Sunday, October 4, 2009

Warplane #3-Sopwith Camel

Role : Biplane Fighter
Manufacturer : Sopwith Aviation company
First Flight : 22 December 1916
Introduction : June 1917
Primary Users : RFC(RAF)
Number Built : 5,490

Description : 
                   The Sopwith Camel was a British World War I single-seat fighter biplane introduced on the Western Front in 1917. It had a combination of a short-coupled fuselage, heavy, powerful rotary engine and concentrated fire from twin synchronized machine guns. The Camel was credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied fighter in the First World War. But it had wicked torque and killed a lot of novice British pilots.

Development :  
                      Intended as a replacement for the Sopwith Pup, the Camel prototype first flew on 22 December 1916, powered by a 110 hp Clerget 9Z. Known as the "Big Pup" early on in its development, the biplane design was evolutionary more than revolutionary, featuring a box-like fuselage structure, the design also used a aluminium engine cowling, plywood-covered panels around the cockpit, and fabric-covered fuselage, wings and tail. The two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns mounted directly in front of the cockpit, fired forward through the propeller disc with the fairing over the gun breeches creating a "hump" that led to the name Camel. The bottom wing had dihedral but not the top, so that the gap between the wings was less at the tips than at the roots. Approximately 5,490 units were ultimately produced.

Unlike the preceding Pup and Triplane, the Camel was not considered pleasant to fly. The Camel owed both its extreme manoeuvrability and its difficult handling characteristics to grouping the engine, pilot, guns and fuel tank within the first seven feet of the aircraft, coupled with the strong gyroscopic effect of the rotary engine. The Camel soon gained an unfortunate reputation with student pilots. The Clerget engine was particularly sensitive to fuel mixture control, and incorrect settings often caused the engine to choke and cut out during takeoff. Many crashed due to mishandling on takeoff when a full fuel tank affected the center of gravity. In level flight, the Camel was markedly tail-heavy. Unlike the Triplane, the Camel lacked a variable incidence tailplane, so that the pilot had to apply constant forward pressure on the control stick to maintain a level attitude at low altitude. However the machine could also be rigged in such a way that at higher altitudes it could be flown "hands off." A stall immediately resulted in a spin and the Camel was particularly noted for its vicious spinning characteristics.


General Characteristics : 
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18 ft 9 in (5.71 m)
  • Wingspan: 26 ft 11 in (8.53 m)
  • Height: 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m)
  • Wing area: 231 ft² (21.46 m²)
  • Empty weight: 930 lb (420 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 1,455 lb (660 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1× Clerget 9B 9-cylinder Rotary engine, 130 hp (97 kW)
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0378
  • Drag area: 8.73 ft² (0.81 m²)
  • Aspect ratio: 4.11
Performance : 
  • Maximum speed: 115 mph (185 km/h)
  • Stall speed: 48 mph (77 km/h)
  • Range: 300 mi ferry (485 km)
  • Service ceiling: 21,000 ft (6,400 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,085 ft/min (5.5 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 6.3 lb/ft² (30.8 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.09 hp/lb (150 W/kg)
  • Lift-to-drag ratio: 7.7
Armament :
  • Guns: 2× 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns

 Operations :
                         The type entered squadron service in June 1917 with No. 4 Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service, near Dunkirk. The following month, it became operational with No. 70 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. By February 1918, 13 squadrons were fully equipped with the Camel.

The Camel proved to be a superlative fighter, and offered heavier armament and better performance than the Pup and Triplane. In the hands of an experienced pilot, its manoeuvrability was unmatched by any contemporary type. Its controls were light and sensitive. The Camel turned rather slowly to the left which resulted in a nose up attitude due to the torque of the rotary engine. But the engine torque also resulted in the ability to turn to the right in half the time of other fighters, although that resulted in more of a tendency towards a nose down attitude from the turn. Because of the faster turning capability to the right, to change heading 90° to the left, many pilots preferred to do it by turning 270° to the right. Agility in combat made the Camel one of the best-remembered Allied aircraft of the First World War. It was said to offer a choice between a "wooden cross, red cross and Victoria Cross." Together with the S.E.5a, the Camel helped to wrest aerial superiority away from the German Albatros fighters.

Major William Barker's Sopwith Camel (serial no. B6313, the aircraft in which the majority of his victories were scored,) became the most successful fighter aircraft in the history of the RAF, shooting down 46 aircraft and balloons from September 1917 to September 1918 in 404 operational hours flying. It was dismantled in October 1918. Barker kept the clock as a memento, but was asked to return it the following day.
By mid-1918 the Camel was becoming limited by its slow speed and comparatively poor performance at altitudes over 12,000 ft (3,650 m). However, it was then used as a ground-attack and infantry support aircraft. During the German offensive of March 1918, flights of Camels harassed the advancing German Army, inflicting high losses (and suffering high losses in turn) through the dropping of 25lb (11 kg) Cooper bombs and ultra-low-level strafing. The protracted development of the Camel's replacement, the Sopwith Snipe, meant that the Camel remained in service until the Armistice.
In summer 1918 a 2F.1 Camel (N6814) was used in trials as a parasite fighter under Airship R23.

Surviviors :

                    There are only seven authentic Sopwith Camels left in the world.
  • One is in the Aerospace Education Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. 
  • One, restored to near-flying condition, is at the Brussels Air Museum Restoration Society (BAMRS) in Brussels, Belgium.
  • A model F.1 (s/n B 7280) can be found at the Polish Aviation Museum. This Camel first flew in Royal Naval Air Service and then in the Royal Flying Corps. Two pilots who flew this aircraft shot down 11 German planes in total.
  • N6812, a William & Beardmore built 2F1 Camel, was flown by Flight Sub Lieutenant Stuart Culley on 11 August 1918 when he shot down Zeppelin L 53, it is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.
  • N8156 (RAF) is currently on display at the Canadian Aviation Museum. Manufactured in 1918 by Hooper and Company Ltd., Great Britain, it was purchased by the RCAF in 1924 and last flew in 1967. It is currently on static display. 
  • A Boulton & Paul built F1 F6314 is on display at the Milestone of Flight exhibition at the Royal Air Force Museum, London. Painted to represent an aircraft coded B of No. 65 Squadron RAF.
Replicas :

  • A replica Sopwith F.1 Camel is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. This aircraft was built by Air Force Museum personnel from original WWI factory drawings and was completed in 1974. It is painted and marked as the Camel flown by Lt. George A. Vaughn Jr. while flying with the 17th Aero Squadron.
  • A replica is currently under construction by the Northern Aeroplane Workshops for the Shuttleworth Collection, and another is under construction at the Great War Flying Museum.
  • In 1969 Slingsby built a flyable Type T.57 Sopwith Camel Replica powered by a 145hp Warner Scarab engine for use in a Biggles film. This aircraft is now on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton painted as B6401.
  • Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome flies a reproduction that was completed in 1992 with a Le Rhone rotary.

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