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Aces of Aviation

Fokker Dr I of Manfred von Richthofen

Fokker Dr I of Manfred von Richthofen

Fokker Dr I piloted by Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen, commander of the Jagdgeschwader 1, in Nauroy, the 12th March 1918.

Wingspan: 7.19 meters.

Length: 5.77 meters.

Height: 2.95 meters.

Engine[s]: Oberursel Ur II of 110 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 165 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 6100 meters.

Range: 1.5 hours.

Armament: Two Spandau 7.92-millimeter machine guns.

Manfred von Richthofen, probably the most famous aviator of all times, learned the rudiments of aerial combat by fighting with the grand Jasta 2 of Oswald Boelcke, becoming the recordman pilot of the First World War, before losing his life in combat in the Western Front. He was born in Breslau the 2nd May 1892. When transferred from the Cavalry Corps to the German Air Service in May 1915, he was adscribed to the Feldfliegerabteilung 69, flying since then reconnaissance two-seaters in the Eastern Front and remaining with this and other units on diverse missions until September 1916. He had then the luck of being selected for being part of the Jagdstaffel 2, a fighter squadron which had been trained and commanded by Boelcke since early that year.

While flying in an Albatros D II, the 17th September, Von Richthofen achieved his first confirmed victory and since then all the rest quickly succeeded each other. Being a cold and calculating combatant, his hunting instinct had the scent of his aristocratic environment; his triumphs were materialized in a collection of silver cups, one for each enemy aircraft downed, with the details of the corresponding combat engraved in them. The eleventh victim of Von Richthofen, Major Lanoe G. Hawker, was downed the 23rd November 1916. In January, two months later, Von Richthofen was awarded the Cross "Pour le Mérite".

During the following April, known as "the bloody April", Von Richthofen downed 21 Allied aircraft, feat which was recognized to him two months later when he was granted the leadership of the recently formed Jagdgeschwader 1, equipped with the aircraft from the Jasta 4, 6, 10 and 11 combined together. Regarded as an elite unit, the pilots of this squadron flew on colorfully painted red airplanes, which were easily identifiable and nicknamed "the flying circus of Richthofen" by the Allies. Von Richthofen flew on Albatros D II biplanes and Fokker Dr I triplanes, usually painted in red. This along with his aristocratic background earned him the nickname "Red Baron".

The last victim of Von Richthofen, the number 80, was Sub-Lieutenant D. G. Lewis, a Sopwith Camel pilot of the 3rd Squadron of the Royal Air Force, downed the 20th April 1918. The following day, on a near ground level combat against two Sopwith Camel of the 209th Squadron RAF, while overflying Sailly-le-Sec, the German triplane was seen losing control and crashing. Von Richthofen was found dead on his cockpit with a shot on his chest. This victory was officially attributed to Captain Arthur Roy Brown, but the exact circumstances of the Reittmeister's death have remained without clarification since then.

Manfred's younger brother, Lothar, also achieved a notorious combat success, with a record of 40 victories, being awarded to him as well the Cross "Pour le Mérite". He survived the war, but died in 1922 when the commercial aircraft which he piloted had an accident due to an engine failure.