University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
History of Science and Technology

Page View

Schatzberg, Eric, 1956- / Wings of wood, wings of metal : culture and technical choice in American airplane materials, 1914-1945

2. Engineering enthusiasm: World War I and the origins of the metal airplane,   pp. [22]-43

Page 23

ENGINEERING ENTHUSIASM                                             23
The use of metal in German aircraft during the war took two paths. One
proved useful on a wide scale, while the other had a much stronger symbolic
impact. The first and more practical development was the substitution of
steel tubing for wood in fuselage structures. The more symbolic develop-
ment was the construction of military aircraft made entirely of metal.
The steel-tube fuselage first achieved widespread success through the
work of Anthony H. G. Fokker (1890-1939). Fokker, a flamboyant Dutch-
man working in Germany, was already a well-known flyer and airplane
builder before the war. In early 1914 he developed a new model, the M5,
patterned after a French monoplane, the Morane-Saulnier. Instead of copy-
ing the French airplane's wooden fuselage, Fokker had Rheinhold Platz, a
skilled welder who would later become Fokker's chief engineer, design and
build a fuselage framework of welded steel tubing. Platz had already built a
steel-tube fuselage for an earlier, unsuccessful Fokker design, the M2 of
1913. The M5 proved successful, and Fokker quickly adopted the welded
steel-tube fuselage for all his designs, while continuing to use wood for his
wings. Fokker's airplanes found favor with the German military, and the
German army purchased over a thousand Fokker fighters with steel-tube
The M5 fuselage designed by Platz was simple, light, and easy to manu-
facture. In form, the Fokker fuselage followed the wood structures of the pe-
riod (figure 2.1). Four tubes called longerons ran the length of the fuselage,
forming the edges of a long, roughly rectangular box. The longerons con-
verged somewhat toward the tail, giving the fuselage a tapered look. The
longerons were connected by vertical struts, also of steel tubing, which were
butt-welded to the longerons. Steel wire provided the diagonal bracing that
kept the rectangular structure rigid. Fokker used tubing of mild steel, which
was easy to weld. The heat of welding sometimes distorted the longerons,
which were easily trued by a little hammering. The completed framework
was covered with fabric or plywood.4
While Fokker was busily building his steel-tube airplanes for the German
army, other German designers were experimenting with a more radical de-
parture from current practice-building airplanes entirely of metal. Not
only did these designers extend the use of metal from the fuselage to the
wings, but they also went one step further, replacing fabric or plywood
coverings with sheet metal. The most important of these designers were
Hugo Junkers and Claude Dornier'
Hugo Junkers (1859-1935) was a successful inventor, industrialist, and
engineering professor at the Aachener Technische Hochschule. Junkers be-
came involved in aircraft design in 1909 when he collaborated with fellow
professor Hans Reissner in designing and building an airplane called the
Ente (Duck). Reissner's Ente had a monoplane wing covered with corru-
gated aluminum. Junkers soon became convinced that the ideal airplane
would be one approaching a "flying wing," an airplane consisting almost

Go up to Top of Page