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British Industrial History

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Sopwith: Camel

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Note: This is a sub-section of Sopwith Aircraft.

Type

  • Single-seat biplane fighter

Designers

Manufacturers

Production Dates

  • 1917-

Number produced

  • 5,490

Engines

The Sopwith Camel Scout was a British First World War single-seat fighter aircraft that was famous for its manoeuverability.

Intended as a replacement for the Sopwith Pup, the Camel prototype first flew in December 1916, powered by a 110 hp Clerget 9Z. Known as the "Big Pup" early on in its development, the aircraft was armed with two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns mounted in the cowl, firing forward through the propeller disc. A fairing surrounding the gun installation created a hump that led to the name Camel. The top wing was flat - but the bottom wing had dihedral, so that the gap between the wings was less at the tips than at the roots.

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. Approximately 5,500 were ultimately produced.

Unlike the preceding Pup and Triplane, the Camel was not considered pleasant to fly. The Camel owed its difficult handling characteristics to the grouping of 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 centre of gravity. In level flight, the Camel was markedly tail-heavy. Unlike the preceding Triplane, the Camel lacked a variable incidence tailplane. The pilot was therefore required to apply constant forward pressure on the control stick to maintain a level attitude at low altitude. 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.

The Camel was successful in combat. It offered heavier armament and better performance than the preceding Pup and Triplane. Its controls were light and sensitive. The Camel turned slowly to the left with a nose-up attitude, but turned very sharply to the right with a nose-down attitude. Because it was tail heavy, the plane also looped quickly. 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 scouts. The Camel was credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied scout.

By mid-1918, the Camel was approaching obsolescence as a fighter, limited by its slow speed and comparatively poor performance over 12,000 feet. It found a new lease of life as a ground-attack aircraft and infantry support weapon. 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 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.

The Camel was powered by a variety of rotary engines during the production period.

With the Clerget rotary engine, the crankshaft remained fixed while the cylinders and attached propeller rotated around it. The result of this torque was a significant "pull" to the right. In the hands of an experienced pilot, this characteristic could be exploited to give exceptional manoeuverability in a dog-fight. The rate of turn to the right was twice that of a turn to the left.

The Gnome engines differed from the others in that a selector switch could cut the ignition to all but one of the cylinders to reduce power for landing. (This was because rotary engines did not have throttles and were at full 'throttle' all the while the ignition was on) On the others the engine had to be "blipped" (turned off and on) using a control column-mounted ignition switch, (blip switch) to reduce power sufficiently for a safe landing.

Sopwith Camel F.1 Single-seat fighter ("scout") aircraft. The main production version. Armed with twin synchronised Vickers guns.

Sopwith Camel 2F.1 Shipboard fighter scout aircraft. Slightly shorter wingspan. One Vickers gun replaced by an over-wing Lewis. Bentley BR.1 as standard

Sopwith Camel "Comic" Night fighter Pilot seat moved to rear. The twin Vickers guns were replaced with two Lewis guns firing forward over the top wing on Foster mountings. Served with Home Defence Squadrons against German air raids. The "Comic" nickname was of course unofficial, and was shared with the night fighter version of the Sopwith 1½ Strutter.

Sopwith Camel F.1/1 Version with tapered wings.

(Trench Fighter) T.F.1 Experimental trench fighter. Downward angled machine guns. Armour plating for protection (See also Sopwith Salamander)

UK Operators

  • No. 4 Squadron AFC in France.
  • No. 5 (Training) Squadron AFC in the United Kingdom.
  • No. 6 (Training) Squadron AFC in the United Kingdom.
  • No. 8 (Training) Squadron AFC in the United Kingdom.


Survivors There are only seven authentic Sopwith Camels left in the world, with one in the United States. It can be found at the Aerospace Education Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Another one, beautifully restored to near-flying condition, is at the Brussels Air Museum Restoration Society (BAMRS)

There were 5,500 built

See Also

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Sources of Information