By late 1917 the German forces were starting to use air superiority, the British and French fighters had moved on considerably and with aircraft such as the Sopwith Camel and SE5a proving challenging opponents. Early 1918 saw the German government launch a new competition for a new fighter. The aircraft that would ultimately go on to win this prize would also go on to be known as one of the most impressive aircraft of the conflict, the Fokker DVII. The DVII was such a powerful design that a key condition of the armistice was that all examples of the type were surrendered.
The DVII was the brainchild of Fokker’s chief designed Reinhold Platz. One interesting insight to the workings of the Fokker company during the latter half of WW1 was that much of the impressive design work was down to Platz. Antony Fokker himself would test fly the aircraft and largely take the wider credit for the design. The initial prototype was ready to test by the end of January 1918 and legendary ace Manfred von Richthofen would quickly have his hands on the new fighter. While initial flights found the aircraft a little too unstable, subsequent modifications led to the Red Baron giving the DVII his seal of approval as a wonderfully handling aircraft. This success in early testing led to an order being placed for 400 of the new design.
Much like the British SE5a the Fokker DVII is understated in its appearance. It doesn’t share the distinctive qualities of some of the other iconic WW1 fighters. This actually says a lot about how capable the design was. The fact is that the Fokker DVII would not look out of place in a line-up with biplanes from the 1930s or even 40s, showing just how much of a leap in technology the design was.
It quickly became apparent that the DVII was an all round impressive package. The aircraft contained all of the desirable qualities for a fighting airframe. Unsurprisingly the DVII was then rushed into production with the first operational examples joining service in April 1918. Though Von Richthofen had given the DVII a glowing review during the initial testing, his abilities were never able to be applied to the new design as he had already been killed by the time it joined the front line. However, the DVII did go on to help many new aces join the history books including Hermann Goring.
Powered by a 160hp Mercedes-Benz engine the DVII featured extraordinary performance, including the ability to fly incredibly slowly (almost hanging on the propeller) which allowed them to pick of enemy aircraft from below. The thick wing profile helped the aircraft maintain these low speed and have good stall characteristics.
Wartime production of the DVII reached 1000 airframes with a further 2000 being produced after the war by Fokker in Holland. Together with the SE5a the Fokker DVII very much represents the first noticeable development in fighter aircraft design and a new chapter of aerial combat began. The design principles put in place in these aircraft would run through right until designs such as the Gloster Gladiator which would remain in service well into the Second World War.
Survivors & Replicas
A number of original Fokker DVIIs survive, unsurprising given the conditions of the Armistice in relation to the type. An original example is on display in the United States in Washington, two are in Canada with single examples in the UK, France and Germany.
This photo above shows the UK original example, hung from the ceiling as part of the stunning Royal Air Force Museum WW1 exhibition at Hendon. The airframe was abandoned by the Germans in Belgium in 1918 and ultimately ended up in Britain in the late 30s. The Fokker became part of the famous Nash collection and was ultimately acquired by the RAF Museum in 1992.
The image above, taken at the Musée de l’air et de l’Espace in Paris, shows the original airframe on display in France. It is a shame that both surviving original aircraft I have been lucky enough to seen are suspended from ceilings. Having said that the balcony in Paris does allow for close access.
A number of replica airframes can be seen flying at airshows all around the world with certain examples particularly active. I must thank Errol Cavit for granting permission to use the shots of the New Zealand based replica (the flying shots in this post). This airframe flies with The Vintage Aviator Collection. Another active replica is the Old Rhinebeck example which regularly flies impressive displays. Perhaps the most accurate and active example of the DVII design is Michael Carlson’s Mercedes powered example. A quick look on youtube confirms just how impressive the Fokker design is as shown in the wonderful aerobatic sequence flown in this machine.