Hello everybody! We've got a great little sneak peek at some of the work we're already doing on the 1917 Fokker Dr.I! Check out the video above for some behind-the-scenes action!
We’re in the middle of the centennial of World War I, and the Owls Head Transportation Museum is embarking on a mission to return the Red Baron to the skies with its full-scale, flying 1917 Fokker Dr.I reproduction. This aircraft is one of the most iconic aircraft in history, and none are better known than those flown by Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron. Even 100 years after his death, people of all ages still recognize his name and can conjure the enduring images it provokes.
Since the doors opened in 1976, the Owls Head Transportation Museum has been a bastion of transportation technology in its truest form. As an operational museum, virtually every vehicle in the museum’s collection runs, flies, or drives. As one of our original pieces, the Dr.I was built in the 1970s by founding Trustee Kenneth Cianchette and has been seen flying over the skies of Owls Head, thrilling and teaching audiences for decades. That is, until recently.
In 2014, it was discovered that the Dr.I was in need of considerable repair and maintenance. From new fabric to cover the wooden wings and body, to repairs to the intricate and delicate wooden structures, and a complete engine overhaul, this airplane requires total restoration. Because there are no original examples in existence—and artifacts are few and far between—getting this aircraft running and back in the sky is especially important. This flying example is one of only a few in the world, and it is the duty of Owls Head to preserve its historical significance by returning it to airworthiness.
In telling the story of the infamous flying ace, the Owls Head Transportation Museum brings visitors face-to-face with the technologies that fueled the early 20th Century and teaches younger generations about why those technologies are still significant today. Once completed, our Dr.I will enlighten, entertain, and educate our visitors through first-hand interaction with the plane. Please help us return this piece of history to the skies as we honor the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I.
Who Was the Red Baron?
Best known as The Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen’s legacy would become synonymous with the best pilots of the Great War. He entered military school in 1903 at the age of 11, following in the footsteps of his father, a Rittmeister—Cavalry or Riding Master—in the German army. A natural rider and marksman, Manfred excelled at athletic pursuits, and in 1911, he was commissioned as a cavalry officer; when The Great War erupted in 1914, Richthofen was deployed within days.
Aircraft technology was in its infancy in the years leading up to World War I, and the airplane was not immediately embraced; in fact, many countries had staunchly denied any practical use for the machine. The airplane’s first role in the conflict—and the role that introduced Richthofen to the air—was observation and reconnaissance: Aerial observation was far more effective than that conducted on horseback. Initially, observers found themselves removed from the fray in the relative safety of the air. With so few craft at those heights, pilots and observers had little to fear.
These early, clumsy birds were akin to Richthofen himself as he transitioned from the horse to the plane. In the spring of 1915, Richthofen experienced his first aerial mission as an observer. His helmet slid off, his papers blew from his hands and out of the cockpit, and he immediately lost his sense of direction. But just as the role of aircraft advanced, so did Richthofen. From observer, he moved to the pilot’s seat, flying his own surveillance missions. As technology improved and the airplane became an offensive tool, Richthofen, too, evolved, ultimately into the most successful fighter pilot of the War. Step by step, his career mirrored the development of airplanes, his skills as a pilot evolving to match the growing technological advances of aircraft, but it was his great success and his final airplane, the Fokker Dr.I, that made him the folk hero he is today.
Killed in Action
Even as pilot and plane themselves represent the progression and development of the aircraft, perhaps the most intriguing part of this story is the mystery surrounding the ultimate demise of the Red Baron. On April 21, 1918, at the age of 25, Manfred von Richthofen was shot from the skies over Vaux sur Somme, France. For decades, historians and enthusiasts alike have puzzled over the circumstances that led to his end. Initial reports credit the fatal salvo to Captain Roy Brown, a Canadian pilot flying for the Royal Air Force. Another theory credits ground fire emanating from Australian troops, with multiple soldiers claiming to have made the fatal shot. The question may be argued perpetually, with no conclusive answer. Regardless of the outcome of the debate, there is no question that the Red Baron remains one of the most recognized pilots in history.
Why Help Us with the Fokker Dr.I?
The Owls Head Transportation Museum has a long history of restoring, repairing and even constructing aircraft in its collection. In 2016 alone, the Museum put two of its earliest original aircraft back in the air after years of earthbound existence. Most notable among our success stories is our 1917 Curtiss JN-4D, better known as the Jenny. The plane had been grounded for years, in desperate need of an engine overhaul. With funding secured, the Museum’s team of staff and volunteers consulted with experts from around the country to have the engine repaired and upgraded for safety and reliability. As with projects of this nature, success was never guaranteed. Despite a series of technical setbacks, perseverance and expertise won out, and the Jenny was able to return to the air, exciting guests as it flew for the conclusion of the Museum’s 2016 Special Event season. We want the Fokker Dr.I to be next.
- Restore our Fokker Dr.I to flying condition, to standards as exacting and as true as possible to the original airplane 425/17, the final aircraft flown by Richthofen.
- Utilize the airplane as a flying classroom, allowing visitors to experience the sights and sounds of history while learning the significance of this aircraft and what it represents.
- Incorporate the aircraft in an exhibition that explores the role of aircraft in The Great War by tracing the evolution of the airplane from observation tool to fighter. As noted, this craft and its pilot epitomize the trajectory of this evolution.
- Perpetuate the Museum’s mission as a living history experience by maintaining the aircraft in operational condition.
Rewards For You!
$10: Restoration Partner
Receive regular project updates and your name listed on the Owls Head Transportation Museum's website as a partner of the Fokker Dr.I Restoration Team!
Receive an assortment of Dr.I and Owls Head Transportation Museum branded gifts: a keychain, a set of postcards, and a magnet. In addition, your name listed on the Owls Head Transportation Museum’s website as a member of the Fokker Dr.I Restoration Team.
Receive all items above plus an additional Fokker Dr.I-branded pin and bumper sticker.
Receive a special-edition Fokker Dr.I T-Shirt in addition to all items listed above.
Receive a Red Baron baseball cap in addition to all items listed above.
$250: Reconnaissance Pilot
Come share the Museum with us! At this level, you will receive a year-long household membership to the Owls Head Transportation Museum that includes a subscription to award-winning Strut & Axle magazine and unlimited admission to the Museum and our special events for two adults. In addition, you will receive all the above items.
$300: Aviator / Aviatrix
Receive all of the above plus special recognition as a Fokker Dr.I Restoration Team Member in an upcoming edition of Strut & Axle and your name in the credits of an upcoming short film about getting our WWI aircraft back in the air. You may also choose to honor a loved one by sponsoring this in his/her name. In addition, you will receive all of the above.
All backers at this level will receive a jump drive of behind-the-scenes footage of the DR.I overhaul and repair and all of the above items. In addition, the first 40 sponsors at this level or higher will receive a copy of Milestone 40, an original, brand-new short film featuring a year in the life of the Owls Head Transportation Museum.
Receive all of the above plus a one-of-a-kind ride over Maine’s Midcoast in our 1941 Stearman biplane or 2011 Waco biplane and a commemorative swatch of cloth from our Fokker DR.I, removed during the process of repair.
$5,000: Flying Ace
The first five backers at this level or higher will receive all of the above plus one of the cloth crosses from the body of the plane. In addition, backers at this level are welcome to visit the Museum for a special photo op with the completed Fokker Dr.I triplane. Period costumes welcome!
$10,000: Air Boss
The first two backers at this level will receive one of only two sections of the cloth covering of the plane that include the tail number Fok. DRI 425/17, which was the historical number on the Red Baron’s infamous plane. In addition, all other backers at this level will receive a personalized, behind the scenes tour of the Museum, including some up-close-and-personal looks at our WWI aircraft, with our director or curator, as well as all items above.
Who We Are
The Owls Head Transportation Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit museum with a strong focus on educational initiatives, many achieved through demonstration of our largely operational collection. Located on the Maine coast adjacent to the Knox County Regional Airport, the Museum is a place where machines of a bygone era are celebrated through conservation, preservation and demonstration.
Unlike many transportation museums, the Owls Head Transportation Museum’s collection are not static sculptures hidden behind “Do Not Touch” signs. Instead, we operate our aircraft, ground vehicles and engines at numerous events conducted throughout the year, encouraging curiosity and interaction in a dynamic educational environment. Care and maintenance of these historic vehicles requires the attention of a large volunteer workforce that, under the supervision of professional staff, ensures that our collection is in operating condition. While the Museum is open all year, the summer event season offers an unparalleled opportunity to see our collection in action during scheduled airshows and ground vehicle demonstrations. Our goal here is to see our Fokker Dr.I join us in the air at these events. Contributions are tax deductible as allowed by law.
Risks and challenges
Like any antique aircraft restoration project, there are many variables. There are the costs we know we will incur: the engine, the new and refurbished fittings and instruments, the fabric and paint for the fabric covering the wings and body. We are asking for $50,000 to cover these repairs. But until we really dig into the project, there are many unknowns we might have to address: structural repairs, hardware replacement and repair, certification hurdles, and more. However, with our dedicated team of professional aircraft experts and volunteers and the air of excitement around this project, there is little risk that that this aircraft will not become airworthy once again.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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