Thursday, April 6, 2017

The first production all metal aircraft, the Junkers J.l.

Developed for low-level, front-line observation, the Junkers J.I (mfg's designation J 4) was the first all-metal aircraft to go into series production anywhere in the world, the aircraft's metal construction and heavy armour was an effective shield against small arms fire over the battlefield.

Of sesquiplane design the main fuselage was a steel nose-capsule that ran from just behind the propeller to the rear crew position. It was covered with 0.20 inch thick chrome-nickel sheet-steel and weighed 1,040 pounds. It protected the crew, the engine and the two fuel tanks. Engine access was provided by two hinged, 3 ply armor-steel panels. All this provided effective protection against the small arms fire encountered by low flying aircraft.

The flight control surfaces were connected to the aircraft's controls by pushrods and bellcranks rather than the usual steel cable control connections. Push-rods being less likely to be severed by ground fire.

The aircraft could be disassembled into its main components: wings, fuselage, undercarriage, and tail, to make it easier to transport by rail or road. A ground crew of six to eight could reassemble the aircraft and have it ready for flight within four to six hours. The wings were covered with 0.0075 inch thick Duralumin skin which could be easily dented, so great care had to be taken when handling the aircraft on the ground.

Although this unique design resulted in a strong and durable aircraft capable of surviving the effects of enemy ground fire, it was heavy, cumbersome and took forever to get off the ground. Regardless it was well liked by its crews and got the nickname "furniture van".
The aircraft first entered front service in August 1917. They were used on the Western Front during the German Spring Offensive of 1918.

The aircraft could be fitted with two downward-firing machine guns for ground attack, but they were found to be of limited use because of the difficulty of aiming them. The J-Is were mainly used for army co-operation and low-level reconnaissance. They were also used for dropping ammunition and rations on isolated or cut-off outposts that could not be easily supplied by other means.

Only 227 J.Is were manufactured before production ceased in January 1919.
The only surviving example of the J.I biplane was sent to Canada in 1919 and is now part of the National Aviation Museum's collection.

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