The new Fokker EI entered service today as leading pilot and instructor Leutnant Otto Parschau of FFA62 took delivery of production prototype serial number E1/15. Other examples will shortly be delivered to Leutnant Oswald Boelcke also of FFA 62 and Kurt Witgens in FFA 6b. The EI is the first production aircraft to be fitted with a synchronisation gear to allow it to fire through the propeller.
The origins of the new aircraft lie in Fokker’s earlier unarmed AIII Scout, which is itself very similar to the French Morane-Saulnier H monoplane – the main difference being the use of steel tubing in the Fokker instead of wood for the fuselage structure.
One of these aircraft, (serial number 16/15) had been flown by Parschau since the beginning of the war. Following the success of and subsequent capture of Roland Garros and his deflector system, the German High Command wanted a similar solution. Fokker and his team were able to quickly develop a working synchronisation gear and fitted it, along with a Parabellum Machine gun to Parshau’s aircraft in early May 1915.
This prototype was demonstrated by Fokker on 19 and 20 May 1915 at the Döberitz proving ground near Berlin. Parshau was back test flying this aircraft on 30 May 1915. He was involved in several inconclusive combats during June 1915, but the gear proved very unreliable, and the gun kept jamming. Fokker made modifications to the synchronisation gear and a revised version was fitted to the first production prototype EIs.
[There is a story in Fokker’s later autobiography that he was forced to test fly the new plane himself over the front, but was unwilling to destroy a French plane that he came across. There does not appear to be any corroborating evidence of this story, and indeed some of the follow-up details do not seem to make sense. For example he suggests the Oswald Boelcke was given the job and within a few days had shot down an enemy plane. This seems unlikely as Boelcke’s first victory in the Eindecker wasn’t until 19th August. If anyone has any evidence to the contrary grateful to see it. ]