Lethal Wooden Wonder
Let’s try to put the Albatros-Flugzeugwerke series of WWI fighters in perspective. First, the Wrights flew in 1903 but didn’t really reveal many secrets to the world until 1905. Then it was closer to 1908-1910 that Glenn Curtis jumped into the game with ailerons, elevators and all that other ìrealî airplane stuff.
Now flash ahead barely five years: the Albatros D.III was introduced into combat in 1916, carrying a pair of Spandau machine guns and was capable of over 105 mph less than five years separated airplane, the entertaining, but useless kite from airplane, the highly efficient killing machine. The technological progress during that period is absolutely amazing.
During that period, throughout the European aviation world, a frenzy of design and construction was in progress that developed the majority of the concepts that would control airplane design for decades to come. Tony Fokker is credited the steel tube truss fuselage. Junkers fielded some clunky corrugated aluminum designs that set the stage for stress-skin aluminum structures. Albatros, along with Pfalz and a few others, steered away from the sticks and wire wooden fuselage trusses of the Sopwiths and Nieuports and developed their own version of stressed skin, semi-monocoque construction.
Although the wings of an Albatros are traditional biplane fare wood ribs stacked on wood spars, with the entire mess braced with miles of wire the fuselage is really intriguing because it owes more to boat building than aeronautical engineering.
The Albatros fuselage was a thin skin of what we would call plywood today, although the word hadnít been invented yet. As opposed to Pfalz and Roland, which used a male mold, Albatross formed their skins in female molds, probably by laying relatively narrow strips of steamed veneer into the mold with each successive layer running at an angle to the one before. Three layers were used and, when the glue dried, they had a rigid, compound curved skin, not unlike a boat.
The four skins (top, bottom, right and left), which carried most of the fuselage loads,were attached to the frames with screws, nails and glue. The edges of each skin overlapped in a smooth, wide scarf joint. What resulted was an extremely rigid, light structure that was as streamlined as an airplane could be during that period. However, it must have been a real tough airplane to repair, when damaged.
With the D.III, Albatros broke from its earlier designs by replacing the full sized bottom wing with one much narrower, thereby creating what was almost a sesqui-plane. This allowed them to use a single ìVî strut at the tip, rather than the drag-producing ìNî struts of earlier designs.
actually one of the earliest and greatest ace-makers. For instance, nearly two-thirds of Ricthofenís eighty kills (twenty-one in April, 1917 alone) were in an Albatross D.III and it was an Albatros he painted red that gave him the Red Baron identity, not a Fokker Triplane. In fact, the colorful paint jobs of the Albatros in his Jagdweschwader is where the term flying circus is supposed have started.
While the craftsmanship of the Albatros was that of fine furniture, even the finest furniture won’t survive outdoors. The net result is that only two Albatross’s still remains one in Australia and the other in the Smithsonian. They will, however, live forever in the mind of the modeler.