Tag Archives: WWI

PB.29E & PB.31E Supermarine Nighthawk

UK Union Jack United Kingdom (1915 & 1917)
Anti-Airship Fighter – 1 Each Built

Supermarine PB.31E Nighthawk

In 1915, Germany began bombing Great Britain by Zeppelin. For the first time, Britain itself was under threat by enemy aircraft. Early attempts to counter the Zeppelins were ineffective. The Royal Air Corps needed an aircraft to be able to endure long, nighttime missions to chase the Zeppelins. The Pemberton-Billing aircraft company designed the PB.29E quadruplane for this task. The aircraft didn’t perform as hoped, but before a final conclusion could be made it was lost in a crash. Years later in 1917, with the company under new management and renamed Supermarine, the program would rise again as the PB.31E.  The PB.31E was dubbed the Nighthawk, and like its predecessor, proved to be ineffective in the role. The fighter is significant for its unusually large quadruplane layout and the first aircraft to be built by Supermarine.

History

The arrival of the Zeppelin in 1915 as a new type of weapon was an unwelcome one. It offered a new way of strategic bombing, as Zeppelins were faster and able to ascend higher than aircraft at the time. Zeppelins also served as a weapon of terror, as the civilians of England had never been faced with anything like it before, especially since the Zeppelins attacked mainly at night. Early attempts to counter Zeppelin raids proved ineffective, as anti-aircraft guns had a hard time spotting and aiming at the Zeppelins. Early forms of countermeasures involved aircraft dropping flares to illuminate the Zeppelins for gunners to see. None of these aircraft were used to actually intercept the airships. The Royal Air Corps needed an aircraft that would be able to reach and pursue Zeppelins on the homefront and on the battlefield. A potential solution came from a man named Noel Pemberton Billing.

Noel Pemberton Billing (1881-1948)

Noel Pemberton Billing was a man of many talents. He was an inventor, aviator, and at one point a member of Parliament. At the time, he was invested in many forms of new technology and aircraft was one of them. Having formed his own aircraft company in 1913, he built several aircraft types for the Royal Naval Air Arm (RNAA), such as the PB.25. He had taken a short break from designing planes for the RNAA and wanted to pursue aircraft to help in the war effort. The task of taking on Zeppelins got him interested in designing a plane to fill the role.

His answer was the PB.29E, a quadruplane aircraft. Information regarding the PB.29E is sparse and no specifications can be found for it. To get the aircraft to the altitudes at which Zeppelins usually lurked, Pemberton Billing applied triplane principles in making the aircraft, except taking it a step further and adding an extra wing. Having more wings, in theory, would assist with lift, a necessary factor when trying to chase the high-flying Zeppelins. Work began in late 1915, with the aircraft being finished before winter. The PB.29E was intended to fly for very long missions and needed to operate at night. To assist in spotting the behemoths, a small searchlight was to be mounted in the nose of the aircraft. The sole PB.29E crashed in early 1916. From test flights, the aircraft proved to be cumbersome and would not have been able to pursue Zeppelins. The two Austro-Daimler engines did not prove to be sufficient for the intended role, and performance suffered from it.

German Navy – R Class Zeppelin L 31

On September 20th, 1916, Noel Pemberton Billing sold his company to Hubert Scott Paine so he could become a member of Parliament. His career in Parliament was full of slander and conspiracy, and ultimately negatively affected the war effort. Soon after being acquired, Paine renamed the company as the soon to be famous Supermarine Aviation Works, in honor of the firm’s telegraph address. Work continued on a Zeppelin interceptor, which would eventually become the PB.31E. The PB.31E was technically the first aircraft built by Supermarine and it resembled a larger and more advanced version of the PB.29E. It retained many aspects from its predecessor: the quadruplane layout, the mounted searchlight, and endurance for long nighttime missions. The armament was expanded with a second Lewis gun mounted in the rear cockpit as well as a Davis gun mounted on top of the cockpit above the wings. To make the crew more comfortable, the cockpit was fully enclosed, heated, and had a bunk for crewmembers. The Austro-Daimler engines were replaced by 100hp Anzani radial engines. Expected speed was 75 mph (121 km/h) and it was to operate up to 18 hours.

The design team poses in front of the newly completed Nighthawk, fourth from the left is R.J Mitchell.

The aircraft was constructed in February of 1917, with a second in the works. On board the project was R.J Mitchell, the future designer of the Supermarine Spitfire. He began as a drafstman for the company and several designs concerning the fuselage and gun mounts of the PB.31E are labeled with his name. To the engineers, the aircraft was dubbed the Supermarine Nighthawk, however, this name was never official. Early flights were conducted at the Eastchurch airfield by test pilot Clifford B. Prodger. Tests showed that, like its predecessor, the engines weren’t capable of propelling the aircraft to its desired level of performance. To reach altitudes most Zeppelins were found at took an hour. Not to mention, newer Zeppelins could go even higher. Its expected 75 mph (121 km/h) top speed was never reached, with the aircraft only going 60 mph (96 km/h). However, it had a safe 35 mph (56 km/h) landing speed, which would have given the aircraft easy landing capability. With the performance lacking, the RAC deemed the project to be a dead end.

With the introduction of new incendiary rounds which easily ignited Zeppelins, Britain could defend itself with the improved AA guns. Along with the new rounds, the RAC started using the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 to intercept Zeppelins at night. Originally intended for dogfighting, the B.E.2 proved to be ineffective and slow against fighters, but Zeppelins were easier, and much larger targets. With the Nighthawk now not needed, Supermarine ended up scrapping the first and incomplete second prototypes in 1917. Although the Nighthawk would never have been successful had it entered production, it still represents major innovations in aircraft design. It was one of the first true night-fighting aircraft to be designed, a concept later heavily utilized in the Second World War. The honor of being the first aircraft built by Supermarine under their name also goes to the Nighthawk.

Design

Overhead and side schematic views of the PB.29E

The PB.29E was a quadruplane designed to chase and intercept Zeppelins. Its fuselage was mounted between the lower two wings, with a gunner port being mounted in the upper two wings, leaving an opening in the middle between the two. Two crewmembers occupied the central fuselage with a single gunner gunner position in a seperate section above. The cockpit was open to the elements, as well as the gunner port. For armament, a single Lewis gun was mounted for attacking Zeppelins. For engines, the PB.29E had two Austro-Daimler six-cylinder engines in a pusher configuration. The tail itself was doubled.

Schematics for the Nighthawk with R.J Mitchell’s initials.

The PB.31E was a quadruplane like the PB.29E, but it was larger utilized a different fuselage design. Instead of having the fuselage between the lower two wings, the PB.31E positioned its body between the middle two wings. The body itself was of all wooden construction. To reduce splinters if the aircraft was fired upon or in the event of a crash, the fuselage was taped and covered in heavy fabric. To make the long missions more comfortable the cockpit was heated and completely enclosed by glass. A bunk was added for one crew member to rest during the flights as well, as the expected flights could last up to 18 hours. A searchlight mounted protruding from the center of the nose for use in patrols at night. The searchlight was movable to allow pointing it at different targets. It was powered by an onboard dynamo hooked up to a 5hp A.B.C petrol engine. For fuel storage, the PB.31E had 9 individual petrol tanks located around the cockpit area. The tanks were built to be interchanged if they were damaged or empty. In the front of the aircraft were several slits behind the searchlight that would assist in cooling. The wings of the PB.31E had significant cord to them. The tailplane was doubled like on the PB.29E, and the tail itself was lower to allow the rear mounted Lewis gun more range

The newly completed PB.29E, the gunner position between the two topmost wings is easily visible

of fire. For engines, the PB.31E had two Anzani radial engines in tractor configuration. These engines gave the PB.31E its slow speed of 60 mph (96 km/h), and its hour-long ascent to 10,000 ft (3000 m). The fluid lines, controls and other parts connected to the engines were placed outside the fuselage in armored casings. For armament, the PB.31E carried a frontal Lewis gun, a top mounted Davis recoilless gun and a rear Lewis gun. The Davis gun was built on a mount that allowed an easy range of motion in most directions. Lewis gun ammo was stored in six double cartridges and 10 Davis gun rounds were stored onboard as well.  Also on board were an unknown amount of incendiary flares to be dropped should a Zeppelin be directly below the craft.

Variants

  • 29E– First aircraft built for the Anti-Zeppelin role. Armed with a single Lewis gun. Crashed during testing.
  • 31E– Second aircraft. One prototype and one unfinished plane. Resembled a larger version of the PB.29E. Carried a Davis gun and two Lewis guns. Scrapped once the design was deemed unworthy.

Operators

  • Great Britain – The two prototypes were built and tested in England.

Supermarine PB.31E Nighthawk Specifications

Wingspan 70 ft / 18.29 m
Length 36 ft 11 in / 11.24 m
Height 37 ft 9 in / 5.4 m
Wing Area 962 ft² / 89 m²
Engine 2x 100 hp ( 76kW ) Anzani Radial Engines
Weights  

Empty 3677 lbs / 1667 kg
Loaded 6146 lbs / 2788 kg
Climb Rate  

Time to 10,000 ft / 3047 m 60 minutes
Maximum Speed 75 mph / 121 km/h
Cruising Speed 60 mph / 96 km/h
Landing Speed 35 mph/ 56 km/h
Flight Time Up to 18 hours of continuous flight
Crew 3-5 Crew

1 Pilot

2-4 Gunners

Armament ●      2x 7.7mm Lewis Guns

●      1x 1 ½ Pounder Davis Gun (10 rounds)

●      1x Frontally-mounted Searchlight

●      Unknown amount of incendiary flares

 

Gallery

Side profiles by Ed Jackson – www.artbyedo.com

Pemberton-Billing PB.29E
Supermarine PB.31 Nighthawk
The PB.29E under construction in Woolston
A frontal view of the PB.29E, note the searchlight
The newly constructed Nighthawk sits in a hangar at Woolston
The Nighthawk on the runway, notice the weapons and spotlight are absent

Sources

 

 

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