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In 1917 the Germans introduced the Junkers J.1, an advanced all-metal aircraft, specially designed for attacking targets on the ground. Not only did the J.1 help pioneer all-metal construction, but it was also the first plane to be designed specifically for ground attack.
Designed and produced by the brilliant Professor Hugo Junkers, the J.1 was a direct outgrowth of an earlier Junkers that had been greeted with derision by German aviation officials. Although they called it the "Blechesel" (Tin Donkey), the pioneering plane heralded developments that were to be used in the J.1 and later in almost every high-performance aircraft. This early all-metal Junkers was a monoplane with a cantilever (internally braced) wing that did not require external wiring to strengthen it.
Although the J.1 was a biplane, it too had strong cantilever wings. Thus, while it did have steel struts to brace the upper wing, it was not encumbered by the maze of wires used in the construction of other World War I combat planes. These external supports contributed to the heavy drag that limited the top speed of even the most powerful aircraft of the time.
Constructed primarily of an aluminum alloy called duralumin, the J.1 was powered by a 200-horse power Benz engine driving a two-bladed wooden propeller. With steel armor five millimeters thick protecting the fuel tanks, crew and engine, the J.1 was hard to bring down in combat.
In addition to the pilot, who operated the J.1's two forward-firing Spandau machine guns, a gunner-observer protected the plane from rear attack with a free-swinging parabellum machine gun. Fortunately for the allies, the J.1 became operational too late to have significant effect on the outcome of the war.
The aircraft did, however, serve as the prototype for the ground attack aircraft that were to be used in later conflicts. Even more important, it helped prove that all-metal construction and the internally braced cantilever wing could be practical. Thus, it prepared the way for the adoption of both these features in the production of subsequent military and civilian aircraft
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
Permission was granted to ALLSTAR by The Franklin Mint to use the preceding materials.
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Updated: March 12, 2004