This study deals with the comparison of numerically and experimentally determined collision kernels of water drops in air turbulence. The numerical and experimental setups are matched as closely as possible. However, due to the individual numerical and experimental restrictions, it could not be avoided that the turbulent kinetic energy dissipation rate of the measurement and the simulations differ. Direct numerical simulations (DNS) are performed resulting in a very large database concerning geometric collision kernels with 1470 individual entries. Based on this database a fit function for the turbulent enhancement of the collision kernel is developed. In the experiments, the collision rates of large drops (radius > 7.5μm) are measured. These collision rates are compared with the developed fit, evaluated at the measurement conditions. Since the total collision rates match well for all occurring dissipation rates the distribution information of the fit could be used to enhance the statistical reliability and for the first time an experimental collision kernel could be constructed. In addition to the collision rates, the drop size distributions at three consecutive streamwise positions are measured. The drop size distributions contain mainly small drops (radius < 7.5μm). The measured evolution of the drop size distribution is confronted with model calculations based on the newly derived fit of the collision kernel. It turns out that the observed fast evolution of the drop size distribution can only be modeled if the collision kernel for small drops is drastically increased. A physical argument for this amplification is missing since for such small drops, neither DNSs nor experiments have been performed. For large drops, for which a good agreement of the collision rates was found in the DNS and the experiment, the time for the evolution of the spectrum in the wind tunnel is too short to draw any conclusion. Hence, the long-time evolution of the drop size distribution is presented in a companion paper (Riechelmann et al., 2014).