Fokker D.VII

Like many of Fokker’s projects, the D.VII was designed almost casually. It’s historical position as World War I’s most famous fighter is therefore especially remarkable. It’s ability to “hang on the prop” — in reality, a very slow, controlled climb – and to perform exceptional maneuvers without airframe damage made it a formidable, if not especially fast, opponent. It was the only aircraft type specifically mentioned in the Armistice Agreement, Article IV of which notes…”to be handed over… especially all machines of the D.VII type.” This unique notation, Tony Fokker’s desperate, frantic, and ultimately successful effort to smuggle airframes and parts into his native Holland for later sale, Travel Air’s later clones of the fighter, and the use of the type by many nations into the 1930’s constitute unique but true part of the legend of Fokker’s D.VII.

Reinhold Platz designed the D.VI and D.VII side-by-side for the January, 1918 D-class (single seat biplane fighter) competitions at Aldershof. No prototype existed until less than sixty days before the “fly-off”, and only one short hop was made before entry. It was anticipated that the aircraft which won the competition would turn the tide in the air. The Fokker won handily, but never did regain real supremacy over the Western Front. At that stage of the war, Allied production could bury anything the Germans could produce, and all any single type could do was pick away at local superiority during short-term operations.

The airframe was designed to accept the Mercedes D-III or the 185 h.p. B.M.W. powerplants. Fuselage construction was box-girder, of welded and braced steel tube, covered with metal forward, plywood and fabric at the rear. The single-bay wings were wooden, two box-spar units, using N-form interplane struts with no external wire bracing. In fact, the wings were of true cantilever design, and the struts were there solely as a concession to traditionalists who refused to fly in or consider for procurement any aircraft lacking them. They were not necessary. As usual on Fokkers, an airfoil section enclosed the undercarriage axle.

D.VII’s began to reach the Western Front in April of 1918. Fokker produced 366 aircraft, most coming from Albatros and Scneldermohl. A whole new crop of German aces and new kills for the old veterans resulted from the introduction of the new, agile fighter.

Production did not end until several years after the war, and postwar powerplants imbued the D.VII with splendid performance, such that it sold well even in a world cluttered with cheap surplus fighters.