The LVG B.I was the most important German reconnaissance aircraft at the start of the First World War, and remained a significant aircraft for most of 1915 before being replaced by more modern designs.
The Luft Verkehrs Gesellschaft AG (LVG) was originally an airship firm, operating an air traffic service from the Johannisthal airfield at Berlin (the name translates as Air Traffic Company). The company soon moved into heavier than air vehicles, starting with a number Farman pushers.
The B.I was designed by Franz Schneider, a Swiss engineer who had worked for Edouard Nieuport in France. After a short but successful career Nieuport was killed in an air crash on 15 September 1911. Schneider's first designs for LVG were copies of the Nieuport monoplanes (company designations LVG E I to E VI), but these failed to attract military orders and so Schneider began work on the sort of two-seat biplane that the German army favoured at the time.
Work on the B.I began in 1912 and the new biplane was under construction by February 1913. LVG gave their aircraft E or D designations, for monoplanes and biplanes (eindecker or dreidecker). D.I to D.III were Farman pusher types. Schneider's new aircraft had the company designation LVG D.IV. Later in the war LVG used Arabic numerals, as in the D 10 biplane fighter, presumably in order to avoid confusion with the military designations. In 1913 the German air force called the D.IV the LVG B, and availability reports refer to the type as the B, the B/13 and the B.I.
The B.I was an unequal span two-seat biplane. The wings were designed so that they could easily be folded back against the fuselage without having to remove the wing bracing. This was done in order to make the aircraft easier to move by road. The wings were straight edged and of equal chord, and slightly swept-back. The shorter lower wing had straight ends, the upper wing had tapered ends.
The most unusual feature of the B.I was the 'cranked' ailerons. These were made up of two sections installed at slightly different angles (higher angle on the outside, lower angle on the inside), with a connecting section. These were also designed by Schneider, and the idea was that either the high or low section would be in the airflow at all times. Contemporary pilots reported that these ailerons made the aircraft very stable in turbulent air, and also made the controls easier to use. They were used on every LVG design up to and including the C.IV.
The tail was a fairly typical early model - the fixed surfaces were shallow triangles with small control surfaces on the end.
The aircraft was mainly wooden, with four spruce longerons in the fuselage and spruce spars in the wings. Both were wire-braced internally. Both wings and fuselage were fabric covered. There was a metal panel above the engine, which stretched back to the two cockpits. The tail was built around 20mm steel tubes.
The Mercedes D I engine was carried in a simple mount on the nose, with the cylinder block visible above the fuselage. Some aircraft used a 110hp Benz engine.
As was the case with most early observation aircraft the observer sat in the front cockpit, and was in command of the aircraft, while the pilot sat in the rear cockpit.
The B.I was an immediate success. The German Fliegertruppe considered it to be better than the Albatros biplanes with better handling characteristics. The Fliegertruppe purchased eight B.Is in the spring of 1913. One of these aircraft was used to fly from Berlin to Breslau in April 1913 and after that was approved for officer training. More orders were placed during 1913, and the B.I played a major part in the 1913 Kaiser Manöver Army exercises. Later in 1913 a B.I broke the world endurance record, staying in the air for nine and a half hours. By the end of 1913 the Army had ordered 112 B.Is, although twenty four of these were built under licence by Euler and were so changed that they became known as the Euler B.I.
The B.I took part in a number of pre-war sporting events. In May 1914 four took part in the nine-day Prinz Heinrich Flug, and came first, second, third and eighth (out of 25). The type did even better in the Ostmarkenflug of June 1914, filling seven of the top eight positions (missing fifth).
Before the First World War the German Army wasn't a single organisation. Bavarian had its own armed services, and in January 1914 the Bavarian Fliegertruppe ordered its first six B.Is. The type entered licensed production with the Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenwerke of Munich, and by the outbreak of war the Bavarian air force had 24 LVG B.Is on its strength. The exact number of aircraft produced by Otto is unclear, but was probably around 125-130 before common serial numbers were introduced across German service and 170-175 in total. LVG built another 400-450 for an estimated total of 570-635 aircraft.
The B.I was already in service at the start of the First World War. Eighty-four were recorded at the front on 31 August 1914. Numbers peaked on 30 April 1915, when 174 were reported, and there were still 101 at the front on 31 August. After that the number of B.Is in service dropped quickly, to 39 by 31 October and only seven by 28 February 1916. The B.I was replaced in service by the improved LVG B.II and by various Albatros B types.
The B.I served as a reconnaissance aircraft in 1914-1915. After that it went on to serve as a training aircraft. The same happened to the slightly improved LVG B.II, and in 1917 the type was put back into production as the more robust LVG B.III.
The LVG B.I also saw service in the Ottoman Empire.
Engine: Mercedes D.I inline engine
Span: 47ft 8.5in
Length: 25ft 7.5in
Height: 10ft 6in
Empty Weight: 1,683lb
Loaded Weight: 2,490lb
Maximum Speed: 62.5mph
Climb rate: 14min to 800m