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Albatros D.III Fighter (1917)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 5/13/2012

Though an overall improvement of the D.I and D.II, the sesquiplane wing arrangement of the new D.III led to a noted structural deficiency.

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While the Albatros D.I proved critical in winning back air superiority for the Germans in early 1917, it was not a perfect all-around solution, pushing the development of an improved form in the D.II. The D.II exhibited a better rate-of-climb, a lowered upper wing assembly for better pilot visibility and an aerodynamically designed radiator. Having already found successes in the Albatros D.I and D.II models, designer Robert Thelen sought for more in the way of maneuverability when tackling the new Albatros D.III. This was accomplished by way of a new unstaggered wing layout featuring "V" section interplane struts as opposed to the parallel types found on previous models (and earning the British nickname of "V-strutter" in the process). A capable fighter platform, the D.III took to the skies in force by early 1917 and was produced to the tune of 1,866 examples eventually finding its way into inventories of non-German countries in the post-war world. As was the case for most aircraft designs of The Great War, the type was soon replaced and outclassed by more capable systems.

The Albatros D.III was the first of the Albatros D-series to incorporate the new "Vee" shaped struts and these served to improve wing rigidity and, in turn, make for a more maneuverable mount. Additionally, the Mercedes D.III series engines featured in the preceding D.II was revised with a high-compression modification that improved high-altitude performance and brought output up to 170 horsepower. Top speed was 109 miles per hour. The original armament of 2 x 7.92mm Spandau LMG 08/15 machine guns was retained for their proven effectiveness.

The D.III continued the design and construction successes found in the D.I and D.II before it, featuring a semi-monocoque structure with plywood skinning. This provided for a seemingly aerodynamic appearance when compared to the angular, slab-sided designs of the time. The pilot sat at the relative center portion of the fuselage in an open-air cockpit with nothing but a windscreen protecting him, his position just behind and under the top wing. The top wing was lowered enough to allow for improved visibility (a practical and well-liked feature carried over from the development of the D.II). The engine sat before the pilot under the twin 7.92mm Spandau LMG 08/15 machine guns synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades. The two-bladed wooden propeller featured a large cone-shaped spinner adding both an aerodynamic function and design flair. The undercarriage consisted of two fixed struts, each with single wheels while the empennage held the tail skid.

The original D.I production model was introduced in August of 1916 with the modified D.II following later that year. The D.III was already being designed in the summer of 1916 and achieved first flight that fall. It officially made its formal appearance for the Imperial German Army Air Service beginning in January of 1917 though D.III's were in operational service in some quantity by December of 1916 to which pilots rejoiced at the systems inherent capabilities. The aircraft performed well from the outset and featured a great rate-of-climb (a feature consistent with the D-series as a whole). The new wing arrangement immediately proved to offer better maneuverability over her predecessors. Power was provided for by a Mercedes brand D.IIIa series engine which was progressively uprated from 170 horsepower to 175 during the production run. After some operational service, the radiator had to be shifted from the center to the right side of the upper wing. This was done due to the fact that the pilot would incur serious burns should the radiator become punctured in combat (this production change was included in the 290th aircraft and onwards).

As a sesquiplane biplane (the lower wings shorter than the upper (a practical design feature stolen from the French-made Nieuport 11 series fighting scouts), the D.III was a slight departure from the previous Albatros offerings. This also provided some new challenges in the Albatros design as it was soon found that failures of the leading edge and lower wing ribs were becoming an all too common occurrence - often leading to structural cracks or outright failures. As such, D.IIIs were grounded for a crucial period until the problem was located and addressed. The D.III would have to wait until February of 1917 to be back in action, this time with a reinforced lower wing. New production models automatically included this fix while previous service models were pulled and reinforced as such.

The structural deficiency was initially believed to be occurring during the construction of the aircraft, due to either the builders themselves or the quality of materials being selected and utilized or logically a combination of both factors. This thinking would eventually prove false as the fault was directly attributed to the main spar being set too far to the rear of the wing's design. This effectively caused a twisting of the wing during flight, most notably encountered during a dive or an action inducing high stress loads on the wing. This did not deter future use of the D.III nor its successor - the D.V - as pilots were simply warned about the structural failings and told to proceed with caution when attempting such combat actions.

Nevertheless, the D.III proved to have some worth and remained an aircraft of choice for if only a short time. In subtle ways noticed mostly by her pilots, the D.III was an improvement over the preceding D-series designs. Her maneuverability and rate-of-climb (vital to any airman worth his weight) were noted assets as were the changes to improve pilot protection and visibility. Such capabilities and attention to details assured the aircraft its legacy. The system stayed in operational use into the final year of the war (1918) despite being overtaken in all performance categories - particularly by the British Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 and Sopwith Camel and the French SPAD S.13 models of the Allies. This even after production was all but stopped on the D.III to focus on more modern types.

The D.III was eventually featured in no fewer than 37 Imperial German Army Air Service squadrons. Additionally, the D.III was sent to the battlefronts of Macedonia and Palestine and further stocked the inventory of German-allied Austria-Hungary. At its peak usage in November of 1917, the D.III series saw some 446 airframes available for action over the Western Front. The D.III was inevitably followed up by the aforementioned Albatros D.V which entered service in May of 1917. The D.V featured a revised wing assembly and rudder. This led to major developments of the D.V version as well, noted as by the designation of D.Va. It should be mentioned that the wing deficiency of the D.III was a persistent design flaw carried forward into these other D-series aircraft by Albatros.

In the post-war world, the D.III was retained in operational service by the newly-formed Polish Air Force, these examples beginning service in 1919. The Poles operated their D.IIIs in anger against the Soviets in the polish-Soviet War of 1919-1920. Other post-war operators included Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

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Specifications for the
Albatros D.III
Fighter


Focus Model: Albatros D.III
Country of Origin: Imperial Germany
Manufacturer: Albatros Werke GmbH - Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1917
Production: 1,866


Crew: 1


Length: 24.05ft (7.33m)
Width: 29.69ft (9.05m)
Height: 9.78ft (2.98m)
Weight (Empty): 1,499lbs (680kg)
Weight (MTOW): 1,953lbs (886kg)


Powerplant: 1 x Mercedes D.IIIa water-cooled 6-cylinder in-line engine generating 175hp.


Maximum Speed: 109mph (175kmh; 94kts)
Maximum Range: 217miles (350km)
Service Ceiling: 18,045ft (5,500m; 3.4miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 886 feet per minute (270m/min)


Hardpoints: 0
Armament Suite:
STANDARD:
2 x 7.92mm Spandau LMG 08/15 fixed, forward-firing synchronized machine guns.


Variants:
D.I - Base D-series


D.II - Lowered top wing; Fundamental and minor aerodynamic changes.

D.III - V-shaped struts introduced; sesquiplane wing arrangement; repositioned radiator (290th onwards).

D.V - Streamlined eliptical fuselage; revised wings and modified rudder; larger spinner.

D.Va - Slightly modified D.V model


Operators:
Austria-Hungary; Czechoslovakia; Imperial Germany; Lithuania; Poland; Yugoslavia