The troubled Champion – Fokker D.VIII (E. V)

Only about a few airplane constructuions can be said, that so many cirmustances were against and the relative failure was not caused neither by achieved performance nor by it’s conservative construction. Sadly, all of this corresponds to the history of elegant wing aircraft at full measures. It could compete even with the legendary Fokker D. VII, but because of the production problems and subsequent lack of time for actual fight Fokker D.VIII (E. V) became the type with controversial reputation.

Dutch pilot, airplane constructor and mostly business man Anthony Fokker achieved during the Great war unusual basis, when his name became almost the synonym for the German Imperial fighters. Fokker was born in the year 1890 at Dutch Java and he developed his first airplane – Spin – at his mother town at Netherlands in 1910. Until the start of the war Fokker became famous both as “Flying Dutchman” and as great airplane businessman. His first real – grand – success was accounted with brittle looking one wing Fokker E. I – E. III. Except the metal body of the airplane, which was in that time very rare because it was technically very difficult to made, the Eindecker (E. – one wing) was not so special. It was made the scourge of heaven by it’s synchronized machinegun. For the first time in the history the pilot could aim with the whole airplane and the propeller was not obstacle any more. Simple mechanical synchronizer made deadly weapon out of Fokker’s one wing. But in the time, when allies came with the same solution of the machinegun, Fokker’s one wing became obsolete. Even though Fokker had rough times, he managed to keep his good eye in the business. Though Fokker presented himself as constructor, the man behind most of his contraptions was the head engineer  of his team – Reinhold Platz – probably the best constructor of his times. The body welded from thin wall metal tubes was technologically very difficult to made (for example in the Great Britain it was not recommended because of the lack of tests) and separate airfoils (wing profiles), that circumvent otherwise necessary braces and struts, aerodynamically revolutionary. In spite of these negative look on the technology, Fokker’s factories managed to enforce it. Ironically, by combining technical half-step back (three wings) and step forward (self-supporting wings) – the famous triplane Fokker Dr. I. Yes, the famous red baron (the free men) von Richthoffena was the symbol of comeback of Fokkers on the limelight. Tree wing achieved extreme maneuverability (the main spur was not needed). The main difference between chronically brittle bearing surfaces of Albatross biplanes, whose pilots could not dare to dive more than few hundred meters! On the other hand despite it’s fame triplanes did not have any future. The lack of speed caused by weak engine and their “livness” could be experienced only by above-average pilot. Therefore, for what is a plane that has even the best maneuverability, when even a less experienced pilot can reject the fight and fly away. Fokkert dreamed about building a “universal”. Into the tenders for new fighters Fokker send a couple of new prototypes (for which he experienced lobbied), that demonstrably ripe to perfection. Biplane Fokker D. VII introduced in April 1918 was neither the fastest airplane of the war nor the had the best maneuverability, it was clearly the most universal. It’s reputation in many cases overcame reality and a lot of German pilots were longing for the rearmament on Fokkers D. VII, despite the fact they were flying on the comparable airplanes (for example Pfalz)! It would seem, that the success of new airplanes could be enough for the Fokker’s team. But there was no lack of challenges. Fokker D. VII was powered by rotatory liquid cooled, relatively heavy Mercedes engine. The question was if there is possibility to achieve vast increase of power even with the engine from Fokker Dr. I. It was lighter, air cooled rotatory engine. Must be added, that in the time, when the glory of rotatory engines was rapidly decreasing and even the castor oil for their cunning was scarce, it was not a great idea with future. The fact is, that the constructor Platz took the design of the new machine very good. One wing, chosen  for the low air friction, with the wing above the pilot’s head for maintaining good view out of the cabin was designed very usefully and simply. It has the least demanding building process among the other airplanes of this category. It was supposed to be powered by engine with power up to 160 horse power, but in the end it had to make do with engine that had power lowered by 50 HP. Despite this the new machine went very well In the test and under the type code Fokker E. V was ordered in series. It had better climb than D. VII, it has better maneuverability and it seemed, that the elegant airplane has good future. But the problems were already on their way. The quality of production was not the strong side of Fokker’s factory and a lot of other manufacturers had the quality even worse. Even though the factory photo shows E.V’s upper wing loaded on the whole area by people, but the reality from the first experiences brought cruelly disillusion. After the first month after the introduction to the fighting unit, after the first achieved victory the wing collapsed during the flight! Repetition of the technical failure pushed enthusiasm of pilots down. Even though the precise overlook on the fuselage did not demonstrated that it was a technical failure flowing from the non-compliance of the construction procedure that was not the mistake of constructor, the reputation was permanently gone. This type seemed more dangerous to the own pilots that for the enemy. Even the precise controls of the airplanes before each flight did not changed anything. The type was renamed to D. VIII mostly because of propagator reason, so that it looked like it has nothing in common with predecessor E. V, but for the increase of reputation was already too late. On the ground Germany was after last successes completely exhausted and Fokker D. VII and even the new Siemens-Schuckert SSW D. III there was no need for replacement by an airplane with weaker engine. Because of this, Fokker D. VIII did not fought under Germany. Furthermore because there were built only 289 Fokkers D. VIII, there was no future (in comparison to the famous and valued D. VII) for this useful monoplane. However few of those planes fought in the Polish air force a year after the end of Great War against Bolshevik invasion.

The fact that Fokker E. V – D. VII was not only unsuccessful craze of the last period of war is clear from the length of period that other countries needed (even in the technically advanced Czechoslovak republic) to wait for the metal fuselage or self supporting wing profiles. To most of those countries it took over 10 years.