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During the early days of World War I, the airplane and observation balloon were used exclusively for reconnaissance - watching enemy troop movements and spotting artillery. When they passed in midair, opposing pilots, who were unarmed, could take no offensive action.
No one is certain exactly when it began or who started it, but one day a pilot took a pot shot at one of his adversaries with a handgun. That led to pilots arming themselves with sporting rifles, shotguns and, finally, to machine guns mounted the observer's cockpit.
Then one day in April of 1915, a French pilot crash-landed his Morane-Saulnier monoplane behind enemy lines, and it fell in to the hands of Germans. The Germans found the plane equipped with fixed, forward-pointing machinegun mounted on the plane's fuselage and firing through the arc of the propeller. The propeller was armor-plated to deflect any bullets striking it.
The airplane had now become a fixed-gun platform--and a deadly offensive weapon.
The Germans, however, sought to improve this rather crude French concept. As a result, they called on the Dutch airplane designer Anthony Fokker to develop some sort of synchronizing device that would temporarily halt the stream of machine-gun bullets so they would not strike the plane's propeller.
Within three months, the brilliant young Dutchman and his collaborator, Heinrich Luebbe, perfected just such an interrupter gear. Fokker fitted the device and a Spandau machine gun to light, strong and agile monoplane he had earlier modified from a French design, and the Fokker E -1, the first fighter plane with a synchronized machine guns was born.
The E -1 proved a highly effective weapon, and before long the slow and ponderous Allied observation planes were being blasted out of the skies over France and Germany.
The 80-mph Fokker E-1 soon become know to Allies as the "Fokker Terror. " Surprisingly, the Allies did not learn of the Fokker's interrupter gear for five months, and it was full year before Allied planes were so equipped.
The Fokker E-1 reminded in service on
the western front until the late summer of 1916.
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