today's fighting machines seem versatile compared to the cheaper
hardware of 40 or so years ago, it's a full circle process. In
aviation's early days, specialization didnít exist. If it could get
into the air--precarious enough before the Great War--it was an
airplane, and it might be called upon to do more or less anything, by
more or less anyone. So while the Taube (literally: dove) may be called
the first "fighter" to see combat, it is just as likely the first
bomber and the first combat observation aircraft.
Awkward and fragile as it seems approaching the 21st Century, the Taube
was a very graceful design for its day. It should not be compared with
today's sleek machines, or even with later World War I fighters, but
with the pioneer box-kite Curtiss and Wright biplanes, its true
Taube's first clash came in Libya in 1911, under Italian command. Two
of the aircraft accompanied the mission against the Turks, and
Lieutenant Guilio Favotti employed a broom handle Mauser pistol and
some two-kilogram bombs on raids that November.
Austrian designer Igo Etrich was inspired by the birds in this design,
but based much of the design on a winged plant seed, Zanonia macrocarpa.
Extensive rigging actually warped the wingtips to act as ailerons. The
lines and pulleys demanded considerable leverage, and the aircraft was
fitted with a steering wheel for mechanical advantage. The system
required constant trimming, as the cables stretched under stress.
Fourteen companies built the Rumpler-owned design, including Albatros,
Gotha, and Halberstadt, resulting in a profusion of small variations.
Owing to field modifications and the plethora of manufacturers, and to
several sub generations of the basic machines, it is uncommon in period
photos to note two truly identical specimens, and historians have
difficulty deciding who made any given airframe.
Taubes served only about six months' active duty in the front lines of
World War I, but since these early monoplanes comprised about half
Germany's 246 available aircraft strength at the opening of
hostilities, they saw considerable duty in many roles. They were in use
immediately, and discovered the big Russian advance at the Battle of
Tannenberg. One became notorious as the "Five O'clock Taube",
philosophical progenitor to the Japanese "Washing Machine Charley" over
Guadalcanal, an irritatingly regular visitor over Paris in August of
1914, dropping three-kilogram bombs, leaflets, and regular demands for
the city's immediate surrender.
By 1914, however, the Taube was already obsolescent, and saw most of
its military application as an observation aircraft, trainer, and
utility machine with fighter squadrons.
The serious student of aviation will note in the Thompson Historical
Aircraft Photo Collection that the Taube looks like a fragile antique
next to aircraft designed only a few months later, and even more
archaic compared to contemporary firearms. It undoubtedly already
looked ancient by 1915, when the last production aircraft were less
than one year old. In comparison, take a look at the photos of the
P-51, last built in 1946, or the Sabre Jet, introduced in 47-48, which
still look quite sleek and modern nearing fifty years down the line.
The rate of progress early in aviation's history was breathtaking,
materials changing even faster than designs, whereas today, major
breakthroughs are actually quite rare.
Manufacturer: Albatros Werke GmbH
Deutsch Flugzeug-Werke GmbH
Gothaer Waggonfabrik AG
Rumpler Flugzeugwerk GmbH
Entered Service: 1914
Engine(s): Mercedes D.I, liquid cooled, 6 cylinder inline, 100 hp
Wing Span: 47 ft 7 in [14.5 m]
Length: 32 ft 10 in [10 m]
Gross Weight: 2,257 lb [1,086 kg]
Max Speed: 60 mph [96 km/h]
Endurance: 4 hours