The Corgi Aviation Archive Knights of the Air series features the majority of the best-known bi-planes and triplanes designed and flown during WWI, notably by the British, French and German air forces, all involved in the conflict. In reality, as each country improved upon their original prototype designs, their counterparts developed similar upgrades, more often than not using captured aircraft to assess and then plagiarise ideas in a bid to gain air superiority.
Probably the best known of all German WWI aircraft - if only for its distinctive three-wing layout and association with the famous ‘Red Baron' Manfred von Richthofen, is the Fokker Dr.1 Dreidecker (three wings). Despite its fame as a very successful German fighter, the inspiration for the Fokker Dr.1 came directly from the British Sopwith Triplane. This had been produced as a follow-up to the Sopwith Pup and the use of three wings instead off two meant that both chord and span could be reduced. The narrower wings gave the pilot a better view above and below and the shorter span allowed increased manoeuvrability. Three wings instead of two also gave an increased rate of climb. These features had given the Sopwith Triplane a great advantage in the intense dog-fighting encountered on the Western Front.
The prototype Sopwith Triplane first flew in late May 1916 and within a year, it was in service. The summer of 1917 saw it making a massive impact on the German air squadrons. Triplanes of B Flight, No. 10 Sqn RNAS were top scorers, shooting down 87 German aircraft in three months. Its fearsome reputation caused the German Air Ministry, in July 1917, to ask the leading manufacturers to examine a shot-down Sopwith Triplane with a view to making a German equivalent of this successful fighter.
Most of the leading German aircraft makers produced designs or prototypes but the Fokker company got in first because Anthony Fokker had visited Manfred von Richthofen's squadron, Jagdstaffel 11, on the Western Front in April 1917, where he was shown a shot-down British triplane, saw triplanes in flight and was told by the pilots that something similar would be a good idea. Back at the Fokker works in Schwerin, he asked chief designer Reinhold Platz to produce a triplane design of similar size to the Sopwith, powered by a 110 hp Le Rhône rotary engine, available from stocks made in Sweden. Progress was swift and the first three aircraft were built in the summer of 1917. Following an immediate order for 320, the early machines were in service in August 1917, with more following by October the same year. Unfortunately, several crashed due to faulty wing structures and the type was withdrawn pending rectification and modifications. They were back in service by the end of the year.
Though it looked superficially like the Sopwith triplane, the Fokker Dr.1 had some different constructional features, including the use of steel tube welded framing for the fuselage, plywood panelling round the cowling and fuselage, streamline welded steel wing and undercarriage struts, single spar wing construction with plywood covered leading edges and skids under the lower wingtips, all of which made for a sturdy, tough aircraft. Twin machine guns fired through the airscrew arc. Top speed was 103 mph, span 23ft 7 ½ inches, length 18ft 11 ½ inches and weight 1289 lbs. Some machines had an Oberursal 145 hp rotary engine instead of the Le Rhône.
Like the Sopwith Triplane, the Fokker Dr.1 proved to be an excellent and manoeuvrable dog fighting machine and it quickly became the favoured aircraft of the top German pilots, including Werner Voss, Udet and Goering and - of course - von Richthofen, whose aircraft was painted red in his ‘Red Baron' style. Both Voss and Richthofen lost their lives in action in Dreideckers, the latter on 21st April 1918. Production of the Dr.1 ended in May 1918 but it was used in declining numbers, with 69 still in service when the war ended in November 1918. By then it had been replaced in production and service by the very successful Fokker D.VII biplane, just as the Sopwith Triplane had been replaced by the Sopwith Camel biplane from late 1917.
The 2010 Corgi Aviation Archive range of 1:48 scale WWI aircraft features the latest livery on the Sopwith Camel, that of Capt D R MacLaren of 46 Sqn RFC as flown in October 1918 (AA38105), due out in late spring. The first of the Corgi Sopwith Camel introductions - AA38101, as flown by Henry Bottrell is also still available at the time of going to press.
To add the Corgi Fokker triplanes and bi-planes to your fleet of WWI aircraft, you can still find both the AA38303 Fokker Dr.1 Triplane - Jasta G Leutnant Johannes and also the very recently released AA38901 Fokker Dr.VII of HG1 Hermann Goering, as he flew it in September 1918.