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World War I Foreign Aircraft Exploitation Programs(?)

Dynoman

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I was looking into the possibility of the existence of WWI foreign aircraft exploitation programs after looking at a number of German aircraft in the hands of Allied troops during the war. I found that the US Signal Corps maintained a Foreign Data Section of its intelligence branch within the War Department and the British had the Technical Department of the Aircraft Production Department of the Air Ministry that gathered and collected technical information on German aircraft. However, I have not found any formal programs of flight testing enemy aircraft for the purpose of exploitation. Most of what I have found is individual squadron pilots taking up a captured aircraft to see how they flew in comparison to their own, but no formal program. Does anyone know of any such program during WWI?
 

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Dynoman

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Douglas Wardrop of Aerial Age (circa 1917-1918) wrote a series of articles towards the end of the war, after visiting London and being given access to a special presentation of captured German aircraft. The display was particularly technical in nature and was focused on the engineering aspects of the German designs, but did not specifically mention any formal flight tests. He does mention that some of the designs were flown by the French and others.
 

Desertfox

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The National Air and Space Intelligence Center traces its lineage back to 1917:
In 1917 the Foreign Data Section of the Army Signal Corps’ Airplane Engineering Department was established at McCook Field, and a NASIC predecessor operated the Army Aeronautical Museum[2] of the Material Division, August 22, 1935.
I recall the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton OH, having some exhibits and aircraft that were tested by the Foreign Data Section, but I don't remember the particulars.
 

Dynoman

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So far from what I have found, some of the aircraft were sent to aircraft manufacturers to be tested and important technologies examined or reversed engineered if necessary. In the case of Roland Garros, who was shot down on 18 April 1915, he and his aircraft were captured and his aircraft's Saulnier gun firing system was sent to Fokker for examination. This may have been similar to England's response by using the Technical Department of Aircraft Production to evaluate the engineering aspects of the aircraft. Some German engines were tested on British designs, so captured aircraft were also possibly stripped of valuable components, such as guns and engines and tested. However, I've not found a report of this.
 

Dynoman

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According to Volume 2, History of Air Service Units Attached to the 3d Army. Gorrell's History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917–1919, the 278th Aero Squadron of the US Army Air Service conducted test flights after the Armistice in 1918 of surrendered German aircraft, including the Fokker D.VII, Pfalz D.XII, Haberstadts, and Rumpler aircraft. Unknown if this was an official program.
 

Hood

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Assessment of German aircraft, in particular their guns, mountings, bomb dropping gear and other equipment was carried out at Orford Ness, then an outstation of Martlesham Heath.
 

Dynoman

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Hood, thank you! Orford Ness was the site of flight testing for many aircraft systems and tactics and at lease one captured German aircraft during WWI. Clive Collett, a pilot in the RAF was killed while flight testing a captured Albatros D.V. there.

 

r16

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boelcke definitely had discussions of Allied aircraft test flown , possibly by himself and maybe his unit . (The Ace Factor , by Mike Spick)
 

Dynoman

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A photo exists of Boelcke sitting in a captured British single seat Vickers fighter (found in his biography). The biography by Werner (1972), Knight of Germany, describes a diary entry by Boelcke indicating that he flew and used the Vickers aircraft as a demonstrator. He also had his dicta of air combat published in a brochure titled Experiences of Air Fighting, where he also describes various Allied aircraft capabilities and the best way to engage them.

The Idglieg or "Inspectorate of Flying Troops," which oversaw Germany military aviation during WWI also tested some captured aircraft.
 
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Dynoman

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The first intact German aircraft captured with gun synchronization gear was an E.III no. 210/15 occurred on 8 April 1916. It was tested at Upavon on 30 May 1916

According to Bradley (1994) A History and Development of Aircraft Instruments, the British received captured flight instruments and bomb sights from German aircraft, however they did not possess any advantage over what the British were using and not implemented into British instrument designs. The same was said for the German aircraft gun turrets.

It appears that aircraft factories on both sides of the war were used to test the occasional captured aircraft. Still haven't found a formal program yet.
 
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Grey Havoc

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'Not Invented Here' had a very strong influence there I'd suspect.
 

Dynoman

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The disposition of captured enemy aircraft during WWI seems to have moved markedly in different directions, depending upon the aircraft and its value to the war effort. Below is a generalized synopsis of the fate of captured aircraft in the war.

Some aircraft were sent to factories: Examples of captured aircraft or aircraft equipment sent to factories for testing were German engines being sent to the Royal Aircraft Factory where numerous test reports on various engines were written. Fokker received not only Garros' synchronization system in 1915, but also examined a Sopwith Triplane, which was used as the model to develop the Fokker Dr.I. The Germans also captured several Nieuport 17's and sent at lease one copy to Siemens-Schukert Werke, which would become the D.I fighter, a clone of the Nieuport. Russian manufacturer Lebedev received a captured German two-seat Albatros in 1915 and copied it to make the Lebed XI, which had additional Russian variants based upon the German design.

Some aircraft were sent to Government Testing Centers: Examples of captured aircraft being moved to testing centers include the Fokker Albatros D.V. that ended up at Orford Ness, near Farnborough, and flown by pilot Collett in which he was killed during the tests. The Germans had a department, organized by Major Felix Wagenfuhr, for the testing of captured aircraft within the IdFlieg. The Sopwith Triplane was taken to Adlershof for inspection and testing. This program may have been the closest to a formal ongoing program for the exploitation of enemy aircraft during the war. He also headed up the Scientific Information Bureau that was responsible for the distribution of military information and information on enemy aircraft technology and tactics.

Some aircraft were flown by squadron pilots for evaluation: There are numerous cases where squadron pilots with little or no flight test experience or training took enemy aircraft aloft to see what performance capabilities they possessed. The tests of the captured Sopwith Pup N6161 by the German pilot Meyer, who forced the aircraft down is an example. These type of test flights included Manfred Von Richthofen (Red Baron) who demonstrated captured aircraft to his men.

Some captured aircraft were flown in combat by the enemy: There are a few examples of captured aircraft being flown in combat by the enemy, such as Canadian Col. William Baker who flew a captured German aircraft into combat and the Russians who flew captured German aircraft that they painted what amounted to "Good Guy's" in Russian on the top and bottom of the aircraft so as to not being mistaken by anti-aircraft artillery crews or other pilots.

Many were placed on display: Captured aircraft were often placed on display for propaganda purposes during the war. After evaluation by the enemy it was not unusual to display the aircraft in public. The Germans displayed captured Allied aircraft in the Kriegsausstellungen, a five location moving display, that was done for propaganda reasons, while the British displayed numerous captured aircraft at the Horse Guard Parade in London Whitehall in November of 1915 and presented nearly 'every example' of German aircraft in the Royal Agricultural Hall at the end of the war.

Post-war evaluation of captured aircraft: Although the testing of captured aircraft after the war is beyond the scope of this discussion, which is centered on the exploitation of aircraft during the war, there were considerable tests conducted on German aircraft by the Allies after the war for a variety of purposes. As more aircraft became available following the signing of the Armistice various allied countries exported from the battlefields of Europe home for evaluation, use, and display. For example,142 Fokker D VII's alone made it to the US after the war for testing. Other nations obtained the same aircraft for inclusion into their air forces. Canadian pilot Albert Carter was killed in 1919 after test flying a Fokker D VII for the CAF.

Of course there were other paths that captured aircraft may have taken during the war, but these are just some of the most prominent. More investigation into the German department for captured aircraft under Wagenfuhr is a suggested area for further investigation.
 
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nuuumannn

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Hood, thank you! Orford Ness was the site of flight testing for many aircraft systems and tactics and at lease one captured German aircraft during WWI. Clive Collett, a pilot in the RAF was killed while flight testing a captured Albatros D.V. there.
A few things, the unit at Orfordness was the Experimental Armament Squadron, which moved to Martlesham Heath and had a number of enemy aircraft on its books as well as the Albatros in question. This was D V 1162/17, which was reserialed G'56 - captured aircraft received a G' prefix. Collett, a New Zealand born RFC pilot, as the RAF had not been formed in December 1917 when he lost his life, was not killed at Orfordness, but flying over the Firth of Forth demonstrating G'56 out of Turnhouse.

This image of G'56 was possibly taken at Martlesham Heath - note the British style pitot tube fitted to its Vee interplane strut. 1162/17 was forced down to land at Poperinghe in July 1917.
 

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nuuumannn

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Some of the Allied Great War machines captured by the Germans survived the turmoil in that country post-war and became museum exhibits in the Deutsches Luftfahrt Sammlung, Nazi Germany's aviation showcase museum just across the Spree River from the Reichstag in Berlin. At least two British aircraft survived the fire that devastated the museum following an RAF night bombing raid in 1943. These are a Sopwith Camel and Airco DH.9. The former survives at the MLP in Cracow, and the latter, the last surviving DH.9 is currently on display at the RAF Museum at Hendon.

A model of the Deutsches Luftfahrt Sammlung can be seen in all its glory at the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin. This image shows the Camel and DH.9 next to a Spad XIII and Spad A.2 two-seater. The DH.9 at the RAF Museum today. This was swapped with the MLP in Cracow for a Spitfire, which was delivered through what was the DDR on the back of an RAF low-loader in the mid 1970s, which must have raised a few eyebrows in communist East Germany.
 

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Hood

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You might want to get hold of a copy of Air Britain's Retribution and Recovery: German Aircraft and Aviation 1919-22. It covers in some depth the allocation and destruction of German and Austro-Hungarian aircraft following the Armistice and what became of the airframes and the efforts made by several nations and factions to hide or obtain airframes.
 

Dynoman

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Nuuumannn, thank you for the clarification on Collett and the additional information! Do you have any information or a source for the evaluation of the German aircraft at Martlesham Heath?
 
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Dynoman

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The British Ministry of Munitions made reports on at least 12 types of German aircraft during the War.

CIM No. 38 Final Report No. M119 on 220 Benz Aviatik (G. 24), Nov. 1917
CIM No. 55 Report on Albatross Scout, Dec. 1917
CIM No. 59 Friedrichshafen Biplane, Jan. 1918
IC 607 Report on AEG Bomber, Mar. 1918
IC 619 Report on Friedrichshafen Bomber, Mar. 1918
IC 620 Report on Fokker Triplane, Mar. 1918
IC 626 Report on Hannoveraner Biplane, Jul. 1918
IC 627 Report on the 2-Seater Rumpler, G. 117, Jul. 1918
IC 628 Report on AEG Armored Aeroplane, Jul. 1918
IC 620 Report on Fokker Single-seater Biplane, Sept. 1918
IC 642 Report on Halberstadt Fighter, Sept. 1918
IC 644 Report on Gotha Bomber with Notes on Giant Aeroplanes, Sept. 1918
IC 647 Report on the LVG Two-seater Biplane, Sept. 1918
IC 653 Repoert on the Pfalz (Type DXII) Single Seat Fighter, Oct. 1918

Unknown if these reports aided in the development of Allied air-to-air tactics or maneuvering concepts that could be used during the war.
 
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