In spite of the fact that the triplane craze was relatively brief, it remains one of the most famous airplanes of World War One. Only 320 of the Fokker Dr.1 Triplanes were built (compared to thousands of Spads, Nieuports, Albatrosses, and Sopwith Camels). Inspired by the devastating performance of the Sopwith Triplane, Anthony Fokker designed and built the Dr.I Dreidecker (three decker), and delivered the first of these triplanes to Manfred von Richthofen’s Jagdgeschwader I (Fighter Wing 1) in late August 1917. After only a brief familiarization flight, the “Red Baron” took aircraft number 102/17 up on September 1, and promptly shot down a British R.E.8, whose crew probably thought the three-winged craft was a friendly Sopwith.
Fokker’s new triplane was no mere knockoff of the Sopwith. It featured cantilever wings supported by single interplane struts and only the upper wing of the dreidecker had ailerons while the Sopwith was fitted with ailerons on all three. The German twin 8mm Spandau machine guns, which could be fired independently or simultaneously, were synchronized to fire through the propeller arc while the Sopwith version typically was equipped with only one gun. The initial order of twenty Dreidecker aircraft was amended to include an additional 300.
Designed to be as small and light as possible, the Triplane had an excellent rate of climb and could match the Camel for maneuverability. These merits initially outweighed its lack of speed at combat altitude. For a few months the pilots of Jagdgeschwader Nr. 1, the Richthofen ‘Circus’, ably demonstrated its capabilities. However, its slow top speed and slow dive allowed faster Allied fighters to soon gain superiority. The Fokker Triplane also suffered a spate of structural failures that eventually grounded it.
Being an inherently unstable and difficult airplane to fly, it demanded very good pilots. On balance, the German air service command felt that “the combat tests were negative” and, after only a brief but glorious stint at the top of the food chain, the Fokker Dr.I was dropped from front-line service.
The aircraft on display is a replica of the famed 1917 Fokker Dr 1 Triplane. It was built by Frank W. Heidenreich of Mars, PA, and was first registered by him in 1981 as Serial No. H-1. For display purposes, the replica’s original Warner radial engine has been adapted to simulate the operation of the German Oberursel rotary engine.