The Evolution of Fighter Aircraft

Morane Saulnier N
Moraine Saulnier N

The Morane-Saulnier Type N was built in small numbers. It was the first French aircraft specifically developed as a fighter. Armed with a fixed, forward firing machine gun, its propeller was protected by the metal deflector plates pioneered by Roland Garros.

Raymond Saulnier
Raymond Saulnier
Date of Birth: 1881
Date Of Death: 1964

Saulnier's Early Attempt

During the month before the outbreak of the war, Raymond Saulnier had been working on an interupter gear that would allow a machine gun to be fired through the propeller arc. He had grown impatient with hang-fire failures so he attached steel deflection plates on the propeller where the bullets passed through the arc. The military lost interest in his idea once the war started and made Saulnier return the machine gun he had borrowed.

After a few months into the war, all the pilots were unanimous in their desire for fixed machine guns facing forward that they could shoot in the direction they were flying.

Fokker E.II - 1915
Fokker Eindekker

Max Immelmann scored his first victory flying the “Eindecker.” Scourge of the air during the winter of 1915, the Fokker E.I was the first aircraft armed with a synchronized, forward firing machine gun.

Roland Garros
Roland Garros
Date of Birth: October 6, 1888
Place of Birth: Saint-Denis, Réunion
Date Of Death: October 5, 1918

Garros’ Innovation

Lieutenant Roland Garros, a famous stunt pilot, came to Saulnier and had steel deflector plates attached to his propeller blades and a fixed machine gun mounted in front of the cockpit. The interrupter gear was not installed, Garros relied on the steel plates to ward off the bullets that hit the airscrew.

At the end of March Garros took to the air, and in just over 14 days he had shot down five German planes. On April 19, he was brought down by enemy ground fire while strafing an infantry unit near Coutrai. His attempts to set fire to his plane to prevent it from falling into enemy were unsuccessful and his modified airscrew was quickly turned over to Anthony Fokker.

Anthony Fokker improves Garros’ Innovation

Anthony Fokker
Anthony Fokker
Date of Birth: April 6, 1890
Place of Birth: Kediri Java
Date of Death: December 23, 1939

The problem of perfecting a machine gun that would synchronize its firing with the rotation of the propellers was the assignment given to Anthony Fokker. claims that the Dutch engineer had developed the machine gun synchronizer in just 48 hours after being given the assignment.

Scourge of the air during the winter of 1915, the Fokker E.I was the first aircraft armed with a synchronized, forward firing machine gun. German pilots were ordered not to fly it across enemy lines for fear the Allies would capture the secrets of the synchronizing gear. Followed by the E.II, E.III and E.IV, the Eindecker was underpowered and slow but could out turn most of its opponents. Allied aviators who faced it called themselves “Fokker Fodder”

Fokker Eindekkers were armed with synchronized Spandau machine guns and roamed the skies virtually unopposed for a while. German aces such as Immelman and Boelcke led a reign of terror in the skies, known as the Fokker Scourge. But the the war for control of the air soon turned in favor of the Allied Powers. The Allies soon developed the De Havilland D.H.2, Nieuport 11, and the Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2 to answer to the Fokker Scourge. The Allies developed an alternate version of the synchronized gun designed by Georges Constantinesco.

Fighting Airman -The Way of the Eagle

Charles John Biddle
Charles John Biddle
Date Of Birth: May 13, 1890
Place of Birth: Andalusia, Pennsylvania
Date Of Death: March 22, 1972

Major Charles J. Biddle, described the principle of the synchronized machine gun.

“There is no mystery about a machine gun firing through a propeller without hitting the blades. Nearly everyone understands the principle by which the valves of a gasoline motor are timed so as to open and close at a given point in the revolution of the engine. In the same way a machine gun may be timed to shoot. On the end of the cam shaft of the motor is plaved an additional cam. Next to this is a rod connected with the breech block of the gun. When the gun is not being fired the rod is held away from the cam by a spring. pressing the trigger brings the two in contact , and each time the cam revolves it strikes the rod which in turn trips the hammer of the gun and causes it to fire. The cam is regulated so that it comes in contact with the rod just as each blade has passed the muzzle of the gun which can therefore fire at this time only. The engine revolves at least 1,000 turns per minute and as there are two chances for the gun to fire for each revolution, this would allow the gun to fire 2,000 shots per minute. The rate of fire of a machine gun varies from about 400 to 1,000 shots per minute according to the type of gun and the way in which it is rigged. The gun therefore has many more oppurtunities to fire between the blades of the propeller than its rate of fire will permit it to make use of. Consequently, the gun can work at full speed regardless of ordinary variations in the number of revolutions of the engine.”