Category Archives: Great Britain

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.

 

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