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WW1 introduced many new forms of combat to the world, with fighter planes being a revolutionary aspect of warfare during this period.
Many historic planes were soaring through the sky during the early 20th century and some of the most iconic of this era were utilized to fight in WW1. Given the significance of airplane technology during this time period, a handful of fighter planes hold a lot of historic value from the Great War.
The best fighter planes from WW1 are the Fokker D VII (Germany), Spad XIII (France), Nieuport 17 (France), Spad VII (France), Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 (Great Britain), and the Sopwith Triplane (Great Britain).
The onset of the 20th century came with a lot of innovation in technology and engineering, which resulted in the allied and axis powers having forms of weaponry during WW1 that had never been utilized in any war before. The Wright Brothers just had their first flight in 1903 - barely a decade after the beginning of World War 1, which means that planes were a completely new concept in society. The potential behind aviation gave a lot of advantages to any power that was able to effectively utilize this new form of warfare - with each side implementing fighter planes within their arsenal to have an edge on the global battlefield. The Great War encouraged a rampant acceleration of fighter plane manufacturing and innovation, which resulted in some incredible warbirds being designed during this era. Let’s take a closer look at the best fighter planes of WW1 in more detail.
After extensively researching aviation history, I have been able to gather enough information to determine the best fighter planes of WW1. My research has shown me that some of the best fighter planes of WW1 were designed during the second half of the war as the technology behind aviation was accelerated in light of the strategic advantages that fighter planes offered.
WW1 Fighter Plane Overview
Not long after the groundbreaking success of the Wright Brother’s first flight, nations around the world quickly began to realize how useful planes could be for combat. Aviation was a completely new way of approaching warfare - with military strategists and engineers searching for an optimal way to harness this new form of technology.
As early as 1912, the British military began designing planes equipped with machinegun turrets that could be mounted onto the aircraft. This soon evolved into machine guns being operated directly by pilots in flight, which enabled fighter planes to directly go into combat with one another. Machine gun synchronization transformed the way that airplanes were viewed by military strategists and it is a method of warfare that we utilize to this day.
By 1914, fighter planes started carrying bombs in compartments onboard, which expanded the use of these aircraft for military operations even further. However, aerial bombing technology during this era was still very primitive and proved to be less reliable than machinegun fire.
However, when planes were first introduced into WW1, their primary use was to scout enemy weaponry, troops, and artillery. The reconnaissance that aviation offered during WW1 already gave a major advantage to military operations, which had never before been possible in the past.
Best WW1 Fighter Planes
As the war continued on from 1914 to 1918, the allied and axis forces were in constant competition with one another to not only be successful on the battlefield but also in aviation technology, which was evolving rapidly. The Great War is now a historic era for fighter planes and the ace fighter pilots that operated them.
Only 10 years after the official creation of the airplane, nations and military strategists could already see the great potential for an arsenal in the sky. Fighter planes gave rise to battles fought exclusively in the air, as well as the many iconic ace pilots - who earned their title after taking down a minimum of five aircraft in their career - with many boasting far greater figures.
Fokker D VII
There are few planes as famous from the Great War as the Fokker D-VII. This is a German-made aircraft that was highly advanced for its time. It excelled in design and capabilities compared the virtually every fighter plane that the allied forces had on their side.
The Fokker D-VII was introduced into battle during the end of WW1 and it had a very brief period of use - given that the war ended just 6 months later. However, during its time in the air, it proved that it was a force to be reckoned with. Germans had a major advantage with the Fokker D-VII in their arsenal, as this was a fighter plane that was advanced in virtually every category.
The lightweight design of the plane enabled pilots to have incredible agility in the sky - making it easier to maneuver and handle. This not only gave advanced pilots an edge in air battles but it also made it a lot easier for newer pilots to learn to fly - making the Fokker D-VII a very user-friendly aircraft.
Germany was able to gain some major aerial victories thanks to the Fokker D-VII. In just a single month of fighting during WW1, the Axis powers had a total of 565 successful victories in using the Fokker D-VII. Over the coming years, this iconic warbird would be used by nations in various conflicts and battles - years after the end of WW1. Although the United States did not begin manufacturing the Fokker D-VII, various European nations would continue to produce these fighter planes after 1918.
One of the most historic elements tied to the Fokker D-VII is that it was piloted by one of the most legendary Ace fighter pilots ever to soar through the sky, Manfred von Richthofen. This German earned a reputation for being the most feared pilot during the entire First World War and has earned many infamous nicknames by allied forces - the most iconic being, ‘The Red Baron’. The Red Baron has been credited with shooting down 80 fighter planes during the Great War - more than any other pilot of WW1.
The Spad XIII is one of the best fighter planes used in WW1. The plane was designed by France and was an incredibly powerful weapon for the allied powers, which is why virtually all nations that participated in WW1 against the axis forces - including Great Britain and the United States - were equipped with the aircraft in their arsenals.
The Spad XIII was designed by Louis Béchereau, a hero of French engineering during this period who also made highly-advanced aircraft for allied powers. During the second half of the war in 1917, Louis Béchereau implemented an engine into the Spad XIII which gave it an edge over most fighter planes during WW1. The Spad XIII was so successful and remarkable in the sky that many of the allied nations completely replaced their arsenal with this promising new fighter plane.
The powerful engine had 150 horsepower at its disposal, which gave it an advantage as one of the most powerful fighter planes of the Great War. It was equipped with synchronized machine guns - enabling the victory of major air battles. The Spad XIII is also iconic because of how many legendary ace fighter pilots had flown the warbird during WW1.
One of the most notable pilots was Eddie Rickenbacker, an American pilot who is widely considered to be one of the greatest of World War 1. His success as a fighter pilot earned him the nickname in the United States - ‘the ace of aces’. Prior to joining the Great War, Eddie Rickenbacker was already experienced with speed and living life on the edge as a professional race car driver - having participated in the first-ever Indy 500.
Upon joining World War 1, Rickenbacker quickly rose to fame as being an elite pilot - claiming various victories for the allied forces. He flew his Spad XIII into multiple combat situations that nearly ended in his demise, but the ace fighter pilot always miraculously came out on top. With the help of his Spad XIII, Rickenbacker was able to claim 26 kills in the Great War - earning him the Medal of Honor.
The Nieuport 17 is another French fighter plane classic from WW1. The legendary aircraft is praised by military historians and strategists as being of the most valuable pieces of weaponry during the Great War.
The aircraft was introduced in 1916 but only began to see airtime near the end of that year. Upon entering the war, the Nieuport 17 gained immediate success as an excellent piece of machinery that was built for air warfare. It had incredible flight capabilities that shattered virtually every other warbird of this era.
Pilots who flew the Nieuport 17, regarded it for its astonishing maneuverability, enabling agility, and impressive rate of climb. Although this WW1 plane was designed by France, the rest of the allied powers quickly began to incorporate the Nieuport 17 into their arsenal - particularly the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.
The Nieuport 17 was such a feared and advantageous aircraft that the axis powers could not ignore the edge that their opposition had against them. In response to the success that the Nieuport 17 was giving the allies on the battlefield, Germany began to design and manufacture replicas of the aircraft.
As the war progressed, many ace fighter pilots were recognized for their astonishing skills in the sky. The Nieuport 17 was a warbird that was utilized by some of the greatest pilots of WW1 - in particular, William Bishop. Bishop was a Canadian pilot that started the war in the trenches but was then given a chance to serve as a pilot in 1917. When put in control of a plane, it became evident that Bishop was meant to fly warbirds, which is why he was recognized as an ace after just his first few flights.
Although Bishop only flew his Nieuport 17 for about a year, he was able to take down an astonishing 72 enemy fighter planes during this period. He was known for taking on challenging missions on his own and was only removed from his position by superiors due to the fear that his death might lead to an uproar from the allies.
Prior to the launch of Spad VIII, Spad VII was one of the most revered fighter planes in the sky of WW1. The Spad VII was also designed by France and it had its first flight in 1916. This is one of the most defining aircraft of the Great War and it was operated by a number of ace pilots during the first half of the war.
The Spad VII was not quite as maneuverable as its replacement but it was one of the most durable warbirds in the sky during the first half of the war - able to take a beating unmatched by virtually any aircraft in WW1. The plane was particularly regarded for its excellent climbing abilities despite its heavier weight.
A Swiss-powered engine gave the Spad VII an impressive 140 horsepower and it weighed a mere 330 lbs, which were impressive specs for this day and age. However, further improvements in design quickly led to the Spad VII getting an upgrade to a whopping 150 horsepower engine.
With hundreds of mechanics working together on the design of the Spad VII, the aircraft would be used in a number of experimental trials for other planes and variations within the Spad series. As Spad VII became an official fighter plane of the Great War, the allied powers saw the potential of the aircraft and quickly began mass production.
Over the course of WW1, many great fighter pilots operated the Spad VII, which led to notable successful victories on the side of the allies. One of the most iconic pilots of this era was Georges Guynemer. This Frenchman first worked as a mechanic on airplanes but had his eye on the sky, which is why he strived to get his wings.
Upon entering the war as a pilot, Guynemer was an immediate sensation for the Frech military. He became part of France’s legendary N.3 flight squadron and was able to take down a very impressive 54 enemy planes during his time in combat. Guynemer was not only respected for his incredible performance as a pilot but also for his ingenuity as a mechanic.
The Frenchman customized his plane constantly and even mounted a heavy machine gun onto his warbird, which endangered his own safety when fired. Guynemer would go on to earn a reputation as being one of the best pilots from France during WW1.
Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 is one of the most iconic warbirds of WW1. It was designed by Great Britain and used by the allied forces as of 1917. The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 is praised for being the fastest fighter plane during the entire First World War.
The aircraft enabled agility that was unmatched by any other plane used in the war. Despite the incredible potential that the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 offered the allied powers, it was not as widely used as some of the other fighter planes in circulation.
This British fighter plane relied on parts that were not very accessible at this time, which limited the production of the aircraft. However, the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s that were in use, were very advantageous assets for the allied powers at the time.
The speedy fighter plane was equipped with a 150 horsepower V8 engine, which was utilized by many of the heavier warbirds of this era. The lighter weight of the aircraft combined with its synchronized machine guns made the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 a force to be reckoned with in the sky.
After the end of the war, the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 would continue to be used by nations around the globe. This especially was the case as parts for the aircraft became much more accessible.
The Sopwith Triplane is another iconic fighter plane from Great Britain during WW1. This aircraft is the first of its kind, given its 3-wing design known as a triplane. The unique design of the Sopwith Triplane made it more efficient than a lot of the planes used in the war - particularly for maneuverability and climb rate.
It was introduced in mid-1916 and was utilized by the allied forces by the end of the year. This was an experimental design from the Sopwith Aviation Company and it was met with high praise from various allied nations such as France. The immediate success of the Sopwith Triplane resulted in huge demand for its production - with pilots wanting to get behind the wheel of this warbird.
Although the Sopwith Triplane had a lot of popularity amongst pilots who got to fly it, there were not as many manufactured compared to the Sopwith biplane, the ‘Sopwith Pup’. The Sopwith Triplane would go on to be used extensively by the allied forces throughout World War 1. The design and potential of this warbird caught the eye of the enemy, which led to axis powers like Germany studying it to make their own replications.
The Sopwith Triplane was flown by a squadron of ace fighter pilots from Canada known as the Black Flight. This highly advanced squadron of fighters was heavily feared by the enemy during World War I and their service has great historic value for Canada, as well as the allied powers.