What the Red Baron Never Knew
Computer analysis of World War I aircraft shows precisely why some were deadly and others, death traps.
- By Peter Garrison
- Air & Space magazine, January 2008
NASM (SI Neg. #85-11029)
(Page 3 of 3)
After von Richthofen’s death in 1918, another fighter, now considered the best of the war, quickly supplanted the Triplane: the Fokker D.VII. The D.VII had many assets, not least its Mercedes engine and uncluttered design. It was a sesquiplane, with a lower wing smaller than the upper.
Both sides conducted wind tunnel work during the war, but much of it was misdirected. A lot of effort was dedicated to determining the amount of camber, or curvature, a thin airfoil needed to produce the most lift. The correct answer was that camber did not matter as much as a thick, well-rounded leading edge; a highly cambered thin airfoil might produce more lift than a less cambered one, but it also produced more drag. Only the thick airfoil offered the best of both worlds.
Biplane fighters were still being built well into the 1930s, but the all-metal, low-wing monoplane, the type pioneered by Hugo Junkers, would dominate World War II. As a computer would show, a simple, uncluttered shape provides a total drag much less than that of a D.VII half the size. A suitable computer would have colored Fokker, who died in 1939, green with envy.