Category Archives: WW1

World War 1 saw the introduction of aircraft to the battlefield. Initially, crude wood framed canvas covered aircraft were deployed in light reconnaissance roles. However the combat potential of aircraft was quickly realized and military aircraft development bureaus were established to oversee the development of planes designed for attack, fighter, bombing, and reconnaissance roles.

In the beginning, pilots were armed with conventional handheld firearms to take potshots at enemy scout planes. However research and development of heavier armed planes soon saw the introduction of light machine guns and many methods were attempted to find a way for pilots and gunners to accurately aim. After much trial and error with different configurations, it became clear that the easiest solution was to affix weapons directly to the fuselage or wing of the plane, rather than attempt to manually aim weapons independent of in-flight movement of the aircraft.

The earliest crude iterations of this setup included the Morane Saulnier which mounted a machine gun directly on the centerline of the fuselage, directly in front of the pilot for relative ease of aiming. However this presented a problem of the bullets hitting the propeller. Initial crude solutions included mounting reinforced steel armor to the propeller to deflect bullets that struck the propeller.

The introduction of the interrupter gear finally solved this problem by a direct mechanical synchronization between the engine’s rotation and the timing of the gun’s firing. This development meant that more robust armaments could be used without the need for a specialized heavy propeller.

As the war raged on in Europe, the British, French, and the Germans engaged in an air arms race driven by constant experimentation and design fads. Even the slightest edge in speed, armament, or maneuverability could make the difference in air superiority. Pilots’ skills were also constantly put to the test, attempting to push their wood-framed contraptions to the breaking point, often with tragic results.

The Red Baron's Fokker Dr.1 475/17 - March 1917

Fokker Dr.I

German Empire Flag German Empire (1917)
Fighter Plane – 320 Built

The Fokker Dr.I was a triplane built by Fokker-Flugzeugwerke during the First World War. The design, based off of Britain’s Sopwith Triplane, is well known thanks to the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, for being the plane in which he scored his final kills.

A Borrowed Idea

In the early part of 1917 the Sopwith Triplane of the Allies began appearing on the battlefield, quickly trouncing German Albatros D.III fighters with its superior maneuverability and climbing ability. The Idfleig, the German bureau overseeing aircraft design immediately ordered development of a triplane, known as dreidecker (3 winged) in German.

Nearly all of the German aircraft manufacturers followed suit. Fokker set about to develop its own triplane by modifying an unfinished prototype biplane. This initial prototype, like Sopwith’s design, utilized a rotary engine and steel tube fuselage. However the initial prototype, the V.4 did not have external interwing bracing. The next prototype, the V.5 introduced bracing between the wings to minimize flexing on the upper wing. The prototypes were met with much excitement for their exceptional maneuverability and climb rate over anything else the Germans had previously produced. The Red Baron himself, Manfred von Richthofen was believed the Dr.I held much promise for the fortunes of German air power and demanded his superiors to commence production immediately, as well as promising his men that they would soon be able to “move like devils and climb like monkeys.”

Construction

Replica Dr.1 in a Black and White Striped Livery
Replica Dr.1 in a Black and White Striped Livery

The appearance of the Dr.1 is characterized by its three-wing design – therefore dubbed a ‘triplane.’ The design also featured small sustentation surface of an aerofoil shape mounted between the wheels of the landing gear. The tail was also completely mobile with unbalanced ailerons possessing more surface area than the ailerons of the upper wing. The wings had deep section hollow box-spars that provided lightweight strength to the wings. The lack of interplane struts on the initial prototype resulted in excessive wing vibration during flight, so interplane struts were added. The ribs were of plywood, as well as the leading-edges covers at the spar, with the leading-edges made of wire. The middle wings had some cut-outs to improve downward visibility of the pilot. The fuselage was constructed using welded steel-tubing bracing with diagonal wires to create the rigid box-shaped structure, being a fabric-covered with triangular plywood fillets, except the undercarriage and center-section, which were made of steel streamlined tubing.

The tail-plane had a triangular shape, being framed in steel tubing the same way as the balanced rudder and elevators. The wheels featured an elastic shock cord, while a steel-tipped tailskid was installed at the rear.

Evaluation

The first prototype Dr.1 flew in July of 1917. Production of the Dr.I commenced on August 11th of 1917. In preproduction the triplane carried the designation F.I. Two were made and issued to Richthofen and Leutenant Werner Voss. These two aces promptly used these planes on the battlefield, scoring kills within the first few days of flying in early September. Voss took to the skies on August 28th and by September 11th had scored 8 kills.

The result of this evaluation period led Voss and Richthofen to recommend the Dr.I for production as soon as possible, declaring it superior to the Sopwith Triplane. Orders were placed for 300 Dr.I’s.

On September 14th the commander of Jasta 11, OberLeutnant Kurt Wolff was shot down whilst flying Richthofen’s F.I by a new Sopwith Camel of Britain’s Naval 10 squadron. Voss, whilst flying on September 23rd, scored his 48th victory just before being shot down in an epic dogfight wherein he managed to damage all 7 of his opponent’s SE-5a’s in the skirmish.

The Fokker Dr.I in Use

Replica Dr.1 in Flight
Replica Dr.1 in Flight

The Dr.I, upon its arrival to the battlefield in October was well regarded for its climbing ability and light controls. The ailerons were not very effective, however the tailplane elevator and rudder controls were very yielding. Rapid turns to the right were very quick thanks to the directional instability afforded by the rotation of the rotary engine, a characteristic that was taken advantage of by pilots.

Although not a particularly fast plane, it balanced this shortcoming with great maneuverability thanks to its light weight, while also having good upward visibility. It also had a decent climb rate, characteristics that all seemingly made the Dr.I a formidable adversary to its Allied opponent, the Sopwith Camel. This made of the Dr.1 a good aircraft for dogfights, yet structural and construction problems in the wings would hamper the aircraft’s promising initial assessment.

The Dr.I was armed with twin 7.92 Spandau machine guns, which could fire simultaneously or independently in synchronization with the propeller.

The Dr.I, for all its improvements over previous German aircraft, had numerous  shortcomings. Among them was its tendency to ground looping upon landing. This occurs when the aircraft tilts on landing such that one wing makes contact with the ground. For this reason skids were attached to the wingtips of the lower wing on the production version. Also while the Dr.I had excellent climbing ability, its dive and level flight speed were less than desirable, leaving it vulnerable to faster Allied planes in many situations.

Wing Problems

Following the proper introduction of the production model Dr.I in October, by the end of the month two consecutive top wing failure accidents promptly caused all triplanes to be grounded. The wing structure of the Dr.I was thoroughly investigated and numerous problems were discovered, the first of which was weak attachment of wingtips, ailerons, and ribs. Further, the doping of the fabric and wood varnishing was found to be of poor and inconsistent quality, leading to water absorption and premature rot in crucial wing spars.

Fokker’s corrective action was to improve quality control on the production line, as well as modifying and repairing existing models. The problem was believed to have been solved, and the Dr.I continued to see use well into 1918, but later the wing failures returned.

Much later in 1929, research at NACA revealed that a triplane configuration like the Dr.I’s exerted as much as 2.5 times more lift coefficient on the upper wing. The extreme difference in this force no doubt contributed to many of the wing failures seen in the Dr.I over its operational lifespan. Examples such as this show the importance of research and competence in advanced aerodynamics during the design phase of an aircraft.

Legacy

As had been seen in September 1917, the Dr.I was inferior to the capabilities of the British Sopwith Camel by the time production had commenced. Despite this, German production went on for the initial 300 ordered.

Fokker D.VII would eventually replace the Dr.1 on the battlefield, with surviving dreideckers relegated to training and home defence units, re-powered with a Goebel Goe II 100 hp engine. By the time of the armistice was signed, the Dr.1 was tested by Allied pilots at fighter flying schools in Nivelles (Belgium) and Valenciennes (France), being deemed as an aircraft with impressive performance.

Variants

  • V.4 – The initial prototype
  • V.5 – First production prototype
  • V.6 – Enlarged prototype powered with a Mercedes D.II engine
  • V.7 – Prototype with Siemens-Halske Sh.III engine

Dr.1 Specifications

Top Wingspan 7.12 m / 23 ft 4 in
Mid Wingspan 6.23 m / 20 ft 5 in
Lower Wingspan 5.7 m / 18 ft 8 in
Length 5.77 m / 18 ft 11 in
Height 2.95 m / 9 ft 8 in
Wing Area 18.66 m² / 200.85 ft²
Engine 1  9-cylinder rotary Oberursel UR II engine (110 HP), or a LeRhône Type 9Ja (110 HP)
Maximum Take-Off Weight 586 Kg / 1,291 lb
Empty Weight 406 kg / 895 lb
Loaded Weight 586 kg / 1,291 lb
Climb Rate 5.7 m/s (1,122 ft/min) or 1000 meters in 2’45’’
Maximum Speed 185 km/h / 115 mph at sea level; 165 km/h / 102,5 mph at 4000 m
Range 300 Km / 186 miles
Maximum Service Ceiling 6100 m /20,000 ft
Crew 1 (pilot)
Armament 2 X 7.92 mm Spandau 08/15 with 500 rounds each

Gallery

The Red Baron's Fokker Dr.1 475/17 - March 1917
The Red Baron’s Fokker Dr.1 475/17 – March 1917
Fokker Dr.1 217/17 - March 1917
Fokker Dr.1 217/17 – March 1917
Fokker Dr.1 152/17 - March 1917
Fokker Dr.1 152/17 – March 1917
Replica Dr.1 in a Black and White Striped Livery
Replica Dr.1 in a Black and White Striped Livery
Replica Dr.1 Ready for Takeoff
Replica Dr.1 Ready for Takeoff
Closeup of Replica Dr.1's Cockpit
Closeup of Replica Dr.1’s Cockpit
Fokker Dr.1 9 Cylinder Rotary Engine
Fokker Dr.1 9 Cylinder Rotary Engine
Replica Dr.1 in Flight
Replica Dr.1 in Flight

Sources

Guttman, R. (2011). The Triplane Fighter Craze of 1917. HistoryNet., Berger, R (Ed.). Aviones [Flugzeuge, Vicenç Prat, trans.]. Colonia, Alemania: Naumann & Göbel Verlagsgessellschaft mbH., Donald. D. (2009). Aviones Militares, Guia Visual [Military Aircraft. Visual Guide, Seconsat, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial Libsa.Dwyer, L. (2013). Fokker Dr.I Triplane. The Aviation History Online Museum.Leivchentritt, L. (2013). Fokker Dr.I Specifications. Fokker Dr.I.com., Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome (2016). Fokker Dr.1 Triplane. Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.The Aerodrome (2016). Fokker Dr.I. The Aerodrome.Fokker Dr.I. (2016, June 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. [Images] Dr1 Black-White Livery by Neal Wellons / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Dr1 Dark Red by Geoff Collins / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Dr1 Cockpit by Phil Norton / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Dr1 Flight by Ian / CC BY 2.0, Dr1 Engine by Erik Wessel-Berg / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Plane Profile Views by Ed Jackson

Spandau LMG08/15 1918 - Side Profile View

Spandau LMG 08

German Empire Flag German Empire (1915)
Machine Gun – 23,000 built

The Spandau LMG 08 was the air cooled aircraft version of the German Army’s MG 08 machine gun. The infantry version of the MG 08, like the Vickers Machine Gun, was water cooled and based on the design of Hiram Maxim’s famed Maxim Gun.

Design

After the success of the MG 08 in infantry use, Spandau set about lightening the weapon and adding large slots to the water jacket for aircraft use.  The first letter in lMG 08 is actually a lowercase L which stands for luftgekühlt meaning air cooled. From the beginning the lMG was designed to fire in a fixed position from an aircraft.

Early Spandau LMG 08 Triple Mount
Early “Overlightened” LMG 08

Early designs had so many cooling slots that the weapon was considered “over-lightened” and the rigidity of the cooling jacket was considered “fragile.” Various slot patterns were experimented with until the final design of the LMG 08/15, a refined version of the weapon with many improvements as well as a lighter weight. The final weight for the refined lMG 08/15 came out to 26 lbs compared with 57 lbs for the original iteration of the MG 08. The various versions of the lMG were all designed to be interchangeable so aircraft could be easily upgraded to newer versions. Like the Vickers, the closed bolt design lent itself to easy synchronization with the propellers, with most German fighters appearing with twin LMGs by late 1916 with the introduction of the Albatros D.I and D.II.

The ammunition belt of the lMG 08 utilized the design of the Parabellum MG14 for its light weight, rather than that of the infantry version of the MG 08. After a cartridge was fired the belt was fed into a side chute on the side of the breech block. The chute would guide the empty belt into a storage compartment to prevent the empty belts from interfering with any aircraft mechanisms.  Empty cartridge cases however were expended out of a round hole on the receiver just under the barrel on all version of the MG 08. In most aircraft the empty cases were guided out of the aircraft.

Use of the Spandau lMG 08

The lMG 08 was used on almost all German fighter aircraft of the WWI period. After its introduction in 1915, synchronization technology was rapidly being developed. On the Fokker E.I the introduction of the synchronizer system with a single mounted lMG 08 led to a period of German air superiority over the Western Front known as the Fokker Scourge. Later aircraft almost universally used a twin synchronized setup, including Germany’s most famous ace, Baron von Richthofen ‘The Red Baron.’

Twin Synchronized lMG 08s on a replica Fokker DR.I
Twin Synchronized lMG 08s on a replica Fokker DR.I

There were various styles of cocking handles in use, seemingly dependent upon pilot preference. Safety interlocks were also introduced to ensure the safety of the ground crew who at times could be in the line of fire. Another modification seen in aircraft use was a countdown style rounds counter.

Spandau lMG 08 Gun Specifications

Weight 12 kg / 27 lb
Length 1.45 m / 4 ft 9 in
Barrel Length 720 mm / 28 in
Cartridge 7.92mm x 57
Action recoil with gas boost
Rate of Fire 400 to 500 rounds/min
Muzzle Velocity  860 m/s  /  2,821 ft/s
Effective Firing Range 2,000 m / 2,200 yd
Maximum Firing Range 3.500 m / 3,800 yd (indirect fire)
Feed System 250 round fabric belt

Gallery

Spandau LMG08/15 1918 - Side Profile View
Spandau lMG 08/15 – 1918

Sources

Fokker E.I. (2016, April 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.Synchronization gear. (2016, May 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.MG 08. (2016, March 22). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.The Vintage Aviator (n.d.), The Spandau LMG 08/15, Images: Fokker DR.I Spandau Guns – 2013 by Julian Herzog / CC BY 4.0

Vickers-Gun - Aircraft Version 1

Vickers Machine Gun

british flag Great Britain  (1912)
Machine Gun
The Vickers Gun or Vickers Machine Gun as it is often called was one of the first armaments fitted to an airplane for combat in the early 1910s. The weapon, originally water cooled and based on the successful Maxim gun, was designed and manufactured by Vickers Limited of Britain and fitted to many early British and French fighter planes.

Origins

The origins of the Vickers gun can be traced back to Hiram S. Maxim’s original ‘Maxim Gun’ that came to prominence in the 1880s as a deadly armament of the British Empire. This machine gun was extremely efficient due to its novel recoil based feed operation, which utilized the recoil of the weapon to eject the spent cartridge and insert another one. The weapon was also water-cooled for maximum efficiency and due to this could be fired for long durations.

The Vickers Machine Gun Design

Vickers-Gun - Aircraft Version 1
The Vickers Aircraft Machine Gun – Fires British .303 (7.7 mm) rounds

Vickers improved on this design by lightening the overall weight of the weapon as well as simplifying and strengthening the parts of the internal mechanisms. Another significant improvement was the addition of a muzzle booster, which restricts the escaping high pressure gases from the barrel, forcing more energy to the backwards motion of the barrel without increasing recoil force.

The Vickers attained a solid reputation upon its introduction in 1912. Despite its bulk and weight of around 30 lbs (15 kg), not including water and ammunition, it was praised by crews for its dependability. Thanks to its water cooling it could be fired practically continuously, requiring only a barrel change for roughly every hour of operation.

Use in Aircraft

Vickers Gun - mounted on a Bristol ScoutThe first use of the Vickers Gun on an aircraft was on Vickers’ own experimental E.F.B.1 biplane prototype, the first British aircraft ever to be designed for military purposes. The gun recieved a few modifications for aircraft use. The water cooling system was deemed unnecessary due to the more than adequate flow of cool, fast-moving air over the barrel in flight. However the water jacket assembly had to be retained due to the barrel action mechanism, but several rows of aircooling slots were added.

Vickers Gun - RAF RE8An enclosure was added to cover the belt feed to prevent wind from kinking the incoming ammunition belt. The belt links were a disintegrating type which meant each belt link was ejected along with each spent cartridge as the weapon fired.

The closed bolt design of the Vickers Gun lent itself to forward firing use in aircraft due to its ease of integration with a synchronizer system. In a closed bolt type of firing mechanism there is virtually no delay between the trigger being pulled and the firing of the weapon, unlike the open bolt design utilized by the Lewis Gun. The introduction of the synchronizer gear system allowed for forward firing through a propeller’s field of rotation.

Colt was licensed to manufacture Vickers Machine Guns in the U.S. and had a large order for the guns from Russia in 1916. After the Russian revolution kicked off in early 1917, the Russian orders were cancelled. The thousands of guns that had been produced sat in storage until a need arose in Europe for a machine gun that could fire larger caliber incendiary rounds to destroy German hydrogen filled balloons. It was decided to use the 11 mm French gras round. All of the previously Russian sized 7.62s were altered to accept the 11mm round. Additionally they were modified for aircraft use, with the appropriate cooling slats cut into the water jacket assembly. These 11mm Vickers became known as “Balloon Busters.”

Vickers Gun - Colt Balloon Buster
The Vickers Machine Gun – 11mm “Balloon Buster” made under license in the U.S. by Colt

Legacy

The aircraft version of the Vickers Gun was by far the most used weapon on British and French fighter aircraft of World War I and the interwar period with some still in use towards the end of World War II. Most of the fighter planes developed in early WWI utilized a single .303 British (7.7mm) Vickers Gun such as the Sopwith Triplane. Later fighters like the Sopwith Camel were able to double their firepower with twin synchronized guns. Advances in aircraft design that took place through the 1930s saw the fixed armaments on aircraft shift towards the wings, allowing for larger, more powerful, and faster firing Browning 1919 machine guns to be fitted, thus signaling the end of the Vickers machine gun’s use in aircraft. The conventional infantry version of the weapon would continue to see service with British ground forces until 1968.

Vickers Machine Gun Specifications

Weight  15 kg / 33 lb
Length  1.12 m / 3 ft 8 in
Barrel Length  720 mm / 28 in
Cartridge  .303 British / 7.7 mm
Action  recoil with gas boost
Rate of Fire  450 to 500 rounds/min
Muzzle Velocity  744 m/s  /  2440 ft/s
Effective Firing Range  2,000 m / 2,187 yd
Maximum Firing Range  4,100 m / 4,500 yd (indirect fire)
Feed System  250 round canvas belt

Gallery

Sources

Vickers machine gun. (2016, April 20). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia., Segel R. (n.d.). THE U.S. COLT VICKERS MODEL OF 1915  WATER-COOLED MACHINE GUN, Small Arms Review.,  MG34. (2012, September 3). My 1918 US Colt/Australian/Turkish Vickers Mk.1 Medium Machine Gun. War Relics Forum.

 

Albatros D.III

German Empire Flag German Empire (1916)
Fighter Plane – 1,866 Built
The Albatros D.III was a bi-plane fighter manufactured by Albatros Flugzeugwerke Company in the Aldershof district of Berlin, Germany. The plane helped secure German air superiority and several top German aces flew the D.III, including Manfred von Richthofen – The Red Baron.  It was armed with 2 7.92mm LMG 08/16 machine guns which were an air cooled and synchronized version of Germany’s MG08.

Design of the D.III

Designed by Robert Thelen, the D.III was based off of the D.I and D.II that preceded it, utilizing the same basic fuselage.   This fuselage design was semi-monocoque, meaning that the skin of the aircraft, which was plywood, could bear some weight and add structural rigidity.

Albatros D.III - The Red BaronAfter seeing the success of the French Nieuport 11 and 17, the Idflieg which was the bureau overseeing German aviation development at the time requested that the new D.III adopt a sesquiplane layout similar to the Nieuports. A sesquiplane configuration consists of a modified biplane design with shorter and and narrower lower wings with the advantage being less drag at speed. As a result, the top wing was lengthened, and the lower wing’s chord was shortened, meaning the wing measured less from leading edge to trailing edge. The bracing, between the top and bottom wings was reconfigured to a “V” shape leading owing to the single spar used in the lower wings. Because of this the British coined their own nickname for the D.III: “The V-strutter.”

Water Cooled Mercedes Power

The D.III utilized a water-cooled Mercedes inline 6 cylinder 4 stroke engine appropriately designated as the D.IIIa. The water cooling and overhead camshaft yielded more horsepower than the radial engines that were more common, with the D.IIIa pumping out 170 hp. In the interest of weight savings the crankcase was aluminum, whilst the separate cylinders were steel and bolted onto the crankcase. Unlike previous designs each cylinder had a separate water jacket.

Flaws Emerge

Several problems were discovered during the D.III’s introduction. The first of which was the placement of the aerofoil shaped radiator above the cockpit. Although it was well placed to avoid battle damage, it tended to scald the pilot if there was a leak or puncture in the radiator for any reason. The design was changed to relocate the radiator right of the cockpit.

Albatros D.III - Wrecked at FlandersAnother issue had to do with several lower wing failures. Even The Red Baron himself, Manfred von Richthofen experienced this with a crack appearing on his new D.III and was forced to make an emergency landing.  Initially this puzzled engineers and was attributed to poor workmanship during manufacturing, but in reality the lower wing was experiencing excessive flexing under aerodynamic load. The eventual cause was determined to be the wing’s spar which was located too far aft. As a result of the changeover to the sesquiplane layout, only a single spar was used in the lower wing. Modifications were made to the design and existing aircraft to strengthen the wing. In spite of the modification pilots were advised to avoid steep or prolonged dive maneuvers.

Performance

The D.III was well regarded among pilots from its introduction despite having heavier controls. It offered improved stability, maneuverability, and climbing ability over the preceding D.II. Downward visibility was also much improved thanks to the narrower lower wing.

Bloody April

Albatros DIII - Climbing

The Albatros D.III was the most dominant fighter in the air during April 1917. The British forces attacking at Arras, France pushed for strong air support in the battle, but were their pilots were not nearly as well trained as the German pilots. To make matter worse, the British planes in use such as the Sopwith Pup, Nieuport 17, and Airco DH.2 were vastly inferior to the D series aircraft in use by the Germans. The British would go on to lose 275 aircraft. By contrast the Germans only lost 66 aircraft during the conflict.

Albatros D.III Specifications

Wingspan  9 m / 29 ft 6 in
Length  7.33 m / 24 ft 1 in
Height  2.9 m / 9 ft 6 in
Wing Area 23.6 m² / 254 ft²
Engine 1 water cooled inline Mercedes D.IIIa engine
Maximum Take-Off Weight 886 kg / 1,949 lb
Empty Weight 659 kg / 1,532 lb
Maximum Speed 175 km/h / 109 mph
Range 480 km / 300 mi
Maximum Service Ceiling 5,500 m / 18,000 ft
Crew 1 (pilot)
Armament 2 x 7.92 mm LMG 08/15 machine guns

Gallery

Sources

Albatros D.III. (2016, March 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia., Avistar.org (n.d.) Albatros D.III Images: Albatros D.III – Flying by DeciBit, Albatros D.III – Side View by Serge Desmet / CC BY-SA 1.0

Sopwith Camel B3889 - Side Profile View

Sopwith Camel

british flag Great Britain (1917)
Fighter Plane – 5,490 Built
The legendary Sopwith Camel was the successor to the earlier Pup. The Camel utilized a biplane design and twin synchronized Vickers machine guns. It first flew in late 1916 as the British continued to develop faster and more powerful fighters to keep pace with  German advances in aeroplane design. The Camel was deemed far more difficult to fly than the preceding Pup and Triplane, but despite this would go on to shoot down more German aircraft than any other Allied plane.

Development

After combat losses, it became apparent that the Pup and Triplane were no longer competitive against the German Albatross D.III.  Sopwith Chief Designer Harry Smith recognized the need for a new fighter to be developed. While being designed, the Camel was referred to as the F.1 or the “Big Pup.”

Sopwith Camel - Front ViewAs was standard at the time, the airframe was a wood boxlike structure, with aluminum cowlings around the nose and engine area. Metal wire rigging was used throughout the construction to enhance fuselage and flight surface rigidity. A conventional fabric covered body and plywood cockpit area ensured weight savings were maximized. The nickname of “Camel” came from a “hump” shaped metal fairing that covered the machine guns in order to prevent freezing at altitude. The F.1 was also sometimes referred to as the “Sop,” short for Sopwith. The lower wings featured a dihedral of 3 degrees, meaning the wings are angled upwards and are not perpendicular to the fuselage. However to simplify construction the top wing was flat, giving the plane a unique “tapered gap” between the upper and lower wings. Also the top wing features a cutout section above the cockpit for pilot visibility.

The Camel

After its introduction in June 1917, the Camel became notorious for being difficult to fly. Rookie pilots crashed many times upon takeoff. Part of the reason was the fact that the center of gravity of the plane was very close to the nose owing to the plane’s sizeable powerplant relative to the size of the airframe.  However the fact that 90% of the weight of the aircraft was in the front third of the aircraft gave it great maneuverability, with the weight of the engine, pilot, and armaments centered within the wing root section of the fuselage.

Sopwith Camel Replica - ParkedThe Camel lacked the variable incidence tailplane and trimming that had enabled the Triplane to fly “hands off” at altitude. This meant that a pilot would have to constantly apply pressure to the control stick to maintain level flight at low altitude or speed. Great physical strength and endurance was required to fly the Camel at length.

The Camel had a rotary engine, not to be confused with a radial engine or a rotary wankel. With a rotary engine, the entire engine and crankcase spins relative to the fuselage, with the propeller directly connected to the crankcase. Thus engine speeds in RPM exactly the match the RPM of the propeller. The torque of the relatively powerful rotary engine combined with the weight distribution of the aircraft led to a constant “pull” to the right, a phenomenon common to rotary engines.  Although not necessarily a desired feature, pilots used this to their advantage for turning in dogfights. However, in the event of a stall the Camel would go into a dangerous spin.

The difficulty of flying the aircraft is obvious from the fact that about half of all Camels lost during the Great War were due to non-combat related incidents.  Early on there were many pilot casualties on their first solo fights after training, so a two-seat, dual control version was developed to mitigate the dangers of training on the aircraft.

The Numbers

A staggering 5,490 Camels were produced. Most were deployed to the Western Front. After the war they did not see much use in service. Remarkably only 7 are known to exist as of 2016, however there are many flying replicas of the aircraft.

The Camel is credited with downing 1,294 German aircraft, more than any other Allied plane. Among the plane’s kills is the famed German ace Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen also known as the “Red Baron.”

Power

The Camel was powered by a variety of rotary engines and by design was able to be fitted with engines from other manufacturers such as Bentley. The primary engine used was the 130 HP Clerget 9B, a French design produced in France and Great Britain which also saw service in the Pup and Triplane.

The most powerful engine available was the Bentley BR1 which produced 150 HP thanks to its aluminum cylinders and pistons as well as a dual spark ignition. It was also significantly cheaper than the Clerget.

Sopwith Camel Specifications

Wingspan  8.5 m / 28 ft 11 in
Length  5.7 m / 19 ft 8 in
Height  2.6 m / 9 ft 6 in
Wing Area 21.5 m² / 231.42 ft²
Engine 1 air-cooled Clerget 9B 110 HP or 130 HP
Maximum Take-Off Weight 659 Kg / 1.453 lb
Empty Weight 422 kg / 930 lb
Maximum Speed 185 km/h / 115 mph
Range 350km / 217 mi
Maximum Service Ceiling 5,790 m / 19,000 ft
Crew 1 (pilot)
Armament 2 synchronized 7.7mm Vickers machine guns
4 20lb Cooper bombs

Gallery

Sopwith Camel B6313 - March 1918
Sopwith Camel B6313 – March 1918
Sopwith Camel B6313 - 6-1918 '3 Stripe' - Side Profile View
Sopwith Camel B6313 – June 1918 – ‘3 Stripe’
Sopwith Camel B6299 - B Flight, 10 Naval Squadron RNAS
Sopwith Camel B6299 – B Flight, 10 Naval Squadron RNAS
Sopwith Camel B6390 'Black Maria' - Raymond Collishaw
Sopwith Camel B6390 ‘Black Maria’ – Raymond Collishaw
Sopwith Camel B6313 - October 1918 - '6-Stripe'
Sopwith Camel B6313 – October 1918 – ‘6-Stripe’
Sopwith Camel B6313 - Oct 1917 Side Profile View
Sopwith Camel B6313 – October 1917
Sopwith Camel B3889 - Side Profile View
Sopwith Camel B3889 – July 1917
Sopwith Camel F6034 - Side Profile View
Sopwith Camel F6034 – September 1918
Sopwith Camel B6344 - October 1917
Sopwith Camel B6344 – October 1917

Sources

Sopwith Camel. (2016, April 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Avistar.org (n.d.) Sopwith Camel 1917, Sherman, S. (2012). Sopwith Camel, Franks, N. (2001). American aces of World War I. Oxford: Osprey Aviation. Images: Sopwith Camel – Front View Lineart by Voytek S / CC BY-SA 1.0, Sopwith Camel – Replica in Flight by D. Miller / CC BY 2.0, Sopwith Camel – Replica Structure by TSRL / CC BY-SA 3.0

Sopwith Triplane N6290 Dixie - Side Profile View

Sopwith Triplane

british flag Great Britain  (1916)
Fighter Plane – 147 Built
The Sopwith Triplane was a creation of Britain’s Sopwith Aviation Company around 1916. Its three stacked wings gave it good maneuverability and stability in flight relative to other planes of the day. The aircraft had the nicknames Tripehound, Trihound, Triplehound, or Tripe and it was popular among pilots. The Triplane first saw service with Royal Navy Air Squadron No.1 in late 1916. Many orders were placed by the RNAS as well as the Royal Flying Corps. Some aircraft were also acquired by the French Navy. One each was sent to Greece and Russia for evaluation. Only two original examples of the Tripe exist today.

Design

Sopwith Triplane Blueprint - Front ViewThe most noticeable aspect of the Triplane is its three wing design, which was one of the first of its kind. In the interest of pilot field of view Chief Engineer Herbert Smith decided to use a narrow chord design, meaning the wings were short as measured from leading edge to trailing edge. Because of the lift lost when narrowing the chord, the third wing was added to the design. All three wings have functional ailerons and the tailplane is a variable incidence type which means it can be trimmed enough for the pilot to fly hands-off. In early 1917 a smaller tailplane was introduced improving maneuverability. The Triplane was fitted with a single Vickers gun.

The Tripehound

Sopwith Triplane Flying

WIth the Tripehound’s entry into active service late in 1916, it quickly proved popular among pilots with its relatively superior maneuverability and speed. The first adversaries the Tripehound went up against were German Albatros D-IIIs which it greatly outclassed in climbing and turning ability, as well as being 15 mph faster. Every engagement with the enemy demonstrated the Triplanes’ superior power.

Clerget Power

Clerget 9 Cylinder Engine HeadThe Triplane was powered first by a Clerget  9B, 9 cylinder rotary engine developing 110 HP (82 kW). This powerplant was built in both France and Great Britain by numerous manufacturers. Later, 130 HP 9B engines were fitted, further enhancing the Triplane’s dominance, although the engine was tuned perhaps too aggressively as it was prone to overheating.

 

 

Sopwith Triplane Specifications

Wingspan  8.07 m / 26 ft 6 in
Length  5.73 m / 18 ft 10 in
Height  3.20 m / 10 ft 6 in
Wing Area 11 m² / 118.4 ft²
Engine 1 air-cooled Clerget 9B 110 HP or 130 HP
Maximum Take-Off Weight 698 Kg / 1,541 lb
Empty Weight 499 kg / 1,101 lb
Maximum Speed 188 km/h / 117 mph
Range 2 hours and 45 minutes
Maximum Service Ceiling 6,248 m / 20,000 ft
Crew 1 (pilot)
Armament 1 synchronized 7.7mm Vickers machine gun

Gallery

Sopwith Triplane Prototype N500 Side Profile View
Sopwith Triplane Prototype N500 – June 1916
Sopwith-Triplane-Prototype-N500-Brown-Bread-Side-Profile-View
Sopwith Triplane Prototype N500 – June 1916 repainted as “Brown Bread”
Sopwith Triplane N5387 Peggy - Side Profile View
Sopwith Triplane N5387 “Peggy” – August 1917
Sopwith Triplane N533 Black Maria - Side Profile View
Sopwith Triplane N533 “Black Maria” – July 1917
Sopwith Triplane N6290 Dixie - Side Profile View
Sopwith Triplane N6290 “Dixie”


Simulated Dogfight in a Triplane

Sources

1 Franks, N. (2004). Sopwith Triplane aces of World War 1. Oxford: Osprey., Images:Sopwith Triplane Flying at Duxford 2012 by AirwolfhoundCC BY-SA 2.0 , Clerget 9B Engine Head by Andy Dingley / CC BY-SA 3.0

Morane-Saulnier N

france flag France (1913)
Monoplane Fighter – 49 Built

Morane Saulnier N - Propeller SpinnerThe Morane-Saulnier N was a mid-wing monoplane aircraft that became the first French fighter aircraft. Built in 1913, it was in service with the Aeronautique Militaire in the early days of WWI. Also used by the British forces, mainly as a fighting scout airplane due to the shortage of similar planes from England. This plane also entered with limited numbers in service with the 19th Squadron of the Russian Air Force. The main roles were interception, scout and fighter. Armed with a single Hotchkiss 7.7 mm or 7.9 mm machine gun – later on with a Vickers gun –, the propeller was equipped with steel deflector plates, as the machine gun fired. At the same time, it was the first fighter plane to incorporate a rudimentary version of a synchronizing gear for the machine gun, so the weapon could fire between the blades of the propeller. Given its imperfection, the aforementioned plates were necessary to prevent “loose” bullets to damage the blades. But it was also the first model to incorporate a machinegun in a single seated aircraft, as previous models use to have an additional man to serve the machine gun. Dubbed as “the Bullet” by the Royal Flying Corps pilots due to the shape of the spinner.

Design

Morane Saulnier N - Vintage PhotographA Monocoque mid-wing aircraft, the airscrew had a large spinner, dubbed ‘la casserole’, that left few openings for cooling the engine. This left the airplane non-operable in hot-weather. The aircraft wings were made of wood with fabric, having flexible tips to allow warping. Despite its monocoque design, in reality the circular section was formed by a wooden frame with fitted light stringers. The elevator was fitted to a triangular fin, while the undercarriage usually had a M shape. These characteristics made of the Saulnier N a very aerodynamic airplane, but also a quite complicated plane to control. The aircraft was a lightweight at a point that it had a very fast landing speed and rather complicated handling, as the controls were very sensitive.

The Bullet in Service

The Morane-Saulnier N is a plane that, during service made history in many ways. It began its career as most of the military aircraft of the early days of WWI: as an observation and scout plane. After the later-renown aviation pioneer and first combat pilot Roland Garros performed some combat actions in 1915, this airplane became the first fighter engaging in aerial combat on April 1 1915, near the English Channel, in Belgium. As a result of this action, the Saulnier became for a period of time the standard fighter of the Aeronautique Militaire, granting the allies some air superiority. Besides the earlier French Airforce, the Saulnier N entered in service with British Squadrons 3rd and 60th, armed with Lewis Guns, the Russian 19th Squadron and three units with the Ukrainian Air Force.

The ‘Acemaker’

Morane Saulnier N - ReloadingRoland Garros was the first combat pilot while flying with a Saulnier – N, armed with a Hotchkiss machine gun. But the Saulnier N was also the plane where other two WWI French aces became aces. He first was Navarre, who was the first French ace. The second ace was Pegoud, an exhibitions pilot before the war, who shot down six enemy aircraft.

Variations

  • Morane-Saulnier N – Basic Version
  • Morane-Saulnier Nm Variant with re-designed tail section, with limited units
  • Morane-Saulnier I A more powerful version of the Morane-Saulnier N (with a 110 hp Le Rhone engine), which entered in service with the Royal Flying Corps with 4 units. Armed with a Vickers 7,7mm machine gun and having more speed (168 Km/h / 104 mph) and service ceiling (4,700 m / 15,420 ft), but slightly less autonomy than the basic model (10 minutes’ difference). Also a bigger version than the original plane.
  • Morane-Saulnier V The biggest version of the Saulnier N, having more range (up to three hours) thanks to the extra fuel tanks. Problems with controls made the aircraft to serve for only 5 months with the Royal Flying Corps. 18 entered in service with the Imperial Russian Air Service, later serving with the Red Air Fleet during the Russian Revolution.

Morane-Saulnier N Specifications

Wingspan  8.15 m / 26 ft 8 5/8 in
Length  5.83 m / 19 ft 1 ½ in
Height  2.25 m / 7 ft 4 ½ in
Wing Area 11 m² / 118.4 ft²
Engine 1 air-cooled engine Le Rhone 9J 80 HP or 110 HP
Maximum Take-Off Weight 510 Kg / 976 lb
Empty Weight 288 kg / 633 lb
Maximum Speed 165 km/h
Range 1 hour and 30 minutes
Climb to 2000 m 6,560 ft: 10 min
Maximum Service Ceiling 4000 m /13,123 ft
Crew 1 (pilot)
Armament 1 Vickers machine gun 7,7 mm or 7,9 Hotchkiss machine gun

Gallery

Morane Saulnier N - Reloading Morane Saulnier N - Propeller Spinner Morane Saulnier N - Vintage Photograph

Morane Saulnier N - Model Front
France’s Morane Saulnier N

Sources

Berger, R (Ed.). Aviones [Flugzeuge, Vicenç Prat, trans.]. Colonia, Alemania: Naumann & Göbel Verlagsgessellschaft mbH., Fiddlesgreen.net (n.d). Morane-Saulnier N Buller WWI French Scout. In Aircraft., Morane-Saulnier Type N “Bullet” (n.d).Morane-Saulnier N. (2015, November 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.Morane-Saulnier I. (2015, September 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.Morane-Saulnier V. (2015, September 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.,  Military Factory (n.d). Morane-Saulnier Type N Fighter Aircraft (1915)., Guerrero, J. A (May 2008). Los Ases del Aire. Muy Historia. La Primera Guerra Mundial, (17), 74-79., Hernandez, J (2007). Capitulo 6. La Guerra en el Aire. In Rodriguez, S. (Ed.), Todo lo que Debe Saber sobre la Primera Guerra Mundial (147-168). Madrid, Spain: Ediciones Nowtilus, Images: Morane Saulnier N – Model Front by Monika Maratová, Morane Saulnier N – Spinner by Great War ObserverCC BY 2.0