Dassault Mirage F.1 – Against the Mold   Leave a comment

Mirage F.1CT at Brno, Czech Republic in 2007.

Mirage F.1CT at Brno, Czech Republic in 2007.

Non-conformist of the Mirage Clan

A sleek and elegant triangular shape cutting its way through the sky at supersonic speeds is the usual image that comes to mind at the mention of Dassault’s long lived Mirage family of aircraft. An extensive family of delta winged aircraft that can trace its history to the early 1950s and is exemplified today by the Mirage 2000. However, not all members of this illustrious and legendary line of jets marched to the same drummer.

The Mirage F.1, the prototype of which first flew in late 1966, was initiated as a private venture by Dassault with a primary focus on creating a relatively low cost flexible fighter which could be operated in less than optimum airfield conditions. However, the origins of the F.1 can be traced back to the Mirage F2; a failed all weather strike fighter prototype which had flown in June of 1966. It was from the F2 that the F.1 inherited its distinctively non-delta wing shape.

The Mirage F2 was Dassault’s response to a 1963 requirement issued by the French air force for a strike fighter to replace the Mirage III in that role. While the delta wing design gave the Mirage III much in the way of streamlining and speed, it had the drawback of requiring the aircraft to have a high landing speed; this translated into the Mirage III needing a long, well prepared runway.

The French air force specified that the new aircraft would need a lower landing speed so that it could be operated from shorter runways in potentially spartan and rudimentary conditions away from larger more permanent bases. To achieve this aspect of the specification, Dassault dispensed with the delta wing and instead opted for a swept wing mounted high on the fuselage and a separate tail unit of conventional design. The separate swept wing allowed a variety of high lift devices to be incorporated into it that were not adaptable to delta wing designs of the period; these devices permitted the aircraft to remain aloft at the lower landing speeds stipulated for the new strike aircraft.

The Mirage F2 was cancelled when France withdrew from the integrated command structure of NATO in 1966. The withdrawal created a change in France’s own military requirements and it was determined that, without NATO commitments to consider, France itself no longer had need of a large, expensive strike aircraft such as the F2 was.

What France did see a pressing need for at the time was an all weather interceptor capable of Mach 2 speeds that would also possess some ability in the strike mission. To meet this new requirement, Dassault put forth the Mirage F3 and the Mirage F.1 designs. the F3, like the F2, was a much larger, more complex and more expensive aircraft than the F.1; these factors would work against it. The F.1 was able to meet all the specified parameters in a smaller and more cost effective package and was ultimately chosen as France’s new fighter in 1967.

The first Mirage F.1 entered French air force service in spring of 1974.

Mirage F.1B at Brno in 2007

Mirage F.1B at Brno in 2007

A Mirage with More

In all aspects, the Mirage F.1 was superior to the Mirage III and its Mirage 5 offshoot. The F.1 had roughly 40% greater internal fuel capacity, significantly shorter take of and landing lengths, greater range and a more rugged construction which allowed operations from remote and austere conditions.

From an export standpoint, the F.1 did not see the tremendous levels of success that the Mirage III and 5 did; however, it did respectably well for itself and served in the air forces of 14 countries.

The core of the Mirage F.1 family consists of five variants, though there are several sub variants to each. The sub variants typically represented the equipment desires of the purchasing nation:

Mirage F.1A

A ground attack optimized variation which used the F.1C as a base. It was developed jointly between France and South Africa.

Mirage F.1B

Two seat training variation based on the F.1C

Mirage F.1C

Standard all weather multi role fighter version. This was the first production version of the aircraft family.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, approximately 80 Mirage F.1C aircraft were built as F.1C-200 variants. The F.1C-200 incorporated an in flight refueling capability and served as the basis for the F.1CT ground attack and F.1CR reconnaissance versions.

Mirage F.1D

Two seat trainer version of the F.1E

Mirage F.1E

An export version with full mission capabilities of the F.1C as well as enhanced air to ground abilities.

Mirage F.1B in Brno in 2007

The Hired Gun

The Mirage F.1 has had a particularly active life as far as combat operations are concerned. Many of these have been quite small and localized border skirmishes between neighboring nations.

What also stands out is that, in some cases, the aircraft seems to have something of a mercenary tone to its duties. France was not always picky about who they sold military equipment to and were not above selling to nations that had arms embargoes against them; such was the case of the South African F.1 fleet after an embargo was placed on that nation in 1977.

Through a large section of the 1980s, South Africa used the F.1 extensively against Angolan forces during the South African Border War.

Iraq flew many F.1 missions to intercept Iranian aircraft during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

The Chadian-Libyan conflict, a series of skirmishes between Chad and Libya which lasted from 1978 to 1987, saw the Mirage F.1 flown by both sides. Libya used their F.1 fleet to make attacks on Chad while, through a defensive agreement with France, French F.1 aircraft were used to fly air cover for Sepecat Jaguar aircraft making counter-strikes into Libya.

In 2011, during the Libyan Civil War, a pair of Libyan Mirage F.1 aircraft made international headlines when the pilots decided to divert their aircraft to Malta rather than follow their orders to open fire on protesters in the city of Benghazi.

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Mirage F.1 has seen action in French service over the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Balkan Peninsula, Libya and Mali.

In combat operations, the Mirage F.1 showed great flexibility and adaptability to using a range of different weapons from a variety of sources. Beyond French made weapons, the aircraft was known to carry munitions of American, Israeli and South African origins.

Mirage F.1CR cockpit as it appeared in 2006.

Mirage F.1CR cockpit as it appeared in 2006.

Fading Slowly

Mirage F.1 operations in Europe were brought to an end when France disbanded their last unit of Mirage F.1CR aircraft in June of 2014. The type’s other European users, Greece and Spain, retired their fleets in 2003 and 2013 respectively.

At the time of writing, the Mirage F.1 soldiers on in Gabon, Iran, Libya and Morocco.

In spite of clearly being in its twilight years, the F.1 does still have some life in it. The Moroccan fleet was subject to an extensive engine and avionics upgrade which make it comparable to the Mirage 2000.

With the Libyan Civil War bringing an end to the Gaddafi regime and improving relations between Libya and the world; a deal was struck in which France would refurbish and upgrade Libya’s F.1 fleet.

As an interesting footnote to the F.1 story, shortly after Spain retired their remaining inventory of the type, Argentina entered negotiations to acquire some of the former Spanish aircraft. Negotiations between the two countries progressed to the point of a formal deal; however, Spain pulled out due to pressure from the UK against the sale fearing Argentina would use the aircraft to escalate tensions over the contested Falkland Islands.

Despite the failure of that deal, it does show that the Mirage F.1 is still viewed to have some value in spite of its age.

Learning More

This is a general overview of the F.1 at Dassault’s own web site:


This link will take you to a good article about the Mirage F.1 in South African service.


Klemm Kl-35 – Military by Necessity   3 comments

Klemm Kl-35D at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2013

Klemm Kl-35D at Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2013

From Insider to Outsider

As German aircraft manufacturers go, the Klemm company is most closely associated with a series of light sport, training and touring aircraft which were popular in the 1930s. The founder of the company, Hanns Klemm, had the civil market in mind first and foremost; as such, most aircraft which his company produced had little to any connection to the military.

An architect and industrial designer by training, Klemm entered the aviation industry towards the end of the First World War. He started work for the Zeppelin company; however, his personal connections to Claude Dornier and Ernst Heinkel saw Klemm move into the design of conventional aircraft and eventually working for the coach building and aircraft sections of the Daimler company.

Klemm’s own aircraft company was born in late 1926 when he bought Daimler’s aircraft works. Klemm was something of a purist when it came to designing aircraft and set his goal on creating light monoplane aircraft which could fly well on lower powered engines and be attractive to flying clubs as trainers and general touring aircraft. Through the 1930s, he built an international reputation for producing quality aircraft of just this sort.

All was going well for Klemm until the Nazi party came to power in Germany and the country’s flying clubs and training facilities were taken under state control. Hermann Goring was particularly dismissive of Klemm’s aircraft and declared that they would not be used to train the pilots who would serve in the newly formed Luftwaffe.

It would be the beginning of a tenuous relationship between Klemm and the Air ministry. Klemm’s company would be relegated to servicing and constructing aircraft of more prominent companies; of course, this did not sit well with Klemm himself and he set about work on a solution.

Klemm Kl-35D at Pardubice in 2013

Klemm Kl-35D at Pardubice in 2013

Keeping a Hand in the Game

With no personal interest in designing military aircraft or having his company used as a servicing and construction point for other manufacturers’ designs, Klemm was in a bind. If his company was to survive, he had to design something the Air Ministry could see a use for and accept that it would have to possess military potential.

Playing to his strengths in designing trainers and sports types, Klemm began to design the Kl-35. It was a design for an aerobatic trainer that could be built with the Air Ministry’s preferred construction methods and materials of the time.

Flying for the first time in February of 1935, the Kl-35a prototype was a clean and elegant aircraft with wings of wood construction and a fuselage of steel tube with a fabric cover and had excellent handling qualities. Despite the Kl-35a being lost in a crash due to over-stressing of the airframe; Klemm created a second prototype, the Kl-35b, with a some refinements and modifications. It was the second prototype which caught the attention of the Air Ministry and led to an order of nearly 1,400 of the type for use as a standard trainer for the Luftwaffe.

Klemm had secured a contract and was once again producing aircraft of his own design. An additional assembly line was set up at the Fieseler company until 1939 when production was shifted to the Zlín company in occupied Czechoslovakia. Production of the Kl-35 for the Luftwaffe concluded in 1943. Significant other customers for the aircraft during the war period included: Hungary, Slovakia and Sweden.

The Kl-35 was produced in two variations; the initial production version was known as the Kl-35B while the definitive and much more numerous Kl-35D followed. Both versions could be adapted to float landing gear for operations from water and the Kl-35D was offered with a completely enclosed cockpit as an option.

Kl-35D at Pardubice in 2013.

Kl-35D at Pardubice in 2013.

A Step Out of the Line

By virtue of its entirely conventional construction, the Kl-35 stood out in the line of aircraft designed and built by Klemm. Hanns Klemm was highly critical of the prescribed way the Air Ministry wished aircraft to be made for the Luftwaffe and considered many of the methods to be obsolete and crude.

Where the Air Ministry was dictating fuselage construction of fabric on metal tube or full metal construction, Klemm wished to build fuselages using molded plywood shells. Plywood shell construction would not only result in lighter weight with equal strength to metal fuselage aircraft, it would also ease the fitment of internal components as the two fuselage shell halves could simply be closed around a finished interior as opposed to trying to fit an interior to an already completed metal fuselage.

Despite the fact that the concept of plywood fuselage aircraft had been experimented with since the first world war, Germany’s own LFG Roland C.II reconnaissance aircraft was an early example of such construction, and both Lockheed in America and DeHavilland in Great Britain had further developed and validated the concept by the early 1930s; Klemm could not get approval from the Air Ministry to design aircraft for Luftwaffe using plywood fuselages.

Klemm did experiment with the concept at the civilian level prior to and during World War Two. A good example of what the Kl.35 might have looked like if he had got his way can be seen in the Kl.106 which very strongly resembled the Kl-35D though it had a fully wooden fuselage in place of the fabric on steel tube.

Kl.35D with Focke-Wulf Fw-44 at Pardubice in 2013.

Kl.35D with Focke-Wulf Fw-44 at Pardubice in 2013.

What Remains Today

Of the roughly 2,000 Kl-35s built, no Luftwaffe examples are known to remain intact. However, several former Swedish air force Kl-35 aircraft are known to survive in preserved states, including some airworthy examples on civil registers across Europe.

Learning More

Following this link will take you to a website with a wealth of information about Hanns Klemm, his company and many of the aircraft he designed and built:

this link will take you to a page focusing on the Kl-35 in Swedish service:


A Word a Week Photo Challenge – “Red”   1 comment

I couldn’t resist the latest word themed photo challenge from fellow blogger Sue. This week’s word is “Red” and that’s a really popular colour on aircraft!

Racek 3 sailplane at the National Technical Museum, Prague

Racek 3 sailplane at the National Technical Museum, Prague

Zlín Z-226 at Vyškov, Czech Republic

Zlín Z-226 at Vyškov, Czech Republic

PZL W-3 Sokol at Čáslav, Czech Republic

PZL W-3 Sokol at Čáslav, Czech Republic

Northrop F-5 at Zeltweg, Austria

Northrop F-5 at Zeltweg, Austria

Airbus A320 at Brno, Czech Republic

Airbus A320 at Brno, Czech Republic


To see more pictures of red things from other folks, follow this link:


Zlín Z-XIII – Speed, Elegance and Misfortune   2 comments

Zlín Z-XIII seen preserved in Prague in 2014

Zlín Z-XIII seen preserved in Prague in 2014

A Thin Disguise

When first flown in 1937, the sleek and swift Zlín Z-XIII was promoted as a sport and liaison aircraft. Designed by Jaroslav Lonek at the request of Czech industrialist Jan Antonín Bat’a; the Z-XIII was, on the surface, intended as a high speed courier aircraft to shuttle documents and people connected to his business interests.

The Z-XIII had a top speed of around 350 kph, which was very fast for an aircraft of its class at the time. With a very high landing speed of around 140 kph, it also required a very skilled pilot to handle it.

From a design standpoint, the aircraft was primarily wood construction and incorporated some very modern technical aspects in its design. It was one of the first aircraft to feature wing flaps and a variable pitch propeller. The wings were also built as a single unit to which the fuselage could be attached. The Z-XIII was also designed to be switched from single seat to two seat configuration with relative ease.

However, the high speed of the aircraft and several quite modern design aspects not normally seen in aircraft of the sport or liaison categories betrayed the fighter that lurked just under the Z-XIII’s skin. J.A. Bat’a had intended it to be so.

Almost as soon as Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany in 1933; Bat’a, like so many other Czechs, realized the threat that Hitler’s regime posed to Czechoslovakia and put in motion various appeals and efforts to support the training of a strong military force to defend the country.

The Z-XIII at Prague in 2014

The Z-XIII at Prague in 2014

The Saga of the “Bat’a Fighter”

The Z-XIII was offered to the Czechoslavak military by Bat’a as a prospective fighter to defend the nation with; however, it was too late. The Munich Agreement of 1938 assured that no outside military assistance would be given to Czechoslovakia and that Germany could occupy the country with little opposition. Any dreams of turning the aircraft into a fighter were dashed. Shortly before the Second World War began, Bat’a and his family fled to the Americas and eventually settled in Brasil.

In March of 1939, the Zlín airfield and factory were annexed by German forces and would be forced to build training aircraft for the German military, primarily the Bucker Bu-181 and Klemm Kl-25.

Great efforts were made on the part of Zlín employees to distract German attention from the Z-XIII lest they should commandeer the aircraft for their own purposes. Initially, the aircraft was placed in an inconspicuous corner of the factory and its appearance altered. This ruse only lasted a short time before the Germans learned of the Z-XIII and an alternate plan had to be made to keep the plane safe from them.

A secret plan was devised to fly the aircraft to the relative safety of Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, this plan came to nothing after the arrest of one of the people involved in it.

The Z-XIII was put under deeper disguise, as a derelict, and German interest in it soon faded as production of the Bu-181 and Kl-25 became their priority. The Zlín design would remain in its disguised state, untouched by the Germans, until the end of the war.

Another view of the Z-XIII's elegant lines.

Another view of the Z-XIII’s elegant lines.

What Remains Today

Ultimately, the Z-XIII only ever existed as the single prototype and never flew again after the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia.

Happily, thanks to the efforts of Zlín employees of the period, we still have the original prototype to enjoy today as it was taken into the care of the National Technical Museum in Prague shortly after the war and has remained in their hands ever since.

Through 1989 and 1990, the aircraft was restored and placed on permanent display in the museum’s transportation hall. Should you find yourself in Prague, I highly recommend a visit to this museum.

Learning More

Given the Z-XIII’s short life and flying career, and that it only existed as a single prototype, there is actually a respectable amount of information regarding it online:

This link will take you to a short summary of the aircraft, including details of its dimensions and performance:



This will take you to the Zlín aircraft company’s history page where you can see where the Z-XIII fits in their history:



Lastly, this is a link to a lengthy but very well written article about the training of Czechoslovak airmen, the part J. A. Bat’a played in it and the Z-XIII’s place in that story:


Kbely Aviation Museum, Prague, Czech Republic   2 comments

A Tupolev Tu-104 airliner in Czechoslovak Airlines colours.

A Tupolev Tu-104 airliner in Czechoslovak Airlines colours.

On Hallowed Aviation Ground

Kbely airport, located in the north east suburbs of Prague, is used today as a transport base by the Czech air force and a place for Czech and international dignitaries to come and go from the city by air. However, Kbely can trace its history back to 1918; in almost 100 years of history it has served as Prague’s first airport, Czechoslovakia’s first military airport, the departure point of Czechoslovak Airlines’ first scheduled flight in 1923 and hosted many major public airshows through the interwar era. As such, it is quite fitting that the Czech Republic’s largest aviation museum should be located here.

In conjunction with the nearby Letňany airfield, which was established in 1923, Kbely as been witness to many national and international aviation events over the decades. In its lifetime, Letňany has at various times been home to three major Czech aircraft manufacturers as well as aeronautical research and testing facilities of international repute.

This corner of Prague is indeed a very appropriate place for a major aviation museum.

SPAD XIII in the First World War collection

SPAD XIII in the First World War collection

A Well Rounded Collection

The air museum at Kbely was established in 1968 and comes under the authority of the Military Historic Institute in Prague. The museum collection numbers well over 200 aircraft, though only a fraction of them are on display at any given time. Beyond the aircraft themselves are several preserved engines and other artifacts.

The exhibits are split between indoor and outdoor displays and are primarily organised by era with hangars dedicated to the Czechoslovak air force in World War One and the interwar period, World War Two, early jets and Czech aviation from 1945 to 1990.

Outdoor displays are sorted into type with areas dedicated to transport aircraft, fighters and helicopters.

A domestic product of the interwar period: The Avia B-534 fighter.

A domestic product of the interwar period: The Avia B-534 fighter.

Proud Local Production

As might be expected, this museum puts primary emphasis on the long and rich aviation heritage of the Czech lands. Names of local manufactures such as Aero, Avia, Let, Letov, Praga, Zlín and others take prominence here.

Here’s but a small sampling of the significant Czech designed and produced aircraft you can see at Kbely:

Letov S.2
A development of the S.1 light bomber which was designed shortly after the First World War; this aircraft family incorporated quite modern construction methods for the time, such as a formed plywood fuselage, and were proof that Czechoslovakia’s fledgling domestic aircraft industry could create a military aircraft which was competitive with established European manufacturers.

Avia B-534
A gracefully streamlined and swift biplane fighter series which was the backbone fighter of the interwar Czechoslovak fighter force.

Zlín XII
A twin seat sports and touring aircraft of the mid 1930s. It was Zlín’s first major aircraft design and very popular internationally seeing significant export sales.

Mraz M-1 Sokol
Czechoslovakia’s first domestically designed and produced aircraft after the end of World War II. It was designed completely in secret during the war while the company was forced to produce aircraft for the German war effort.

Aero Ae-45
An early post World War II twin engine multi-place aircraft which saw much international popularity as an air taxi among many other roles.

A selection of locally produced Walter engines on display.

A selection of locally produced Walter engines on display.

Let L-13 Blaník
The world’s most produced sailplane, the Blaník has seen worldwide export, has served as a training aircraft for countless gliding clubs around the world and taken numerous prizes in gliding competitions over the years since it first flew in the 1950s.

Aero L-29 Delfin
The first jet aircraft designed and built by Czech hands; the Delfin spent many years as the standard basic jet trainer of Warsaw Pact nations and enjoys success today in vintage aircraft circles.

Walter Engines
Of course, any country with a thriving aviation industry will be an attractive place to set up a company specializing in engines for all those local flying machines. As far as Czechoslovak aviation is concerned, Walter is the name of prominence when it comes to aero engines. Many engines with the Walter trademark on them are on display around the museum.

A Saab J-37 Viggen, gifted to the museum from Sweden after the Viggen force was retired.

A Saab J-37 Viggen, gifted to the museum from Sweden after the Viggen force was retired.

An International Flavour

It’s not all local produce at Kbely, a selection of international aircraft have found their way into the collection and some of them have quite interesting stories:

In the early 1990s, the Royal Air Force presented one of their recently retired F-4 Phantom II fighters to the museum as a gesture of gratitude to the Czechoslovak airmen who served in the RAF during the Second World War.

Along similar lines, the museum also has a former Vietnamese air force F-5 fighter which was given as a gift by the Vietnamese government in gratitude of the many Vietnam War refugees that the former Czechoslovakia took in following that conflict.

The restored fuselage of a Saunders Roe A.19 Cloud flying boat has a very interesting story indeed. It was used by Czechoslovak Airlines in the 1930s and then spent many years as a private house boat after it was decommissioned. It was found quite by chance several years later and purchased by the museum for restoration.

Soyuz 28 re-entry capsule.

Soyuz 28 re-entry capsule.

The Sky is Not the Limit

A particularly interesting exhibit at Kbely is the scorched re-entry capsule from the Soyuz 28 mission of 1978.

This capsule has its place at Kbely as Czech cosmonaut, Vladimír Remek, was aboard it. Remek’s place on that mission was not significant only to his homeland but also to international space exploration as he was the first person in space who was neither an American or Soviet citizen.

What will jump out at you about this capsule is just how little room there was in the thing. Soyuz 28 was a two man mission; the capsule on display has a single mannequin inside it with full space suit for scale and for the life of me I can’t imagine how two people got in there.

Paying a Visit

The Kbely museum is not at all difficult to access by Prague’s public transport system and entry to the museum is free of charge.

The museum is open from May to October everyday except Mondays from 10:00 to 18:00.

Follow this link to the Military Historic Institute website for full information on the Kbely museum and other museums under the institute’s authority:


Remembering Czechoslovak Airmen of the RAF   4 comments

New memorial to Czechoslovak airmen in RAF service. Unveiled in Prague, June 17, 2014

New memorial to Czechoslovak airmen in RAF service. Unveiled in Prague, June 17, 2014

With the Lion in Their Hearts

Almost as soon as Germany invaded and occupied the former Czechoslovakia in 1939, many members of the Czechoslovak military risked death or harsh imprisonment by attempting to leave their homeland and offer their military services to nations that had taken up arms against Germany. Most fled to Poland initially; though many took up combat positions in the Polish military, many others moved on to positions in British, French and Soviet services. Roughly 2,500 Czech airmen joined the ranks of the Royal Air Force.

On June 17 and June 18 of 2014; the British expatriate communities of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, after much hard work and campaigning, presented permanent monuments in the capitals of both countries in gratitude to the many Czechoslovak pilots who served in the RAF during the Second World War.

Czechoslovak pilots served in the RAF with distinction from the pivotal Battle of Britain in 1940 to the end of hostilities in 1945. While some remained in Great Britain after the war and continued their RAF careers, others returned to Czechoslovakia where a cruel twist of irony awaited them.

Another view of the new monument. It stands on a base bearing the insignia of the Czech air force.

Another view of the new monument. It stands on a base bearing the insignia of the Czech air force.

Swept Under the Carpet

In 1948, with the Communist government coming to power in the former Czechoslovakia, any hope for a return to normal life for the pilots who returned to their homeland was brutally dashed.

Initially, they were welcomed home as heroes and began the rebuilding of the nation and their lives in earnest. However; the hero status of these men, along with their exposure to western values, were seen as threats to the authority of the newly established Communist regime of 1948 and they were systematically marginalized in social status, imprisoned or forced into jobs of hard physical labour.

Some managed to escape the new regime and move to Britain or other free nations. For those who were not able to do so, their roles, sacrifices and contributions in WWII were all but erased by the Communist government and hidden from the public.

It would not be until the fall of Socialism in 1989 that the full scope of these pilots’ activities would be released to the populace of the newly democratic Czechoslovakia.

The Spitfire, mount of many Czechoslovak RAF men.

The Spitfire, mount of many Czechoslovak RAF men.

A Story Worth Telling

If you wish to learn more about the Czechoslovak pilots and their exploits in RAF service, and I encourage you to as there are some very compelling stories connected to them, here are some links to follow:

The Free Czechoslovak Air Force blog is a wonderful resource with a wealth of information on the pilots, both collectively and as individuals:


This is a quite good interview from 2001 with General Zdeněk Škarvada (1917-2013) in which he relates some of his experiences living in post 1948 Czechoslovakia:


Referenced in the above interview is the 2001 film “Dark Blue World”. Written and directed by Czech father and son duo, Jan and Zdeněk Svěrák, it is the compelling story of a former Czechoslovak RAF fighter pilot imprisoned by the Communist regime in the early 1950s. The story travels back and forth between the prison and the war; while fictitious, it is well worth watching and is refreshingly free of the usual bravado seen in war films.



Fokker Dr.I Dreidecker – Tailing the Tripehound   Leave a comment

Fokker Dr.I replica seen at Pardubice, Czech Republic, in 2014

Fokker Dr.I replica seen at Pardubice, Czech Republic, in 2014

A Lasting Mark and Enduring Image

In its 84 year existence, Fokker put its name on many flying machines both military and civilian. However, likely no aircraft produced from the Dutch firm’s 1912 establishment to its 1996 closure is so closely connected by so many people with the Fokker name as the Dr.I Dreidecker.

Designed by Reinhold Platz and taking to the air for the first time in July of 1917, the Dr.I became not only an icon of the Fokker company but also of German air power in the skies of the First World War.

So much has the legend of the Dr.I grown over the years that it, to a degree, tends to overshadow the Sopwith Triplane which inspired it. The “Tripehound”, as the Sopwith aircraft was nicknamed, was used by the Royal Naval Air Service to great effect against German fighters through early 1917 and inspired a brief obsession of sorts among German and Austro-Hungarian aircraft firms to produce a triplane fighter to compete with it. Of the designs submitted, only the Dr.I came to realization.

However, for all the accolades given to the Dr.I, the fact that it was far from perfect in many ways and that many of the men who flew it were already highly regarded pilots of ace status before the aircraft was conceived are often left understated in many accounts of the Dreidecker’s history.

That said, let’s take a look at the virtues, and vices, of this legendary machine.

Dr.I replica at Pardubice in 2014

Dr.I replica at Pardubice in 2014

Parallel Headings

The Dr.I shared more than just the triplane design with its Sopwith counterpart. Both aircraft had their primary combat advantages in swift climbing and tight turning abilities and were generally well liked by those who flew them.

Both Fokker and Sopwith triplane types were built in relatively small numbers, 320 and 147 respectively, and had short service lives. The first Sopwith Triplane squadron was fully operational by December of 1916, but the aircraft had been largely relegated to training duties by the same time the following year. Similarly, the Fokker machine entered service in late August of 1917 and was withdrawn from front line duties between June and July of 1918.

Superior biplane designs superseded both the British and German triplanes in their respective services; in the case of the Sopwith design, the same company’s famous Camel fighter started to take over in June of 1917. The Dreidecker’s biplane replacement, also a Fokker product, was the D.VII which was in widespread service by early summer of 1918. Worthy of note, in light of the Dr.I’s legendary status, is that the D.VII became the only aircraft ever specifically named in treaty papers; one of the stipulations of the armistice which formally ended WWI was that all remaining D.VII aircraft be surrendered to Allied hands.

Both triplane types had their service lives cut short not only because of superior biplanes coming to the fore, but also structural and maintenance issues. The Sopwith machine was, by its design, impractical to service as it often required a great deal of dis-assembly for even modest upkeep tasks. In the case of the Dr.I, the rotary engine was a large issue as the typical lubricant, castor oil, was in short supply in Germany and a satisfactory substitute could not be developed. Rotary engines themselves were unusual in German aircraft, most had liquid cooled inline engines, thus finding spare engines and components became an issue for the Germans.

Structurally, both triplane types were prone to issues with their uppermost wing collapsing or detaching in dives. Much has been made over the years of the Fokker’s wing problems coming from poor workmanship and use of inferior materials on the part of the manufacturer. While there is some truth to this and Fokker did address the issue to a satisfactory extent; studies of the Dr.I in the late 1920s revealed that the top wing of the Dreidecker was often subjected to much more aerodynamic pressure than the middle set of wings, sometimes more than twice as much. This would certainly have also been a contributing factor in the partial or complete upper wing separations the Dr.I experienced.

Dr.I replica at Pardubice in 2010.

Dr.I replica at Pardubice in 2010.

The Men Who Made the Machine

As mentioned earlier in this entry, a key aspect to the Dr.I’s reputation was to be found in the men who flew the type. Needless to say; the man most connected with the aircraft was Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, who scored 19 of his many aerial victories while flying the Dr.I.

For the Dr.I legend, more important than Richtofen’s prowess as a fighter pilot was his power as a unit commander. As commanding officer of Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1), he was given free reign to hand pick the best pilots Germany had to man JG 1’s four smaller component units. The highly competent men he chose were already established aces; names such as Werner Voss, Ernst Udet, Wilhelm Reinhard, Hans Weiss, Kurt Wolff and Lothar von Richthofen all served in this elite unit.

Many other capable and experienced pilots of other units also had a part in making the Dr.I a much more feared machine than it might have been in more novice hands: Paul Baumer, Hans Werner, Hans Pippart and Rudolf Klimke were also established ace pilots whose names became connected to the Dr.I in combat.

By most accounts, the Dr.I was not a plane for novice pilots and stories of novice pilots getting time at the controls of a Dr.I are rare indeed.

Overall, put in context, it would not be unfair to say that the Dr.I owes more to those who flew it than anyone might owe to it. Like so many legends, the Dreidecker’s story does have its “Larger than life” aspects to it.

The Dr.I Today

No complete examples of true Dreideckers are known to remain, artifacts from them are all that are left today.

However, replicas of the Dr.I in both flying and static form are common at airshows and in museums. Most flying replicas are powered by radial engines which capture the look, but not the motion, of the original rotary ones.

Learning More

The following links will take you to sites for further reading on both the aircraft and those who flew it:



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