World War I aviation

You can ask any of my brothers – while my older brother has always been fascinated with World War II and the Jet Age when it comes to aviation, there is something in the aircraft and pilots of World War I that holds a special grip on me.

Perhaps it’s the fact that many of the “fighters” of that era were barely more than box kites with propellers and machines guns; maybe it’s the fact that the pilot was really in contact with his aircraft; maybe I just like scarves and goggles.

In the post just below this, I mention my desire to get an ultralight version of a Fokker E. III, a big part of that is my curiosity on what it would have been like to fly back then. On a side note, I’ve always been more attracted to ultralight aviation, due in part to the decreased amount of federal hoops that I’d have to jump through. If you’re interested in learning more about ultralight aviation, check out these links. (Link 1, link 2)

Back on the topic of World War 1 aviation, one of my favorite planes from that era is the aforementioned Fokker Eindecker. While not the most maneuverable, or fastest aircraft ever, the Fokker E series changed warfare; pilots such as Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann used it as the platform for creating tactics and maneuvers which are still taught in air combat training to this day. Aside from his 40 air to air kills, and mentoring Manfred von Richtoven, Boelcke is most famous for creating the Dicta Boelcke, which as you can see is still relevant in this modern age of jet fighters. If you think you’ve heard of Max Immelmann, it’s probably because you’re heard of the Immelmann Turn, which gets it’s name from Max Immelmann. Interesting, the Immelmann Turn as we know it today is not at all the same maneuver that the pilot would have used during World War 1.

The modern Immelmann Turn is a half-loop followed by a half-roll at the top to right the aircraft – in an aircraft with top speed of 90 mph, attempting this maneuver would have likely led to a stall; even if you did not stall, the loss of speed would have made any further maneuvering almost impossible. In contrast, the Immelmann Turn of World War 1 most resembled what is now called a Hammer-Head Turn: after making a diving attack, the pilot would pull up, and as his aircraft approached stall speed, use the rudder to yaw the plane back into a dive. When properly executed, the Immelmann Turn would allow a pilot to gain position for another diving attack on his target. The Immelmann Turn was especially effective with the Fokker Eindecker series of aircraft; the aircraft used wing warper instead of ailerons to control, however the rudder was very large and responsive. By taking advantage of the large rudder and this maneuver, a skilled Eindecker pilot could dive in on unsuspecting targets, make a strafing run followed by an Immelmann Turn, and then strafe his targets again.

World War 1 was a war that included many firsts, among those were the first air-to-air engagements in warfare. The introduction of the airplane as a tool for waging war changed the face of the battlefield, just as certainly as the introduction of the machine gun.

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