German Aircraft Designations
By: Tom Solinski (tskio at cox dot net)

As we approach the new millenium and the subsequent Centennial of powered flight I have noticed several aviation myths that should remain in this century

This short paper started off after I read an article on flying the Fokker D-VII at old Rhinebeck aerodrome. The author, the late Jeff Ethell frankly states that "D" designation of German WW-I era fighter aircraft, such as the Fokker D-VII, the Pfalz D-III the Albatros D-V, stood for "Doppledecker" or bi-plane. Looking at these examples it is easy to see how this could be accepted, because all of these aircraft were in fact bi-planes. Other Imperial German Army's aircraft designations go on to support this statement, i.e. the Fokker E-III Einedecker, (one-wing) for a monoplane and the Dr, or Dridecker (three wing) designation for the famous Fokker Dr-I of Von Richtoffen the "Red Baron".

But other designations make this "D" designation confusing. What about all of the biplanes that had "B, C, G, & W" designations? Why isn't there a "D" in these titles to identify them as Doppledeckers?

Another contradiction to this designation is found in the usually clear, specific Teutonic thinking. If they called a ONE wing airplane by the numeric title of Eine (one) and a THREE wing airplane by the numeric of Dri (three) why break convention by calling a TWO wing airplane Dopple instead of the logical, numeric Zwie (two)? After all, this Prussian logic was followed in identifying one, and two-bay rigging on bi-planes as "einstielig" and "zwiestielig" respectively.

I have come to believe that the correct answer to all of this is that under the Imperial German Army designation system the "D" designation of German WW-I aircraft DOES NOT stand for "Doppledecker". It stands for "Type D" aircraft, in a very organized, logical, system.

My research has revealed that the Inspektion der Fliegertruppen (Inspectorate of the Flying Troops) i.e.: Idflieg had an aircraft mission identification system in place as early as the fall of 1915. The system consisted of identifying the designing manufacturer by name; followed by an alphabetical mission designation (i.e. A through W) followed by a Roman numeral sequence number of that mission type from that manufacturer. This system continued to evolve throughout World War One and it eventually consisted of:

"Type A" A single place unarmed monoplane scout of less than 150 horsepower. Example the Pfalz A-I, & A-II.

"Type B" A two place unarmed biplane scout or trainer of less than 150 Hp. Example the Albatros B-I.

"Type C" A two place armed biplane scout of 150 Hp or more. Example the Albatros C-III.

"Type CL" This was a subset of the "C" type indicating "light" weight. They were developed for a new mission; to be an armed escort, or two-seat fighter. Example the Hannover Cl-III.

"Type D" A single place armed biplane scout of 150 Hp or more. Example the Pfalz D-III, and D-XII. However, this designation was later applied to monoplane fighters as well, i.e. the Fokker D-VIII.

" Type E" A single place armed monoplane scout of less than 150 horsepower. Example the Fokker E-III. Note: the Pfalz A-II became the Pfalz E-III when armed! The Fokker D-VIII was originally the Fokker E-V

"Type F" A single place armed triplane scout of less than 150 horsepower. The original designation for the Fokker Dr-I, was Fokker F-I.

"Type G" A multi place armed biplane bomber with two or more engines. Example the Gotha G-IV. This designation was originally "K" for Kampf flugzeug or battle-plane. The "G" apparently lent itself to "Grosse" or large

The sequence breaks down after G, skipping through the alphabet, sometimes using the first letter of the name of the mission type.

"Type J" A two-place, armed, and armored biplane specifically designed for the trench-strafing mission. Example the Junkers J-I

"Type N" A two-place, armed biplane scout of 150 Hp or more specifically designed for night bombing. Very few were produced. Example the Friedrichshafen N I

"Type R" "Riesenflugzeug", "Giant aircraft". A multi place armed biplane bomber with four or more engines. Example the Zeppelin-Staaken R-I.

"Type W" "Wasser"? A designation for all float equipped land planes or flying boats regardless of number of wings, seats, or horsepower.

I have two other items to support this position, of "D" being "Type D" and not "Doppeldecker". In 1918 the IDFLIEG held two "Type D" aircraft competitions. The aircraft evaluated and eventually winning weren’t always biplanes, but they ended up being Type D aircraft.

On page 19 in the book "Aircraft versus Aircraft by Norman Franks" there is a contemporary German photo of an L.V.G. B-II training aircraft. The caption printed on the negative in German reads "LVG Doppledecker, System Schneider, Schulemachine" this is clearly a distinction between the training mission and the biplane configuration of the aircraft.

Please note that this list applies to the official Imperial German Army designation for these airplanes once they were accepted for service. Many of the German and Austrian manufacturers had their own internal designation systems.

Take the case of Anthony Fokker who initially used a designation of "M" and a series number, so his companies’ M5K became the Fokker E-III in service. Later in the war Fokker used the designation "V". It is not clear weather this stood for Versuchflugzeug or "test aircraft" (i.e. prototype) or Verspannungsloser for "wing without bracing" as found on the Fokker D-VI and subsequent.

The Junkers company identified all of their prototypes with "J" not to be confused with the in service "J". Their J-4 became the operational J-I.

And finally, to confuse the whole issue the Brandenburg Company of Austria built an armed biplane designated "KD" for "Kampf Doppledecker" or "Battle bi-plane"

Some of you are probably saying to your self "this guy has too much time on his hands" and normally I’d agree with you on an article such as this covering this type of minutia. But, as one popular radio talk show host says, "words mean things". Aviation has always been an art and science of exacting words. If we care about aviation as our hobby, or for some of us, as our living, then we owe both the founders and our future followers a clear accurate history of aviation stomping out half truths and myths whenever possible.