Wings of War: The Albatros D.Va

By , in News

Beginning in 1917, the Allies introduced fighters boasting more powerful inline or straight engines, such as the S.E.5a and SPAD VII, and Germany feared she would lose her role as mistress of the skies. The Idflieg (Inspektion der Fliegertruppen) commissioned from German aircraft manufacturer Albatros Flugzeugwerke a new, improved model of what up till then had proved one of the best German fighter planes, the Albatros D.III.

The engineer Robert Thelen was considered the father of the Albatros family, and had long since taken over from Ernst Heinkel at the helm of the designer team in the Schneidemühl factory: he now set to work immediately. His idea was to improve the D.III’s performance: its vertical climbing capabilities, as well as the pilot’s visibility.

After the D.IV model failed and was not produced, it was the turn of Albatros D.V. The new plane had a long nose to accommodate larger and more powerful engines and a larger radiator (or even two at times), such as in the case of aircrafts flown in Palestine. A new aileron cable linkage was now introduced for the upper wing, which now resulted as being slightly lowered towards the fuselage, to ensure the pilot enjoyed more visibility. The tail rudder, which was produced by Ostdeutsche Albatros Werke, was longer and of a more rounded shape. The fuselage was slightly altered, accentuating the elliptical cross-section and very slightly reducing its weight.

By saving about 32 kilos, compared to aircraft with similar engines (Mercedes 6 cylinder with 160 HP), D.V gained a speed of only 5 kph over its predecessor, but seemed easier to maneuver and capable of a better overall performance.

In spite of the fact that pilots of the caliber of Manfred von Richtofen had expressed very negative opinions concerning the new Albatros model, the company was commissioned to build 400 aircraft. The first Albatros D.V were supplied to operational units on May 1917, but it was immediately clear that the lower wing was proving unexpectedly fragile, decided nosedives resulting in severe vibration and in many cases, total collapse.

Thelen was forced to re-design the structure. The new airplane, called D.Va, partially solved the problem, also thanks to a series of devices meant to reinforce the upper wing, re-introducing the linkage of the aileron cables for the wing of the D.III. However, that meant the plane weighed 23 kilos more than the D.III, thus thwarting the efforts made to boost maximum speed and climbing capacity. In spite of this, it was decided that previous models would be updated in this way, and another 300 copies were ordered. The aircraft became fully operational in October 1917. It was only in December of that year, when new engines were introduced, that the Albatros D.Va finally surpassed its celebrated predecessor.

Albatros and Ostdeutsche Albatros Werke built 900 D.V and over 1600 D.Va, production being halted only by the debut of the new Fokker D.VII. Albatros planes however remained in service on the front line up to the end of the war.

Only two original planes survive today: one at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., the other at the Australian War Memorial at Canberra.


* Wingspan: 9.05 m
* Length: 7.33 m
* Weight: 937 Kg
* Max. Speed: 187 kph
* Service Ceiling: 6250 m
* Armament: 2 forward-firing 7.92 mm machine guns
* Maximum Range: 2 hours
* Nations using: Germany