopwith Triplane

The benefit of the triplane format was an improvement in climb rate and ceiling. Since the wing area was divided by three, the wings could be built with a narrower chord in relation to their span. As a bonus, the narrow-chord wings above and below the pilot interfered less with his view than the wider wings of a monoplane or biplane. Moreover, the middle wing was mounted in line with the pilot’s eyes, so that he could easily see around it.
Its top speed of 117 mph was reasonably good for its day, but its rate of climb, 5,000 feet in 4 1/2 minutes, was considered phenomenal. It also had a ceiling of more than 20,000 feet, higher than that of most German planes, which gave the British fighter a significant tactical benefit — the ability to attack with a height advantage. In the event that a Sopwith Triplane was attacked, the pilot could simply execute a climbing turn that no German fighter could follow.
The first fully equipped squadrons of Sopwith Triplanes began to make their appearance at the front early in 1917, by the Royal Naval Air Service. 

No discussion of this fighter can neglect mentioning the five famous black-nosed Triplanes of B Flight of No.10 Naval Squadron led by Flight Cmdr. Raymond Collishaw .

Collishaw's Sopwith
Between June 1 and July 28, 1917, Black Flight shot down 86 enemy aircraft for the loss of one man captured and two killed by anti-aircraft fire.
That incredible record was achieved despite the fact that Black Flight was operating against the very best pilots the Germans had, Jagdstaffel (Jasta) 11, commanded by Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen.
Suddenly the British had a machine that could out fly anything the German air service had.

The popular and influential Richthofen and other German airmen were stunned by the performance of the new triplanes. As a result, the Inspectorate of Aviation immediately issued a demand for triplanes (Dreidecker). Soon, virtually every aircraft company in Germany was enthusiastically testing at least one new triplane prototype.
Fokker responded with two pre-production triplanes were designated F.I. The two aircraft were sent to Jastas 10 and 11 for combat evaluation, arriving at Markebeeke, Belgium on 28 August 1917.

Fokker DR.l
Richthofen first flew one on 1 September 1917 and shot down two enemy aircraft in the next two days. He reported to the that the F.I was superior to the Sopwith Triplane. Richthofen recommended that fighter squadrons be reequipped with the new aircraft as soon as possible.
Command issued a production order for 100 triplanes in September, followed by an order for 200 in November.

Unfortunately, both the Fokker DR.l and the Sopwith Triplane were plagued with chronic structural problems from the beginning. Roughly only 150 Sopwith Triplanes were built during the war and production of the DR.l is thought to be about 320. By June of 1918 the DR.l was replaced by the D.Vll biplane and the Sopwith Triplane was replaced by the Sopwith Camel.

Fokker D.Vll

Sopwith Camel

As a side note; Fokker produced 320 DR.l compared to 3,300 D.Vll and Sopwith produced about 150 Triplanes compared to 5,490 Camels. 



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