The First « ACE » WW I

Roland Garros, a French pilot who had become famous as the first man to fly the Mediterranean, turned his attention to the problem of firing through the propeller of the more suitable single-engine tractor aircraft. Using an idea based on experiments done by Raymond Saulnier, he came up with a workable, but dangerous, solution. His mechanic, Jules Hue, mounted an automatic rifle on the front of his Morane monoplane and attached steel deflector plates to the backside of the propeller. Bullets that did not go through the propeller arc would simply ricochet off the angled steel plates. It was a frightening solution, but Garros was a man of courage and conviction; he took his innovation into the air and, within 18 days, shot down three enemy airplanes and forced two to land, thus earning the title "ace," a French slang term denoting an outstanding performer in any field. An Allied journalist, hearing of Garros' five victories (only three were confirmed) and references to him as an "ace," interpreted the term to mean a pilot with five scores. In his news stories, he reported that five scores were required to become an ace. The misinterpretation that five scores qualified a pilot as an ace spread and later became the accepted criterion.

With his front-firing gun, Garros was the terror of the skies until engine trouble forced him down behind enemy lines on April 19, 1915. When the Germans saw his aircraft, the secret of his deflector device was out.

Garros' propeller with the deflector plates was shown to Anthony Fokker, a brilliant young Dutch engineer who operated a pilot training school and a small aircraft factory in Germany. Fokker was told to produce a system that would be as good or better. Within the week, he delivered a synchronizer gear, a mechanical system that prevented the gun from firing until the propeller was safely out of the way. Fokker's synchronizer, or interrupter system, was immediately installed on one of his monoplanes and, although not entirely free of problems, the device was considered a great success.