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.
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.”
As 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.
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.
The 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.
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.”
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|
|Armament||2 synchronized 7.7mm Vickers machine guns
4 20lb Cooper bombs
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