Le Rhône 9C: Collateral Damage.

Artistic close-up view of a well-worn Le Rhône 9C, also known as the Le Rhône 80hp, showing its characteristic copper induction pipes and single push-pull rods.
Not all was poetry though. Those rotary engine used castor oil as a lubricant which produced a nauseating smell when burned. Even worse, castor oil is a potent laxative; let’s say constipation was not an issue for this kind of engine operators, pilots included.


Hansa-Brandenburg D.I: Ill-starred.

Also known as the KD (Kampf Doppeldecker), this German fighter was the brainchild of Ernst Heinkel. The principal peculiarity of this not very graceful aircraft was its distinctive “star-strutter” biplane interplane structure. First flown in 1916 the D.I showed from the beginning poor handling qualities and dubious lateral stability. Despite its poor performances they were produced in serie for the always wanting Austro-Hungarian AF. Around two hundred in total were produced; a few of them were still in service at the end of the war.

Short and angular, the KD was certainly not the definition of classic beauty. And this photo does it a favor. Our KD lacks the over wing huge boxy fairing which covered a Schwarzlose MG. That Austrian machine gun had always difficulties in synchronising with the engine so it was usually placed firing over the propeller.

Friedel-Ursinus (B.1092/14): In the beginning….

The unusual G.I started the family of Gotha’s heavy bombers, a company name that became (in-)famous in that business. The B.1092/14 was designed by Oskar Ursinus, the founder and editor of the seminal Flugsport magazine, and Major Friedel. The main peculiarity of this biplane design was that its fuselage was attached to the upper wing instead of the usual lower one. Its two engines were placed close together on the lower wing to minimize, it seems, the asymmetrical thrust in case of engine failure.
The Friedel-Ursinus prototype made its maiden flight in early 1915 and its tests showed the need of some improvements. After a few modifications Gotha Waggonfabrik decided to produce a very modest number of them (around 20). Its operational story is obscure, but one thing is certain: they weren’t loved. Gotha chose to follow a more conventional layout for their later “G” bombers.

The bizarre shape of the B 1092/14 flying overhead us. Its utterly German-looking aerodynamically balanced ailerons were one of the improvements applied after the initial tests.

Martinsyde G.100 Elephant: Flying Elephantry.

Not a good sign when a fighter is nicknamed “Elephant” by it crews. This single-seat fighter was conceived for long-range and escort operations and because of that was fairly large and ungainly. In fact, it proved to be too big, slow and not very manoeuvrable. Not the recipe for a successful fighter. The Elephant had one quality though: it could lift a useful bomb load. Soon reclassified as a day bomber the type rendered good services for almost a year and a half (from the summer of 1916 to late 1917).

When in good hands the G.100 could earn its keep, barely. The highest scoring Scotsman (39 victories) in service with the RFC, Major John Gilmour was the also the highest Elephant’s Ace. Gilmour shot down 3 while he was assigned to the only squadron totally equipped with those Martinsyde’s pachyderms, the No. 27 Squadron. By the way, this unit has an elephant in its badge because of that.

Artist: Ivan Berryman.

Austin-Ball A.F.B.1: The too ugly duckling.

The Austin-Ball as its name implies was designed in 1916-17 by the Austin Motor Co. following the operation/technical inputs from the irrepressible Albert Ball. A very clumsy-looking design, its ugliness did not transferred to its performances. The A.F.B.1 demonstrated real potential from its first flown in Jul, 1917, being as fast as the S.E.5a (a plane not well-loved by Ball) and a better climber. Regrettably, the Austin-Ball came to a world already full of decent British fighters (both the S.E.5a and the Camel) so there was no point in introducing a new design. If that was not enough Ball’s death just before its first flight left it without its champion.

The only prototype built. Hard to make a swan outta of that.

Taube among Taubes: Tir aux pigeons.

The monoplanes are, in fact, all “Taubes”. At the start of the Great war the basic design of Igor Etrich was produced, with variations, by fourteen different manufactures. Some of them became well-known during wartime; even the Albatross company built some, both mono and biplane. No licence fees were involved and that sure helped.

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