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The Fokker ''Eindecker'' was a German World War I monoplane single-seat fighter aircraft designed by Dutch engineer Anthony Fokker. Developed in April 1915, the ''Eindecker'' ("Monoplane") was the first purpose-built German fighter aircraft and the first aircraft to be fitted with synchronizer gear, enabling the pilot to fire a machine gun through the arc of the propeller without striking the blades. The ''Eindecker'' granted the German Air Service a degree of air superiority from July 1915 until early 1916. This period was known as the "Fokker Scourge," during which Allied aviators regarded their poorly armed aircraft as "Fokker Fodder ".
Design and development
The ''Eindecker'' was based on Fokker's unarmed A.III scout (itself following very closely the design of the French Morane-Saulnier H shoulder-wing monoplane) which was fitted with a synchronizer mechanism controlling a single Parabellum MG14 machine gun. Anthony Fokker personally demonstrated the system on 23 May 1915, having towed the prototype aircraft behind his touring car to a military airfield near Berlin.
The history of what ended up being the "prototype" Eindecker aircraft, which bore Fokker factory serial number 216, is closely associated with Leutnant Otto Parschau, who was given the "No.216" Fokker A-series monoplane at the beginning of World War I, which bore the Idflieg military serial number A.16/15. This initially unarmed monoplane had belonged to one Oberleutnant von Buttlar, and had been painted a shade of green, the color of von Buttlar's Marburg-based Jäger regiment. Parschau eventually spent most of his first year's time in the war with this aircraft, which was marked with the words "Lt. Parschau" on the right upper side of the fuselage behind the cockpit, flying it on both fronts that the German Empire was involved in combat. A short time before the beginning of June 1915, while based at Douai with Feldflieger Abteilung 62, the Fokker factory outfitted Parschau's aircraft with the Fokker ''Stangensteuerung'' synchronizer and a Parabellum MG14 light machine gun for its armament, with which Parschau had tried some initial attempts in aerial combat with during June 1915, with the Parabellum gun constantly jamming in action. Parschau's aircraft also had an aft-cockpit-located main fuel tank. The aircraft would later be taken back by Fokker for factory armament installation trials, which also allowed the wing location to be lowered to mid-fuselage, a position that would become standard for all regular production Eindeckers. The initial batch of five M.5K/MG production prototypes were completed by the Fokker factory with the shoulder-mount wing mounting location that the original M.5s had used.
All ''Eindeckers'' used a gravity fuel tank which had to be constantly filled by hand-pumping from the main fuel tank, which starting with the Fokker E.II was mounted behind the pilot; this task had to be performed up to eight times an hour. Both the rudder and elevator were aerodynamically balanced, and the type had no fixed tail surfaces. This combination rendered the ''Eindecker'' very responsive to pitch and yaw. For an inexperienced pilot, the extreme sensitivity of the elevators made level flight difficult; German ace ''Leutnant '' Kurt Wintgens stated "lightning is a straight line compared with the barogram of the first solo". Roll response on the other hand, was poor. This is often blamed on the use of wing-warping rather than aileron s - although monoplanes of the time, even when fitted with ailerons, often had unpredictable or unresponsive roll control due to the flexibility of their wings.
The main difference between the E.I and E.II was the engine, the former having the seven-cylinder 60 kW (80 hp) Oberursel U.0 rotary engine which was essentially a direct copy of the French-made 60 kW (80 hp) Gnôme Lambda seven-cylinder rotary engine, while the latter had the nine-cylinder 75 kW (100 hp) Oberursel U I, a direct copy of the 75 kW (100 hp) Gnome Monosoupape rotary. Both the E.I and E.II versions used the M.5's original 1.88 meter (74 inch) wing chord dimension. Production of the types therefore depended on engine availability and the two variants were built in parallel. Many E.IIs were either completed as E.IIIs or upgraded to E.III standard when returned for repair.
The definitive version of the ''Eindecker'' was the Fokker E.III, which used a slightly narrower-chord (1.80 meter, or 71 inch) dimension on their wings than the earlier versions had. Boelcke's ''Feldflieger Abteilung '' 62 began operating the E.III towards the end of 1915. Some E.IIIs were armed with twin 7.92 mm (.312 in) Spandau MG 08 machine guns. The final variant was the Fokker E.IV which received a 119 kW (160 hp) Oberursel U.III, 14 cylinder twin-row rotary engine (a copy of the Gnôme Double Lambda rotary) and was fitted with twin machine guns as standard, after a failure of an experimental triple-gun installation, meant to be standard for the E.IV, kept failing.
Total production for the entire Fokker E.I through E.IV series was 416 aircraft (one aircraft's type is unknown).
The first ''Eindecker'' victory, though unconfirmed, was achieved by ''Leutnant'' Wintgens on 1 July 1915 when, while flying one of the five M.5K/MG production prototype aircraft, numbered 'E.5/15', he forced down a French Morane-Saulnier L two seat "parasol" monoplane. By this time the first E.Is were arriving as supplementary equipment, one per unit as "attached" aircraft, for the ordinary Feldflieger Abteilung - initially to provide escort protection for their usual quantity of six two-seat reconnaissance biplanes per unit.
Three days after his "unconfirmed" victory, Wintgens would down another "Morane Parasol" with the same E.5/15 aircraft, and a full fortnight after his initial engagement, on 15 July 1915, he became the first Eindecker pilot to be credited with such an official victory.
The two most famous ''Eindecker'' pilots were Oswald Boelcke (initially flying M.5K/MG aircraft ''E.3/15'') and Max Immelmann, both of ''Feldflieger Abteilung'' 62, who scored their first kills in E.Is in August 1915. ''Leutnant'' Otto Parschau, who was instrumental in the introduction of the ''Eindecker'' from the very start, flew the M.5K/MG aircraft numbered E.1/15, after the Fokker factory took back his worn-out A.16/15 aircraft.
Boelcke scored the most ''Eindecker'' victories; 19 out of his final tally of 40, his last coming on 27 June 1916. Immelmann had the second-highest ''Eindecker'' score, having achieved all his 15 victories in the type before being killed when his E.III broke up in June 1916. 11 pilots scored five or more victories in the ''Eindecker''. Boelcke, Immelmann and Wintgens all received Germany's highest military decoration, the ''Pour le Mérite '' or "Blue Max", while flying the Eindecker, after each pilot passed the then-required eight victory total for each aviator.
The arrival in early 1916 of the Airco DH.2 and Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2 pusher aircraft, along with the Nieuport 11, brought the dominance of the ''Eindecker'' to an end, and with it, the "Fokker Scourge".
The ''Eindecker'' went through five variants:
# Fokker M.5K/MG (A.III) - 5 built# Fokker E.I - 68 built# Fokker E.II - 49 built# Fokker E.III - 249 built# Fokker E.IV - 49 built
Only one original ''Eindecker'' remains. On 8 April 1916, a novice German pilot took off from Valenciennes with a new E.III (IdFlieg serial number 210/16) bound for Wasquehal but became lost in haze and landed at a British aerodrome east of St. Omer. He was forced to surrender before he realised his error and could destroy the aircraft. The E.III was test-flown against the Morane-Saulnier N and other Allied types at St. Omer before going to Upavon in Wiltshire for evaluation and finally going on museum display. It now resides at the Science Museum in London. Immelmann's original E.I, with IdFlieg-issued serial ''E.13/15'', also survived the war and went on display in Dresden where it was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II.