Feared Fighter – WW I German Albatros D.Va

Feared Fighter – WW I German Albatros D.Va

The Vintage Aviator Ltd. (TVAL), in Wellington, New Zealand, has reproduced one of the most significant fighters from the Great War. This time the focus was on an iconic German aircraft, the Albatros D.Va, which was the machine of choice and the last in a long line of single-seat fighters. Many of the highest scoring German Aces achieved the majority of their victories while flying Albatros fighters.

The Albatros DV was an attempt at an improved and lighter D.lll. A new oval cross-section fuselage was designed and a more powerful Mercedes engine was fitted. This combination proved to push the design to its structural limits, with nearly two dozen crashes attributed to structural failure in the first three months of operation!

The solution was a factory redesign of the lower wing spar and a strengthened fuselage. This improved aircraft became the D.Va and was fitted with the now standard 180hp Mercedes D.llla. Many described the Albatros DV as “a bit unstable.”

All of the strengthening helped considerably but it did not eliminate the problem completely. Over 4,600 Albatros D series fighting scouts were built and just two survive today. Both are D.Vas and one is located at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and the other at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

BUILDING THE ALBATROS
Creating a new Albatros to the exact original specifications was never going to be easy, and the actual construction of this batch of D.Va aircraft was going to test the team’s resolve because everything would have to be made in-house. This included the propellers, the instruments and other cockpit equipment, fuel and oil tanks, radiators, wheels and the metric hardware used in assembly. Construction techniques also had to be recreated, the most obvious of which is the building of that distinctive, plywood monocoque fuselage.

To many Great War aircraft builders, the Mercedes D.III engine of the Albatros is the holy grail of aero engines. The engine itself is a work of art, powerful and reliable and very hard to find! In fact, it took TVAL several years to find a suitable example to overhaul.
I had the privilege of carrying out the first flight on October 28, 2009.

FLYING NOTES
As the takeoff is started, you’re amazed at how much movement can be seen in the upper wing relative to the fuselage, the first instinct is to close the throttle and look for missing brace wires. The movement comes from the lack of cross bracing in the center section area and the monocoque fuselage changing shape as it becomes airborne. Once in flight, you realize all of the landing wires have gone slack … another Albatros characteristic that you will need to get used to.

In flight, the DVa performs well, but is not nearly as well balanced and harmonized as the RAF SE.5a. The ailerons are heavy and the roll rate isn’t very spectacular. The elevator is very sensitive, almost too sensitive, while the rudder is less than adequate. For me, the best part is the engine; something about it gives the feeling of security, it has a healthy rumble and good throttle response.

Landings aren’t too different from other tailskid aircraft with the exception of the cockpit/control stick layout, which makes for a rather cramped position while flaring. The high sides of the seat leave little room for your elbows when pulling the stick back—an awkward position but one you have to get used to.

All in all, it’s a sexy, sleek design that performs well but not quite as good as it looks.

 The two synchronized LMG 08/15 Maxims built by Spandau are perfectly reproduced and functional, although not capable of firing live ammunition.

The two synchronized LMG 08/15 Maxims built by Spandau are perfectly reproduced and functional, although not capable of firing live ammunition.

 Wherever possible, original instruments and valves were used and marked with the appropriate vintage placards.

Wherever possible, original instruments and valves were used and marked with the appropriate vintage placards.

the best part is the engine; something about it gives the feeling of security

the best part is the engine; something about it gives the feeling of security

The heart of The Vintage Aviator’s Albatros is its original Mercedes D.III 6-cylinder water-cooled inline engine of 180hp. It was restored and overhauled by the technicians of TVAL.

The heart of The Vintage Aviator’s Albatros is its original Mercedes D.III 6-cylinder water-cooled inline engine of 180hp. It was restored and overhauled by the technicians of TVAL.


By Gene DeMarco | Photos by Luigino Caliaro

Updated: June 4, 2024 — 5:00 PM

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