October 28 1917, Cambrai–The pace of advances in airplane technology during the war was quite rapid on both sides, with both sides desperately trying to gain or maintain an edge over the other’s flyers. Occasionally, this meant that some of the top fighter pilots would essentially serve as test pilots for new aircraft, sometimes with deadly results.
On October 28, Lt. Heinrich Gontermann, Germany’s top “balloon buster” (having downed 18 observation balloons and 21 planes since April), was conducting a test flight of the new Fokker Dr.I triplane near the front lines near Cambrai. After performing two loops, the top wing of the plane broke off entirely and his plane plunged into the ground; he would die of his wounds shortly thereafter.
Gontermann would not be the only victim of a wing failure in a Fokker Dr.I; many others would suffer the same accident, even in level flight. Production was eventually halted in May, after only 320 had been produced.