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Book Review
SE 5a vs Albatros D.V
Western Front 1917 - 18
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by: Stephen T. Lawson [ JACKFLASH ]

Author: Jon Guttman
Illustrators: Jim Laurier, Harry Dempsey
Paperback; October 2009; 80 pages; ISBN: 9781846034718

"Amid the ongoing quest for aerial superiority during World War I, the late spring of 1917 saw two competing attempts to refine proven designs. The Royal Aircraft Factory SE 5a incorporated improvements to the original SE 5 airframe along with 50 more horsepower to produce a fast, reliable ace-maker. The Albatros D.V, a development of the deadly D.III of ‘Bloody April’, proved to be more disappointing. Nevertheless, Albatros single seat – fighters remained the Germans’ most common fighters available when the Germans launched their final offensive on 21 March 1918. Despite its shortcomings, German tactics and skill made the Albatros D.V a dangerous foe that SE 5a pilots dismissed at their peril. This title tells the story of the design and development of these two fighters and concludes with their dramatic fights in the last year of World War I."

There were two types of popular power plants at this moment in history, rotary engines and inline engines. Inline engines were employed for higher altitude operations (13,000 – 22,000 ft).The power to weight ration made this distinction possible.

Design and Development
Strategic Situation, The Somme & Flanders 1917
Technical Specifications
The Combatants, RFC, LuftstreitKräfte
A. Run ins with the "Circus"
B. Learning by Experience
C. The Red Baron's first SE 5a kill
D. The Death of Greentail
E. Engaging the Enemy
Statistics and analysis
Further Reading
A. Books
B. Magazine

The Albatros
“. . . In his marvelous book, Sopwith Scout 7309 the Australian Sopwith Pup pilot Sir Gordon Taylor (66 Squadron) recorded his impressions of flying the captured Albatros D.III 2015/16, (G.42.)

“. . . I badly wanted to fly this aeroplane, to discover just what went on in the minds of our opponents when we met them in the air, and to know exactly the strong and weak points of the Albatros performance. I climbed up over the streamlined plywood fuselage, and down into the black leather pilot's seat. I felt immediately how heavy everything was after the light, fabric feeling of the Sopwith Scout. Next I noticed the view from the pilot's seat: excellent, with virtually no blind spots anywhere - a very important feature in a fighting aeroplane . . .

. . . The big Mercedes motor fired on the first swing and turned over slowly with a deep-throated burble from the exhaust. I let it warm up, and ran it up on the chocks to full take-off [power. The noise was savage and impressive after the little LeRhône. I drew back the throttle and waved to McFall (his mechanic) to pull away the chocks. . .

. . . The machine moved away with a bellowing roar and began to gather speed. It seemed to run quite a distance before it showed any inclination to leave the ground. Then I could feel the wheels rattling light upon the surface of the stubble field. A little back pressure on the stick and the Albatros was airborne, and away. I held the machine in a steady climb to 1000 feet, then applied the controls to a left-hand turn. Laterally it was quite light, but when I steepened the turn and tried to pull the machine around with the elevator it seemed very heavy, putting up a resistance to the turn. I could see immediately why the Albatros pilots kept out of the close dueling turns . . .

. . . I opened the engine out to full throttle again, and tried the climb. It was deceptive. This machine did not go up with the lift-like action of a slow and lightly loaded aircraft, but rather to surge forward, reaching out for height. But it went up, I realized with some disappointment, very convincingly; and when I drew it up to a high angle of climb it seemed for a while to go reaching up, hanging on the propeller. The climb to 3000 feet was a few seconds over three minutes; and to 6000 feet in seven minutes . . .

. . . I let the nose down. The speed built up steadily, giving me the impression that the heavy Albatros would go on accelerating indefinitely, drawn on by the power of its engine, unopposed by the beautiful, streamlined fuselage. It was fast, that was obvious. As fast as I could judge, its maximum speed was about 125 mph, perhaps a little more . . .

. . . I brought the machine in...Its personality was utterly different from our own airy Sopwith scout. Ours was in some indefinable way, a sporting weapon, with a slightly smiling, light-hearted personality; a machine which did not identify itself readily with the slaughter of war. But this Hun was a war machine, a weapon of ruthless efficiency; cold-blooded in the metal of its V interplane struts, the Spandau guns, the big engine under the streamlined cowl in the nose, and the instruments and fittings in the cockpit... My thoughts, as I got out of the Albatros' cockpit, can be...expressed, "Give me this aeroplane to fight the war. Let me keep the Sopwith Scout to enjoy myself in the air when the war is won . . .”

Gordon Taylor wrote this in 1965, from memory and referenced to his flight log. There's little doubt he was impressed, even though he'd been forbidden to try aerobatics in the Albatros. He was probably unaware of its tendency toward wing failure! Cecil Lewis had the opportunity to fly exactly the same machine that Gordon Taylor had, and wrote this in "Farewell to Wings"

". . . already in 1917 the Germans were using a 'monocoque' construction of molded ply (far in advance of us) for the body of the Albatros. I don't know what it was made of; but it gave the impression of papier maché. However, it being rounded out like a fish, it was more roomy and the whole machine seemed larger because of this cavernous cockpit. The water-cooled engine had a neat radiator in the centre-section, but it was big and heavy. In fact the German temperament showed up all along. The machine was sluggish, strong, reliable, and determined. It had none of the feeling of lightness and grace that our aircraft had. Of course, every aeroplane has its own characteristics and very few pilots take over the controls of a strange type and really measure up its capabilities in an hour or so. So it is probable we never really stretched it; but I am certain of one thing - to throw an Albatros about in the air was hard work and it would have made you sweat in a dogfight."

The D.V was supposed to be an improvement but lightening the airframe made it weaker. It also kept the Mercedes D.IIIa 170hp seen in its predecessor. Typically this manifested in the failure of the lower wing attachments and the empennage (fuselage to tail) in flight. The Albatros D.Va was the strengthened version and began having the Mercedes D.IIIaü 180hp. And was heavier than the previous Albatros “D.” types.

Se 5a
The brain child of H. P. Folland and Major Frank Widenham Goodden, the SE 5 airframe was modified after the initial batch of 24 (A4845 - A4868.) It was in the middle of the second production batch (A8898 - A8947) that design alterations created the new designation SE 5a. Essentially shortened wings and revised aileron controls were incorporated. In the matter of aircraft nomenclature it is of interest to note that the annotation of the Royal Aircraft Factory drawings states that it was modifications to the mainplanes that distinguished the SE 5a from the SE 5. But in the Air Board technical notes are headed; (I) SE 5a, 200hp Hispano - Suiza (II) SE 5, 150hp Hispano - Suiza. The first production SE 5a was A8923.

The process of writing a book seems straightforward enough. Unfortunately in this case the editing process tends to damage this manuscript more than help. The consistent errors I see in this book results from editors that have no understanding of the parlance in describing the subject matter. Multiple aircraft is not to be described as Albatros D.Vs. Adding the suffix “s” to aircraft nomenclatures is inappropriate. To be correct adding words like “types” or “airframes” is correct. Often the single designation such as “SE 5a” implies the type and can be left to stand alone.

There is no designation such as "SE 5as" but the editor of this book has tried to make it so. Trying to note multiples with the suffix “s” can lead neophytes to believe that there is a subtype of Camel or other aircraft with the “s” designation. Also adding the suffix -’s to write “SE 5a’s” denotes a possessive not a plural. The most popular form of editing is the “Chicago Tribune form”. This is taught in colleges & universities everywhere these days. The form tends to encourage these misnomers when it comes to types designations. While there are some other minor typographical errors the reader should have little trouble gleaning good information from this reference.

When contacting manufacturers and publishers please mention you saw this review at AEROSCALE
Highs: Good basic information.
Lows: Improper editing has caused a problem. Some plan view drawings would improve this book's value.
Verdict: A good source of info. Some unique photo images.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: Dual #20
  Suggested Retail: $17.95
  Related Link: Website
  PUBLISHED: May 29, 2013
  NATIONALITY: United Kingdom

About Stephen T. Lawson (JackFlash)

I was building Off topic jet age kits at the age of 7. I remember building my first WWI kit way back in 1964-5 at the age of 8-9. Hundreds of 1/72 scale Revell and Airfix kits later my eyes started to change and I wanted to do more detail. With the advent of DML / Dragon and Eduard I sold off my ...

Copyright ©2021 text by Stephen T. Lawson [ JACKFLASH ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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