The career of the famous triplane is indelibly linked to that of Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous “Red Baron.” In his hands the diminutive Fokker was a deadly weapon whose reputation long survived his passing.
German authorities were shocked by the appearance of the Sopwith Triplane in the spring of 1917, which induced them to develop aircraft of similar design. A total of 14 different machines were eventually constructed and flown, but the most effective proved Fokker’s Dr I Dreidecker, designed by Reinhold Platz. The resulting prototype was compact and initially lacked interplane struts. The surface area of three wings afforded it marvelous powers of maneuver and climb. The middle section vibrated excessively in a dive, however, so struts were subsequently added between them. Several preproduction craft were then dispatched to be evaluated under combat conditions. One of them was flown by leading ace Werner Voss, who scored 20 victories in only 24 days. In fact, the Dr I was a dangerous weapon in the hands of experienced pilots— and equally dangerous and unforgiving for the novice. Nonetheless, in the summer of 1917 Fokker commenced full-scale production of the Dr I, which terminated at 320 machines.
One of the earliest Jadgeschwaders (fighter groups) to receive the diminutive craft was the famous “Flying Circus” of Manfred von Richthofen. The Red Baron excelled in flying the Fokker Dr I, and increased his already impressive tally to 80 kills before he himself was killed in action on April 21, 1918. The other leading Dreidecker ace, Voss, met his demise earlier, on September 23, 1917, when he dramatically and single-handedly dueled an entire patrol of British SE 5s. Despite uniform success in combat, several unexplained crashes were attributed to structural weaknesses. The Dr I was consequently grounded for several months pending repairs and did not return to combat until late 1917. Thereafter newer allied aircraft minimized its effectiveness, and by the spring of 1918 the heyday of the triplane had passed. The Dr I was superceded by Fokker’s other superb design, the D VII.