The Albatros J.I was specifically developed for infantry close-support and suffered from armor weight and a weak engine.
Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited:
The Albatros J.I was conceived of as a dedicated ground attack aircraft for use in the "infantry close-support role" during World War 1. Taking the wing assemblies and empennage of the C.XII, the C.XII itself a reconnaissance-minded biplane, Albatros affixed a new fuselage to the design. Unique to the J.I was the addition of armor steel plate to help protect the crew during their low-level attack runs over hostile territory. This armor no doubt added much weight and ultimately came at a steep price - ballooning the weight of the airframe by some 1,080lbs. Despite selection and use of a 200 horsepower engine, performance certainly suffered. To achieve the low-level strafing role required of it, the J.I was fitted with a pair of downward-firing machine guns controlled by the pilot. This would allow the pilot the ability to pass over a target and fire his weapons as opposed to pointing his entire aircraft at a target area. First flight of the J.I was recorded in 1917 and the aircraft went into operational status that same year.
Despite its drawbacks, the J.I did achieve a certain level of success as a dedicated ground-attack platform. Though it could not face-off squarely against true "scout" types, the J.I served well in the strafing of ground targets - disrupting supply lines, logistics, advancing enemy formations, dug-in troops in trenches. Additionally, the aircraft could supply a great deal of psychological damage against war-weary troops already under the barrage of artillery shelling. The J.I series soldiered on in about 240 production examples by war's end.
Though mostly a conventional appearing biplane design, the Albatros J.I maintained a few features which separated it from the pack. Chief among these was its downward-sloping forward fuselage., keeping the engine at a low level when compared to most other biplane designs. This also served well in giving the pilot a better view of the oncoming action. The engine was fitted in a forward-set compartment ahead of the cockpit and notably protruded from the top of the fuselage. The engine powered a two-bladed propeller assembly made of wood. The pilot saw just aft of the engine and under the upper wing assembly. To his rear was the observer/rear cockpit gunner with good views of the rear and sides. The gunner was charged with keeping enemy fighters clear of the J.I's vulnerable "six" angle. Wings were equal span with parallel struts and dual bays, additionally braced at the fuselage. The rounded fuselage tampered off to a point at the rear to which was affixed a rounded, swept-back vertical tail fin and a pair of horizontal planes set well-aft. A ventral "fin" type structure was noted under the fuselage rear and this helped to support the tail skid. The main undercarriage was fixed in place and each single-wheeled landing gear leg was supported by two struts emanating from the fuselage with a connecting strut joining the two legs together.
Power was supplied from a Benz Bz.IV series inline piston engine delivering up to 200 horsepower. This supplied a maximum speed of up to 87 miles per hour with a service ceiling equal to 13,120 feet. Endurance from the powerplant was a little over 2 hours and 30 minutes and rate-of-climb was a concerning 400 feet per minute. When empty, the J.I sported a weight of 3,082lbs and was listed at 3,986lbs when ready for combat flight. She held a wingspan of 46 feet, 4 inches with a running length of 28 feet, 11 inches. When resting, she fielded a height of 11 feet.
As an infantry close-support platform, the J.I lived by her armament. This was primarily made up of 2 x 7.92 Spandau LMG 08/15 series aircraft machine guns arranged in a fixed, downward angle, suitable for making strafing runs against trench formations and the like. The rear 1 x 7.92mm Parabellum MG14 series machine gun served as a self-defense measure for crew and aircraft alike. This machine gun was fitted to a trainable mount, allowing the rear gunner the ability to bring the weapon to bear on a nearby enemy aircraft.
Beyond the Luftstreitkrafte of the German Empire, the only other noted operator of the J.I became Poland but these were fielded in the years following the close of World War 1. Some 10 such aircraft in Polish service served up until 1921 before being retired.