There are few military aircraft that can be called “awesome” and “awful” at the same time, but certainly one is the 1915 Fokker E series monoplanes. They were the first true fighters, equipped with a forward firing machine gun synchronized to fire through the propeller, and this gave it a tremendous advantage in early air combat against cumbersome French and British reconnaissance aircraft, many of whom were unarmed.
From the time it arrived on the Western front in the summer of 1915 until the beginning of 1916, the few E.Is, IIs and IIIs were lauded and dreaded as the “Fokker Scourge,” and famous German aces like Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann scored their first kills in the Fokker monoplanes.
***image1***Still, by all accounts these early Fokkers were terrible airplanes to fly, slow and lacking in maneuverability. The rudder and elevator were solid “all flying” surfaces, making the monoplane very sensitive in pitch and yaw, while turns were controlled not by ailerons but by “wing warping” where moving the stick moved control wires attached to a post in front of the cockpit to raise the fabric on the wing (see picture). Even flying straight and level was very difficult, and one experienced pilot later wrote of the Eindecker “it seemed constantly wont to tumble nose over tail.”
By early 1916 new British and French fighters with vastly superior performance ran the Fokker E out of the Western Front skies, but the Eindeckers soldiered on in the Middle East and on the Eastern Front where they remained effective as long as they were not opposed by more modern Allied fighters.
Today the awful flying characteristics of the Fokker E tend to be forgotten, and they have a prominent place in aviation history because of their success as the first fighter-gun weapons system.