Aircraft Database World War I Aviation Sopwith Camel

Sopwith Camel

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Sopwith Camel History

The Sopwith Triplane had only been in service for six months when its replacement, the Sopwith Camel, began to arrive in service. Perhaps the most famous aircraft of World War One, the Camel was so-called because of its distinctive ‘humped’ back, and between June 1917 and November 1918 it destroyed at least 3000 enemy aircraft, a greater total than that attained by other aircraft.

The Camel was a clear linear descendant of the Sopwith Pup and Triplane, but its combat was achieved at some cost to the peerless handling of the earlier types. In inexperienced hands the Sopwith Camel could bite, and the engine’s torque was such that it had a nasty tendency to flip suddenly to the left on take off. Casualties among trainee pilots were high, but once mastered it was a superb dogfighter. Total production was in the order of 5490 aircraft, many of which served with foreign air arms.

On December 22nd, 1916 the first prototype Sopwith Camel F.1 was passed out of Sopwith Experimental Department, having satisfied all ground acceptance tests. It was by no means a beautiful aeroplane. Compact and snub-nosed, the little biplane seemed to exude an air of sheer aggressiveness, and was simply a highly functional design. It had been originated as a fighter and its appearance fitted the conception superbly. In construction the F.1 was in no way unusual for its period. The fuselage was a conventional wooden box-girder assembly, with a gently-rounded top decking stretching from the cockpit to the tail. The cockpit sides were ply-covered, whilst the forward engine bay was panelled in sheet aluminium. With the exceptions of the engine department and the cockpit, the remainder of the fuselage was fabric-covered. Wings and tail assemblies were of the contemporary pattern of fabric-skinned wooden structure.

The most significant aspect of the Sopwith Camel was its concentration of all greater masses within a small section of the fuselage. Engine, guns, controls and pilot were tightly located within a mere seven feet length of fuselage – a factor which contributed greatly to the astonishing manoeuvrability of the F.1 and its later variants.

With all its fighting advantages, the Sopwith Camel lacked a high speed and fast rate of climb when compared with the latter German Albatros and Fokker fighters of 1918. Indeed, it has been frequently asserted by ex-Camel pilots that once committed to combat a Camel had little choice but to fight its way home – hence the unrivalled tally of opponents destroyed or brought down; but as one distinguished Camel pilot put it succinctly, ‘That was, after all, the object of the exercise…’ A Camel’s best fighting ceiling was around 12,000 feet, and given such conditions its pilot could confidently take on all-comers.

Sopwith Camel Specifications
Aircraft Type:
fighter
Dimensions:
wingspan: 28 ft
length: 18 ft, 9 in
height: 8 ft, 6 in
Weights:
empty: 929 lb
gross: 1,453 lb
Power plant:
1 × 140 hp Clerget rotary engine
Performance:
maximum speed: 113 mph
ceiling: 19,000 ft
maximum range: 200 mi
Armament:
2 × 0.303 in calibre machine guns
Service dates:
1917–1919
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