by Mel Fenson

It was deadly, close-up, face-to-face aerial combat fought by American, French, and British fliers against the Germans in WWI.

Unlike today’s jet fighters flying at mach speeds and firing air-to-air missiles capable of engaging at ranges beyond 20 nautical miles, WWI fighters had the manueverability to get in as close as 30-to-50 yards away to open fire on their opponents. 100 yards was considered too far.

The cockpits were open. The drum magazine-loaded Lewis guns were mounted on the top wing with the heavy Vickers .303-cal machine guns on the fuselage in front of the cockpits – synchronized to fire through the propeller blades.

The daring pilots of those early WWI Aircraft could feel the cold air swirl around themselves as they climbed high into the skies over the Western Front, and the rush of adrenalin, when they shoved their control sticks forward to dive on enemy aircraft. And when they were fired upon by the German aircraft, they could hear the swish of bullets flashing by - if they were missed. To “kill or be killed” depended not only on the capabilities of the early fighter aircraft they flew, but also on each pilot’s individual cunning, raw courage, flying skills and luck.

Typically, those dogfights might have lasted only seconds or minutes, but the results could be permanent. An effective attack strategy was to sneak up on an enemy aircraft from behind and fire your machine guns before the other pilot had a chance to react.

Unfortunately for Allied pilots, the Allied Command felt that it was unnecessary for pilots to have parachutes because a pilot might abandon a damaged aircraft that could have been landed. However, the Germans considered their pilots to be more valuable than the aircraft, so German pilots were equipped with parachutes.

Allied pilots carried handguns use on themselves in case their plane caught fire and they were trapped.

World War I, (1914-1918) called,” the War to End All Wars,” was a global military conflict that embroiled most of the world's great powers. Over 70 million military personnel were mobilized in one of the largest wars in history. Over 15 million people were killed during the war.

The assassination on June 28, 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by a Serbian nationalist sparked the war, although conflicts on Eastern and Western fronts had already been brewing. Europe had been arming itself for 20 years before the war in anticipation of a major conflict, during which time Germany's Krupp works had been producing heavy artillery and naval guns. Once the spark set off the powder keg of war, it exploded into a larger scale conflict than any of the combatants had imagined.

The sinking by a German U-Boat of the RMS Lusitania, an ocean liner owned by the Cunard Line, an American-owned, British-operated shipping company, which killed 1201 of the 1959 people aboard, including 128 US citizens, turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, and was instrumental in bringing the United States into World War I. The first American troops landed in France on June 25, 1917.

Although the armistice, which was signed on November 11, 1918 ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty.The war ended with the The Treaty of Versailles, which was signed on June 28, 1919, five years after the Archduke's assassination.

At the war's end, Germany and Russia had been militarily and politically defeated, and Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist as autonomous entities. Following a revolution, the Soviet Union had emerged from the former Russian Empire. The map of central Europe was completely redrawn into numerous smaller states.

The League of Nations was formed in the hope of preventing another worldwide conflict, but European nationalism spawned by the war, the repercussions of Germany's defeat, and the Treaty of Versailles eventually led to the beginning of World War II in 1939.

In the early days of WWI, before America entered the fray, a group of brave Americans joined the French air force and their squadron, known as the Lafayette Escadrille became famous. The 38 original pilots in the squadron became known as the Valiant 38. A Seminole Indian Chief ‘s head was adopted as the squadron’s insignia. The squadron flew many missions and its fatalities were high. When the United States entered WWI, the squadron became part of the 103rd Aero Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Service.

The Lafayette Foundation, which was founded in 1985 by historian Dr. James John Parks, a graduate of Hopkins University, who was a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, at the University of Colorado, was established to celebrate and preserve the memory of the courageous members of the Lafayette Escadrille.

An impressive collection of both WWI and WWII memorabilia and war planes awaits the visitor and history buff at the Foundation’s Vintage Aero Flying Museum, located at the Ft. Lupton Airport, near Hudson, Colorado.

Faces of air aces and other military personnel from America, France, Great Britain, Germany and other countries, from those not so distant days, look you right in the face as you walk up and down the the museum’s aisles, which are lined with glass-cased displays that house life-sized figures of famous WWI and WWII aviators and other military personnel. They are all fully clad in authentic military uniforms from various countries, adorned with their metals - proof of their daring exploits, during those grim years between 1914 and 1918 as they fought “the war to end all wars.” Included in the in the exhibits are many wartime photos and documents.

The museum displays information about many aces of WWI and WWII, among whom are, Captain Eddy Rickenbacker, a 26-victory ace, who received the Distinguished Service Cross with nine Oak Leaf Clusters, the French Croix de Guerre with three Plams, and a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. He also received American’s highest gallantry decoration, the Medal of Honor, which was presented to him by President Herbert Hoover, at Bolling Field, Washington DC, on November 6, 1930. Displayed are his flight jacket, flying cap, goggles, and gloves.

Another WWI flyer represented in the museum is Doug Campbell, who was assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group. He became America’s first A.E.F. Ace, when he attacked two enemy planes over Eply, France on June 5th, 1918. During the combat, he was shot in the back by a machine gun bullet, but in spite of his injury, he kept on fighting until he had forced one of the enemy planes to the ground, where it was destroyed by artillery fire, and had driven the other plane back into its own territory. He survived and later became a good friend of the Parks family.

Among the WWII heroes portrayed in the museum is Colonel William M. Bower, who flew on the famous B-25 raid on Tokyo, launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942 with Jimmy Doolittle’s Raiders. Now in his nineties, he still lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Germany's 4th highest scoring Ace, Joseph Jacobs, is another WWI flyer, whose story is exhibited in the Museum. He flew a black triplane and scored 48 aerial victories. Dr. Parks became acquainted with him during the time he was an exchange professor at the University of Munich in the sixties.

Also represented in the Museum is Kiffin Rockwell, who achieved Americans' first aerial victory, on May 18, 1916. On September 23, of that year, while flying a Nieuport fighter, he attacked a German two-seater, whose gunner sprayed him with machine gun fire and brought him down.

Another Lafayette Escadrille pilot was Eugene Bullard the first black fighter pilot. He had formerly been a prize fighter. Although he scored two victories over Fokker triplanes, he was not allowed to become an officer because he was black.

The memory of the Lafayette Escadrille and the air war is really brought to life when you enter the hanger and see the replica of the Red Barron’s (Baron Manfred von Richthofen) bright red Fokker Triplane sitting there surrounded by the museum’s collection of other replica WWI fighter aircraft. The Foundation has one of the World’s most comprehensive and growing WWI aircraft collections.

Dr. Parks personally knew most of the men and women or their families, who are represented in his collection. He had begun collecting WWI memorabilia as a kid in1936. The evolution of the museum resulted from the many reunions of the pilots from World War I, including The Final Reunion of the Aces of the First War in Paris, France in1981, and the Final Reunion of the Lafayette Flying Corps in 1983, which Dr. Parks had been instrumental in organizing. Dr. Parks' son, Andy Parks was in his twenties when the reunions occurred and he met many of the people.

During that last reunion, the surviving members of the Corps made Dr. Parks an Honorary Member of the Corps and asked him to carry on their history, so future generations might learn about WWI and their flying exploits. Dr. Parks honored the member's wishes by creating the Lafayette Foundation in 1985. Its mission was to preserve aviation history, educate young people and the public about it, and encourage future generations to carry on its history. The Foundation has been based at the Platte Valley Airport, near Ft. Lupton, Colorado since 1999.

The recent Hollywood movie, “Flyboys” provides a fictionalized portrayal of the Lafayette Escadrille's dramatic story and attests to their bravery and flying skills. Much of the WWI fighter plane research for the movie was done at the Lafayette Foundation’s museum and one of their SE 5 replicas was flown in combat sequences in the film.

The Foundation’s current President and Executive Director is the founder’s son, Andy Parks. He continues his father’s vision of preserving the history of the men and women who served their countries during the Great Wars.

Following in his Father’s footsteps, Andy is not only carrying forth the original mission of the Foundation, but is also actively involved with a number of ongoing aeronautical engineering projects to add to the museum's collection of WWI replica fighter aircraft. The collection is currently comprised of three Fokkers - an DVII, a DVIII and a Fokker Triplane, plus two American S.E. 5’s. Andy and his Father built the collection’s original replica Fokker DVII during the 1970’s.

Replica projects currently underway include a full scale S.E. 5a, a full scale British Sopwith Camel, a Fokker Triplane , a full scale Albatross D5, and a full scale Spad. A number of mechanics and volunteers assist Andy with aircraft construction.

All of our aircraft fly,” Andy stated, “and they are painted with the markings of the original pilots who flew them in WWI. They are armed with mock machine guns. Andy added, “The fun I have is in reconstructing history by building a plane like this yellow, green and black Fokker DVIII, which was flown by Sachsenberg, a German ace, who was obviously a character who was brash enough to fly a brightly colored plane like this. He was fearless in combat and unafraid of being a highly visible target. He won 31 victories.”

The museum's Fokker triplane is a replica of the fighter flown by Germany's famous Baron Manfred von Richthofen, known as the “Red Barron. It is painted in the bright red color he was noted for.

“Our S.E. 5a, Andy pointed out, “has the colors and markings of Lt. Col. William C. Lambert, who was America’s 2nd highest scoring ace with 22 victories.” Andy said he and his Dad knew him personally. He flew as an American member of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force.

According to Andy, their replicas are built from original plans, some of which survived the war and were later reproduced by modeling magazines and historians. “Interestingly,” Andy pointed out, “Reinhold Platz, who originally designed the Folker DVIII, along with Anthony Fokker, actually lived until the late sixties. When he was contacted in the mid-sixties by a man named Swearinger, who wanted to build a Fokker DVIII, he was able to re-engineer the plans from memory.”

“Some replica aircraft are built at a 7/8th scale size,” Andy explained, "because many are built by aircraft enthusiasts in their garages at home and that size can be constructed in a garage.” He said most use a common modern engine, such as a Cessna 152. Andy, further explained, “These aircraft are very basic, they are constructed with either tubular-welded fuselages and wood wings or of all wood. The skins are made from modern seconite, which is a polyester-blend fabric. The originals were all cotton, a material which would deteriorate from the high UV rays in Colorado's high altitude environment. We use a dope-style paint to cover the fabric, however our triplane has an acrylic enamel, which gives it a shiny red finish.”

“The expected longevity for aircraft built in WWI was maybe only 25 hours, before they were either scrapped or rebuilt,” Andy said. “We expect our planes to last indefinitely.” He added, “Being fighter aircraft, these planes could take a lot of abuse and still survive. They were well-engineered and designed to take a lot of positive and negative G’s.”

“During wartime,” Andy said, “engines were developed to fly on low grade fuel, such as 50 or 70 octane, but today’s standard is 100 octane low lead, which is used in general aviation, and the engines for all our aircraft can run on that.” Typically WWI fighters carried enough fuel to last one-and-a-half hours, which was around 20 gallons. A deep flight into enemy territory might have only been only a 20-mile flight behind lines.

Major funding for the Lafayette Foundation is provided by members of the Gates Rubber family, an aviation-minded family, who have a great interest in keeping aviation history preserved. Charlie Gates was involved with Bill Lear and his development of Lear Jets. His son and daughter, John and Diane are both pilots.

Nick and Nancy Rutgers (of Rutgers University), who live nearby, have also been supportive of the museum. Nancy’s father James Norman Hall was a member of the Valiant 38 Lafayette Escadrille, then flew with the 98th Aero Squadron, when the U.S. got into the war. He later became a well known writer and was the author of “Mutiny on the Bounty” and other books.

Additional funding also comes from bringing corporate groups and other organizations to the museum for meetings and annual gatherings. The museum provides these groups with lunch, a museum tour and flying demonstrations. The Museum also sponsors many educational events for schools. It is always seeking to attract more organizations, school events and members.

In 2001 Mike DeSanti, a former employee of museum, who was an A&P and who helped with the restoration of the Fokker DVIII, donated property to the Foundation to build a hangar to house its historical collection and aircraft.

During the fall of 2002, the foundation was able to build an 80x60 ft. facility to house both the aircraft and the memorabilia collection under one roof. This project was made possible with donations made by Harry Combs of Combs Aircraft and Andy Parks, plus a construction loan.

The Lafayette Foundation is planning a historic flying event, which will take place during September 2009, when three of the museum’s aircraft - a Fokker Triplane, a Fokker DVII, and a Fokker DVIII - are scheduled to be flown from Colorado to Wright-Patterson Airbase in Dayton, Ohio for a bi-annual WWI fly-in that the Air Force Museum will be holding there on September 25, 26 and 27. The round trip flights will cover 1200 miles. Andy noted, “These are not stable cross-country aircraft, they are fighters built to handle the stress of combat maneuvers, so this long flight will be an unusual event.”

There are also plans for a documentary to be filmed about the flight, the planes and the museum. It will include a historical perspective about the original German Fokkers and the aces who flew them in WWI. The film will also include interviews about the flight with the pilots who fly the planes to Dayton. The documentary will air on local PBS television channels 6 and 12, and other cable television channels. DVD’s will be provided for schools.

Andy said, “Our Museum is located in Colorado because we are native Coloradoans and the Platte Valley Airport allows us the freedom to fly our aircraft as they are supposed to be flown - in general airspace with open fields available for landings.” He added, “The airport has no tower and there are no radios in the planes, and it’s hard to hear a radio in an open cockpit anyway.”

The Foundation has members from around the country and some from abroad, such as the New Zealand film director, Peter Jackson, who produced the remake of the “King Kong” movie. Andy said, “Peter is an active historian and a collector of WWI memorabilia, and he has a WWI museum in New Zealand. We correspond and plan to attend a fly-in there in a couple of years.”

A popular event held by the Vintage Aero Museum in the third weekend of May each spring is its annual fly-in. It coincides with a picnic for the Daedalians, a fraternal order of fighter pilots which was started by WWI pilots. Today the members are comprised of WWII, Vietnam and current day pilots. Andy and his father have been honorary members.

“The event provides an opportunity for the public to see several of our aircraft fly, along with others, which are flown in from around the country, and it provides an open house for the museum,” Andy noted. During the event, a number of history re-enactment groups in Colorado participate. They wear uniforms from a number of countries, which fought in WWI and WWII and display weapons and other memorabilia from their own collections from those periods. Among the participants is Russ Morgan of Longmont, who brings a mechanized unit including, Jeeps, a Sherman Tank and a Stewart Tank to the event.

“What better way to spark young people's and the public's interest in aviation and history,” Andy remarked, “than for them to see our colorful WWI fighter planes fly and have the opportunity to see the Museum's WWI and WWII exhibits.” He added, “Maybe some of our young visitors will be inspired to become pilots or engineers or history buffs.”

The Museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from
10 am – 4 pm.
Admission is $5.00 for ages 12 and older. For information visit the Museum's website at:
or call: 303-502-5347

Story edited from Interviews with Andy and Andrea Parks and from information from
DK Publishing's "World War I," and Web Sources. Special thanks to
Corkey Motter, our knowledgeable
museum tour guide.

WWI News Item :

According to a CNN news report, Henry Allingham, the world's oldest man and the oldest surviving British veteran from World War I, died at the age of 113, on Saturday 7/18/2009 in Ovingdean, England.

He joined the Royal Naval Air Service as an aircraft mechanic in 1915. In 1917 he was sent to France to support the Royal Flying Corps. His job as a mechanic was to service the aircraft and recover parts from downed planes, but pilots would often ask their mechanics to fly with them, so Allingham would sit behind the pilot and drop bombs or operate the machine gun.

He was made a chevalier in France's Legion of Honor in 2003 and was promoted to officer earlier this year.

The Royal Navy celebrated Allingham's birthday last month by throwing him a party aboard the HMS President.




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