June 24

This Day in History

World War I

Jun 24, 1915:

First operational flight of new German fighter plane

On June 24, 1915, young Oswald Boelcke, one of the earliest and best German fighter pilots of World War I, makes the first operational flight of the Fokker Eindecker plane.

The years of the First World War, 1914 to 1918, saw a staggering improvement not only in aircraft production, but also in technology, on both sides of the conflict. The war began just a decade after Orville and Wilbur Wright made their historic 12-second flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina; by 1918, fighter airplanes had been developed that could serve purposes of observation and reconnaissance, tactical and strategic bombing, direct attack on ground and air targets and use in naval warfare.

The Fokker Eindecker, a plane equipped first with one and eventually with two machine guns that could fire straight ahead through the aircraft's propellers, would have a huge impact on air combat in the Great War and would put the Luftstreitkrafte, the German Air Service, far ahead of the Allied air forces for several months during the summer of 1915. The British referred to this as the Fokker Menace or the Fokker Scourge. The plane's designer, Anton Fokker, had based the concept of synchronization, or the precise timing of the propeller blades to avoid being struck by the machine gun bullets, on an aircraft designed by France's Morane-Saulnier corporation and flown by the famous French ace Roland Garros when he was shot down in April 1915 by the Germans. The Fokker Eindecker, or Fokker E, plane made German pilots like Boelcke and Max Immelmann into national heroes, as the number of their kills increased exponentially.

By the end of the summer of 1915, the Allies had managed to develop their own planes to rival the Fokkers, and balance was restored. Another German air menace reared its head in early 1917, though, as the new German Albatros planes decimated the British Royal Flying Corps in the skies over France. Soon, however, Allied aviation technology and production began to far outstrip the German efforts, as aerial combat became less a question of individual battles by heroic pilots than a matter of mass-production capability. In the last year of the war, Britain, France and the United States jointly produced an average of 11,200 aircraft and 14,500 engines per month, while their financially struggling German counterparts managed below 2,000 of each.

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