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The World's First Warbird

The 1912 Etrich Taube replica shown here was built with such attention to detail, such compulsive workmanship and homage to the original that one could certainly borrow the flip phrase, "It ain't your grandfather's Taube" to describe it.

Well, that's exactly what the airplane is: a faithful representation of builder Mike Fithian's grandfather's World War I mount. It is his grandfather's Taube.

Robert Eyb was a pilot in the tiny Austro-Hungarian Air Service during the run-up to World War I. When his maternal grandson sought a building venture, Fithian recalled a photograph of Grandpa Eyb and that very airplane, and a rare replication project was born.

The Taube was not designed as a warbird, for it first flew in 1910. When it did go to war, it achieved notoriety as the world's first bomber when an Italian Air Service Taube dropped several grapefruit-size grenades on Turkish troops in Libya during a World War I precursor, the brief Italo-Turkish War. This was the first time an airplane had been used in combat, making the Taube the world's first warbird.

Since Taube means dove in German, many assume that the airplane's bird-like planform is a clue to the designer's inspiration. In fact, the wings are patterned after the seeds of the Javan cucumber tree, which burst from a pod high in the tree and propagate after gliding for long distances. Austrian engineer Ignaz Etrich applied the principle to his primitive wing-warping design.

Many think of this airplane as a Rumpler Taube, for another Austrian, Edmund Rumpler, made some minor changes to the design, such as replacing the castering four-wheel crosswind landing gear with a pair of conventional wheels, and called the result his own property. Easygoing Etrich didn't bother to defend his patent, and before long, his unlicensed design was being cranked out by 14 different companies, including Rumpler's.

Fithian's Taube is currently based at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, the famous Upstate New York vintage-airplanes site, where it will occasionally be flown on gentle-weather days for the amazement of summer-weekend visitors.

Special thanks to Stephan Wilkinson for allowing us to post this article to the RFA blog. He originally wrote it for Aviation History Magazine.


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