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Zeppelin-Staaken R-series

Heavy Bomber Aircraft

Imperial Germany | 1917

"The Zeppelin-Staaken Z-series of heavy bombers were the largest such aircraft to serve in World War 1, these with the German Air Service."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 07/31/2019 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
When World War 1 (1914-1918) bogged down into the stubborn battles of trench warfare in the Autumn of 1914, it fell to alternative measures to help change the tide of the war. Bombing enemy homefronts proved an acceptable part of the war to ensure victory and early attacks for the Germans were handled by its Zeppelin fleet which could fly higher than enemy defenses could engage. However, as the war went on, these systems proved too susceptible to environmental conditions as well as advances made in enemy tactics and technology, forcing the use of twin-engined bombers. In time, these medium designs evolved to become much larger solutions that became what was eventually termed the "heavy bomber". One of the earliest examples of such an aircraft became the Russian Sikorsky Ilya-Muromets four-engined bomber which debuted in 1913.

Using the large, existing Zeppelin hangars, the Germans worked on their own multi-engine bomber forms and one ultimately realized product became the Zeppelin-Staaken R-series. These bombers incorporated enclosed cockpits, which were rather novel for the time, multiple engine nacelles and a network of machine guns for local defense. Bomb loads reached over 4,000 lb. The aircraft offered the operational ranges required in reaching the enemy while also providing the needed bomb-carrying capability that light and medium bomber models lacked.

The first available mark was R.VI which arrived in late-June of 1917 and were pressed into service as night bombers against the Russians over the Eastern Front from August onwards. By September, they began operations in the West when stationed in German-held Belgium territory. Raids against the British mainland followed and lasted into May of the following year with none were lost to enemy action. Four aircraft were ultimately destroyed by enemy action during the course of the war with six lost to accidents.

Five major variants of the R-bomber were conceived beginning with the aforementioned R.VI. These marked the first true production versions of the line and were outfitted with 4 x Maybach Mb IV engines of 245 horsepower each. An alternative engine configuration became 4 x Mercedes D.IVa engines of 260 horsepower each. Eighteen examples made up this mark with one reserved as an engine testbed.

The R.VII mark came next - though with only one example built - and added a revised tail unit for improved stability. This sole aircraft was lost while in transit to the frontline. Variant R.XIV was outfitted with 5 x Maybach Mb IV engines, four arranged in paired "push-pull" nacelles and the fifth set in the nose as a puller engine. Three were ultimately built with one being lost to enemy action. R.XV appeared with the same five engine arrangement debuted in the R.XIV and was produced in three examples. A primary physical difference of this mark was a large tail fin added at the center of the tail unit arrangement. This group did not see formal combat service in the war.

The Type L was a large floatplane conversion of the land-based bomber to operate from water for the German Navy. Large floats were appropriately added in place of a traditional wheeled undercarriage and a sole prototype was completed. However, this example crashed while being tested. The Type 8301 followed suit as a possible seaplane conversion but introduced an all-new fuselage while retaining the wing elements of the previous bomber design. Again a float undercarriage allowed for waterborne take-off and landing and this design netted three examples in all.

Only two German Air Service squadrons were ever equipped with the R-bomber - Riesenflugzeugabteilung 500 (Rfa500) and 501 (Rfa501). As stated, the bomber also saw some limited service with the Imperial German Navy for a time.

Twenty-nine of these large bombers were built.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI Heavy Bomber Aircraft.
4 x Mercedes D.IVa 6-cylinder inline piston engines developing 260 horsepower each OR 4 x Maybach Mb.IVa piston engines of 245 horsepower each; arranged as two pusher and two puller engine pairs.
84 mph
135 kph | 73 kts
Max Speed
14,108 ft
4,300 m | 3 miles
Service Ceiling
497 miles
800 km | 432 nm
Operational Range
350 ft/min
107 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI Heavy Bomber Aircraft.
72.5 ft
22.10 m
O/A Length
138.5 ft
(42.20 m)
O/A Width
20.7 ft
(6.30 m)
O/A Height
17,463 lb
(7,921 kg)
Empty Weight
26,120 lb
(11,848 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Zeppelin-Staaken R-series Heavy Bomber Aircraft .
1 x 7.92mm Parabellum machine gun in trainable nose position.
1 x 7.92mm Parabellum machine gun in trainable upper wing pulpit position.
1 x 7.92mm Parabellum machine gun in rear fuselage cockpit on flexible mount.
1 x 7.92mm Parabellum machine gun in rear ventral position.

Up to 4,400 lb of bombs.
Notable series variants as part of the Zeppelin-Staaken R-series family line.
R.IV - Initial production model; four engines; 18 examples
R.VII - Revised tail unit; single example
R.XIV - 5 x Maybach Mb IV engines; three examples
R.XV - Five engine arrangement; central fin added to tail unit; three examples built.
Type L - Seaplane conversion; single example
Type 8301 - Seaplane conversion; three examples
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Zeppelin-Staaken R-series. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 29 Units

Contractor(s): Zeppelin-Staaken - Germany
National flag of the German Empire

[ German Empire ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 100mph
Lo: 50mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (84mph).

Graph Average of 75 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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Image of the Zeppelin-Staaken R-series
Image from the Public Domain.
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Image of the Zeppelin-Staaken R-series
Image from the Public Domain.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Zeppelin-Staaken R-series Heavy Bomber Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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