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The Fokker Dr. I triplane is one of the most famous aircraft in aviation history. Its indelible association with the “Red Baron,” Manfred von Richthofen, the fact that it was flown by practically all of Germany’s top aces and leading squadrons during the period of 1917 to 1918, plus its unique three wing configuration – all contribute to its fame.
Not as well known is the fact that only 320 of these aircraft were built, and that they flew on the western Front for only about eight months. The aircraft was designed in response to the Sopwith triplane which was flown successfully against the Germans in the spring of 1917. However, by the time the German triplane designed by the famous Anthony Fokker was operational, it was obsolete. Moreover, it experienced construction problems soon after it was built. These problems included the frequent collapse of the top wing that resulted in the death of several top German pilots. The aircraft was also very slow compared to its counterparts, but its three wing design made it extremely maneuverable, making it still a major threat to Allied pilots.
Manfred von Richthofen, the leading ace of World War I, achieved approximately 20 of his 80 kills flying the Fokker Dr. I. The Red Baron flew four different triplanes from January through April 1918, each marked in varying degrees of red. His name was forever linked to the aircraft when he was shot down and killed on April 21, 1918, while flying an all red triplane.
There is no original Fokker Dr. I in existence today. The last ones were destroyed by Allied bombing in Berlin in 1945. Since then, several reproductions have been built for motion picture use and for private pleasure.
These aircrafts, however, are only approximations of the original design. The aircraft on display in the Museum is powered by a rare 120 hp version of the 110 hp French Le Rhône Rotary engine. Small changes from the original design specifications have been made to allow for modern construction techniques, but those are mostly internal and hidden from view. The triplane is finished in the markings of one of the Red Baron’s aircraft, Dr. I 477/18, and is certified to fly.