The Real Immelmann

Fokker_ScourgeIf you know anything about flying, you’ve probably heard of the Immelmann. This air-show aerobatic maneuver starts with the aircraft performing a climbing half-loop followed by a half-roll, resulting in level flight in the exact opposite direction at a higher altitude.

The Immelmann is actually named after the first German ace, a World War I fighter pilot named Max Immelmann (21 September 1890 – 18 June 1916). Immelmann, perceived as invincible by his fellow pilots, was prestigious even among the German’s most elite pilots. He became synonymous with an adaption of the French maneuver called the chandelle. During this time diving attacks became popular, and Max Immelmann’s maneuver was used after an attack to re-position himself up at altitude for follow-on dive attacks.

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1918 flight manual figure describing how to execute an Immelmann

Interestingly, Max Immelmann’s maneuver actually looked less like the modern-day Immelmann turn and more like something the F-22 Raptor would perform. After making a high-speed diving attack on an enemy, the attacking aircraft would climb back up above the enemy, quickly approaching stall speed, then apply full rudder to yaw the aircraft around. This put the attacker facing down at the enemy, making another high-speed diving pass possible.  During the age of low-powered aircraft, wing-warp controls (before ailerons) and crude instrumentation, this maneuver required precision flying.

Ironically, the maneuver most associated with Max Immelmann also led to his death.  On 18 June 1916, immediately after claiming his 15th kill, the German ace began his signature Immelmann turn. However, two squadron-mates of his latest kill at an even higher altitude had observed Immelmann’s victory and the beginning of his maneuver. A British fighter, piloted by Second Lieutenant G.R. McCubbin with Corporal J. H. Waller as the gunner/observer, immediately rolled in and shot Immelmann down.

Fokker E.III 246~16 Max Immelmann 18 June 1916 (0347-027).jpg

Max Immelmann’s Fokker E.III wreckage, 18 June 1916

BN 700x700


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