A Moment in Air Force History

Who was the first pilot to shoot down an enemy airplane with a machine gun synchronized to fire through the propeller?

A. Roland Garros
B. Kurt Wintgens
C. Anthony Fokker
D. William Bishop

Answer: B. On July 1, 1915, Lt. Kurt Wintgens of the German Air Service, Jasta 1, became the first pilot to shoot down an enemy airplane with a synchronized machine gun. He shot down a French Morane-Saulnier Type L east of Luneville, France, while flying a Fokker E-I. This event marks the beginning of the “Fokker Scourge.” The synchronized machi-ne gun made the aircraft much more deadly as it greatly improved accuracy. The German interrupter gear used to synchronize the machine gun was developed by Anthony Fokker. The French and British would not use such devices until late 1915 early 1916. Lieutenant Wintgens was killed on Sept. 25, 1916, when his Fokker E-III was shot down by French Ace Alfred Heurtaux over VillersCarbon-nel, France.

Did You Know? Roland Garros was France’s first ace. He used a deflector system to fire a machine gun through the propeller. It consisted of shaped metal plates attached to the propeller to protect the propeller from the bullets and deflect them from the plane. He was forced down in enemy territory, his plane captured, and from it Anthony Fokker developed his interrupter gear. After Mr. Fokker, a Dutch engineer, developed his interrupter gear he was asked to demonstrate it by the German High Command. He engaged an allied aircraft, but refused to shoot. He landed the plane and told the Command to do it themselves as he was not a killer. Capt. William Bishop, Royal Flying Corps, was Canada’s top ace of World War I with 72 victories. Though considered a mediocre pilot, he was renowned for his eyesight and marksmanship.