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Wonders of World Aviation

Derived From the Scout, the Fighting Machine Quickly Developed into a Formidable Weapon of War


AEROPLANES OF THE GREAT WAR - 2


THE VICKERS “GUN-BUS”, the Vickers F.B.9





























KNOWN POPULARLY AS THE VICKERS “GUN-BUS”, the Vickers F.B.9 (1915-16) was a pusher-type two-seater, with a 100 horse-power nine-cylinder rotary engine driving a propeller turning between the four tail booms. The speed was 79 miles an hour at 6,500 feet and 75 miles an hour at 10,000 feet. A Lewis gun was mounted as shown in front of the forward cockpit.




FIGHTING in the air began before the end of 1914. Its beginnings were crude. Lieut. G. W. Mapplebeck, the first British pilot to be wounded in the air, was hit on September 22, 1914, by a rifle bullet fired from a German Albatross aeroplane flying below him. British observers used rifles to shoot at German aeroplanes. Soon they began to contrive ways to mount a Lewis gun to fire from the rear seat of Avros and B.E.s. Most of these efforts, however, were mainly directed, towards taking advantage of the chance encounter.


The first attempt at really aggressive air fighting was made by the French in 1915. Steel deflector plates, shaped like wedges, were fitted on the rear faces of the propeller blades of a single-seater scout. A machine-gun was then mounted on the fuselage to shoot forward through the propeller disk. Some of the bullets struck the deflectors and ricochetted; others passed straight forward between the blades. Roland Garros, a famous French pilot, flew this aeroplane and shot down several German aeroplanes, but soon engine failure brought him down inside the German lines.


The secret was discovered. A. H. G. Fokker, who was then making aeroplanes for the German Army at his factory at Schwerin, Germany, saw parts of the machine and soon afterwards invented the first gear to control the firing of machine-gun bullets through the propeller disk without hitting the blades. Thus, in 1915, came the Fokker single-seater monoplane which surprised the RFC and caused many losses on the Western Front. The British had no single-seater to counter it.


The B.E.2c had a Lewis gun mounted to fire forward and outward to clear the propeller. To attack another aeroplane with it meant flying crab-wise. The Vickers “Gun-Bus”, a pusher, had a Lewis gun mounted in front of the forward cockpit.


The synchronizing gear of the Fokker single-seater enabled it to be flown as a gun-laying device, whereas the pilots of the two-seater aeroplanes of the day had to think of their machines as gun-platforms from which their observers could shoot.


The first British answer to the Fokker was the D.H.2 single-seat pusher fighter, from which the gun could be fired forward from a fixed position or, if need be, swivelled. Two-seater pusher-type fighters were developed also. Among these were the F.E.2b and F.E.2d, the latter with a machine-gun for the pilot as well as the observer. The F.E.2d did magnificent work. These types of machine will be described in a later chapter on reconnaissance types.


Pusher types were abandoned about the middle of 1917, during the quest for higher speeds. After that the tractor fighter, with a machine-gun or guns synchronized to fire forward through the airscrew, became standard, with the exception of the S.E.5. This aeroplane carried a Lewis gun on a Foster mounting on the upper surface of the centre section, in the same way as the earlier Nieuport Scout mounted its single gun. Unlike the Nieuport, the S.E.5 had, as well, a Vickers gun in the fuselage.


The two-seater tractor-type fighters were entrusted with Army photographic and reconnaissance duties, in addition to offensive patrols. These two-seaters carried a Vickers gun fixed in the fuselage for the pilot to fire through the airscrew by means of an interrupter gear; a Lewis gun for the observer was fitted on a rotating and elevating Scarff ring mounting. Prominent among two-seaters of this type were the Sopwith 1½-Strutter and the Bristol Fighter, both of which will be described in the chapter on reconnaissance types.


The following detailed description of British fighting aeroplanes shows the development of this class of aeroplane during the war years of 1914-18. The Sopwith Tabloid and the Bristol and Morane single-seater scouts are described in the first chapter of this series. At first these machines were scouts in the true sense of the word, for they were unarmed.


The Vickers Fighter (1915-16) was probably better known under its name of Vickers “Gun-Bus”. Its official description was Vickers F.B.9. It was a pusher-type two-seater, powered with a 100 horse-power Monosoupape (single-valve) 9-cylinder rotary engine, driving a propeller turning between the four tail booms. In the nacelle it carried a pilot and an observer-gunner. The Lewis gun was mounted in front of the forward cockpit.

Speed of the “Gun-Bus”


The aircraft’s speed was 79 miles an hour at 6,500 feet and 75 miles an hour at 10,000 feet. The flight duration was 5 hours and the service ceiling 11,000 feet. Span was 33 ft 9-in, chord 5 ft 6-in, dihedral 3 degrees, stagger nil and gap 6 feet. The length was 28 ft 5½-in, the height 11 ft 6-in and the tail span 14 ft 3-in. Wheel track was 5 ft 10½-in. The Vickers Fighter was used by RFC Squadrons No. 2, 5, 11, 16 and 18, and was officially described as a fighter reconnaissance aeroplane.


The De Havilland D.H.1a (1915-17) was a two-seater tractor biplane fitted with a 120 horse-power Beardmore six-cylinder water-cooled engine. Its speed was 90 miles an hour at 6,500 feet and 86 miles an hour at 10,000 feet. Service ceiling was 13,500 feet. This machine was not used as the complete equipment of any squadron.


The F.E.8 (1915-17) was designed and built at the Royal Aircraft Factory, at Farnborough. It was a single-seater pusher fighter fitted with a 100 horse-power Monosoupape rotary engine. Its top speed was 94½ miles an hour at sea level. It was used by RFC Squadrons No. 5, 40 and 41.


The Vickers Scout (1916), known also as the Vickers Bullet, was considered a fast single-seater, as indeed it was in its day. It was a diminutive tractor biplane mounting a 110 horse-power Le Rhone 9-cylinder rotary engine. It had a speed of 109 miles an hour at 6,500 feet, a flight duration of 3¼ hours and a service ceiling of 15,000 feet. It was used by No. 11 Squadron, RFC.


The Sopwith Snipe








THE SOPWITH SNIPE of 1918 was a single-seater double-bay tractor biplane with a 200 horse-power Bentley B.R.2 air-cooled rotary engine. This was the most powerful rotary engine used in the war. Two synchronized Vickers machine-guns were mounted on top of the fuselage. Speed at 10,000 feet was 121, at 15,000 feet 113 and at 16,500 feet 108 miles an hour.











The De Havilland No. 2 (1916-17), better known as the D.H.2, was a single-seater pusher fighter fitted with a 100 horse-power Monosoupape rotary engine. It carried a single Lewis gun mounted so that it could be used either as a fixed gun or as a movable gun. When fixed, the complete aeroplane was trained on the target. If that method of attack was unsuccessful the gun could be deflected. This aeroplane was the first answer to the Fokker. Its speed was 86 miles an hour at 6,500 feet and 77 miles an hour at 10,000 feet. The service ceiling was 14,000 feet and the duration of flight 2¾ hours. It was used by Squadrons No. 5, 11, 18, 24, 29 and 32, RFC. Baron von Richthofen, flying an Albatross D.III, shot down Major L. Hawker, VC, on a D.H.2, on November 23, 1916.


The B.E.12 (1916—17) was designed and built at the Royal Aircraft Factory. A double-bay tractor biplane, it resembled a single-seater B.E.2c. It was fitted with a 150 horse-power RAF 4a 12-cylinder stationary air-cooled engine; its speed was 97 miles an hour at 6,500 feet and 91 miles an hour at 10,000 feet. It had a flight duration of 3 hours and a service ceiling of 12,500 feet. It was used by Squadrons No. 19 and 21 RFC. Its dimensions were: span 37 feet, chord 5 ft 6-in, incidence 4 degrees 9 minutes, stagger 2 feet, dihedral 3½ degrees, length 27 ft 3-in, height 11 ft 1½-in.


The B.E.12a (1916-17) was similar to the B.E.12, but for the wing design. Like the B.E.2e two-seater reconnaissance aeroplane (to be described in a later chapter), it had upper and lower wings of unequal span. It had one pair of inter-plane struts on either side; the extensions to the upper wing were wire-braced. The dimensions were: span (upper planes) 40 ft 9-in, span (lower planes) 30 ft 6-in, chord 5 ft 6-in, incidence 4¼ degrees, stagger 2 feet, dihedral 3½ degrees, length 27 ft 8-in, height 12 feet.


A Large Single-Seater


The Martinsyde Scout (1916-17) was a double-bay tractor biplane fitted first with a 120 horse-power Beardmore engine and later with a 160 horse-power Beardmore engine. It was colloquially known in the RFC as the “Elephant Martinsyde”. It was large by comparison with contemporary single-seat fighters. One Vickers machine-gun, mounted in the upper part of the fuselage in front of the pilot’s seat, was synchronized to fire through the airscrew. With the 120 horse-power engine, speed was 95 miles an hour at 6,500 feet and 87 miles an hour at 10,000 feet. Flight duration was 5½ hours and service ceiling 14,000 feet.


With the 160 horse-power Beardmore engine, speed was 102 at 6,500 feet, 99 at 10,000 feet and 94 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Flight duration was 4½ hours and service ceiling 16,000 feet. It was used by Squadrons No. 18, 20, 21, 23 and 27, RFC. Its dimensions were: span 38 feet, chord 5 ft 11¾-in, stagger 18-in, dihedral degrees, incidence 3 degrees, length 26 ft 6½-in, height 9 ft 8-in, wheel track 6 feet.


The Nieuport Scout (1916-18) was of French design. It was fitted with the 110 horse-power Le Rhone engine or with the 130 horse-power Clerget engine. Both were 9-cylinder air-cooled rotary engines of French design. Captain Ball flew a Nieuport Scout for the first time on May 15, 1916. This little fighting scout carried a single Lewis gun on a Foster mounting on the upper side of the centre section. The gun could be fixed to fire dead ahead and pulled down to reload or fire upwards. Ball specialized in the second method of shooting. Many other famous pilots flew the Nieuport Scout, among them Bishop and McCudden. Speed was 107 miles an hour at 6,500 feet and 101 miles an hour at 10,000 feet. Flight duration was 2 hours; service ceiling 17,400 feet. It was used by Squadrons No. 1, 11, 29, 40 and 60, RFC.


The Bristol Monoplane





FLOWN IN THE MIDDLE EAST, but not on the Western Front, the Bristol Monoplane (1917-18) was fitted with the 110 horse-power Le Rhone rotary engine. The aircraft carried a synchronized Vickers machine-gun mounted in the fuselage. Speed was 111 miles an hour at 10,000 feet and 104 miles an hour at 15,000 feet.








The dimensions of the Nieuport Scout were most unsymmetrical. They were: upper wing span 26 ft 9-in, chord 4 ft; lower wing span 25 ft 7-in, chord 2 ft 4-in; incidence of upper wing 1 degree 50 minutes, incidence of right lower wing, 4 degrees, incidence of left lower wing at root 4 degrees, at tip 5 degrees; dihedral, upper wings nil, lower wings 2 degrees 20 minutes; sweep back, upper wings 2 degrees 20 minutes, lower wings 3 degrees 30 minutes; stagger at fuselage 2 ft 1-in, at struts 2 ft 3-in; length 19 ft 8-in, height 7 ft 10-in, wheel track 5 ft 3-in. As the dimensions show, this little aeroplane was of the type later classified as sesquiplane. The outer struts were Y-shaped.


The Sopwith Pup (1916-17) was a tractor biplane single-seater armed with one synchronized Vickers machine gun mounted on top of the fuselage. This machine was generally fitted with an 80 horse-power Le Rhone rotary engine, but some Sopwith Pups used for home defence were fitted with the 100 horse-power Monosoupape rotary engine to increase their rate of climb. With the 80 horse-power Le Rhone engine, speed was 106 at 6,500 feet, 104 at 10,000 feet, and 94 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Flight duration was 3 hours and service ceiling 17,500 feet.


A Completely Stable Aircraft


An extremely pleasant aeroplane to fly, completely stable in all axes, the Sopwith Pup was yet readily manoeuvrable. Its wing tips were characteristic - cut inwards from leading edge to trailing edge. The Sopwith Pup was used by No. 3 Squadron, RNAS and by Nos. 46, 54 and 66 Squadrons, RFC. Dimensions were as symmetrical as those of the Nieuport were unsymmetrical. They were: span (equal) 26 ft 6-in, chord 5 ft 1½-in, gap 4 ft 4⅞-in, incidence 14 degrees, stagger 18-in, dihedral (symmetrical) 2½ degrees, length 19 ft 3¾-in, height 9 ft 3¼-in, incidence of tail plane (80 horse-power Le Rhone) 1½ degrees, (100 horse-power Monosoupape) 2½ degrees, wheel track 4 ft 4-in.


The Sopwith Triplane (1916-17) was a single-seater tractor with a fuselage similar to that of the Sopwith Pup and with the single Vickers gun mounted in the same position. The triple wings and the single interplane and centre section struts gave it a characteristic appearance. It appeared long before the Fokker triplane; the Fokker triplane may have been inspired by it.


The Sopwith triplane was fitted first with the 110 horse-power and then with the 130 horse-power Clerget 9-cylinder air-cooled rotary engine. With the larger engine, speed was 116 miles an hour at 6,500 feet, 114 at 10,000 feet, and 105 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Duration of flight was 2¾ hours and service ceiling 20,500 feet.


This machine was used exclusively by the RNAS (before that arm became part of the RAF). Dimensions: span (equal for all three planes) 26 ft 6-in, chord (equal) 3 ft 3-in, incidence (equal) 2 degrees, stagger (symmetrical) 18-in and 36-in, dihedral (symmetrical) 2½ degrees, length 19 ft 6-in, height 10 ft 6-in, incidence of tail plane 1½ degrees, droop of ailerons ½-in, wheel track 5 ft 6-in.


The Bristol Monoplane (1917-18) was a tractor, shoulder-high, externally-braced monoplane fitted with the 110 horse-power Le Rhone rotary engine. It carried one synchronized Vickers machine gun mounted in the fuselage. Speed was 111 miles an hour at 10,000 feet and 104 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Flight duration was 1¾f hours and service ceiling 20,000 feet. It did not form the sole equipment of any squadron, and was not used on the Western Front. As an individual type it was used in the Middle East.


THE SOPWITH TRIPLANE of 1916-17






THE SOPWITH TRIPLANE of 1916-17 was fitted first with the 110 horse-power and then with the 130 horse-power Clerget nine-cylinder air-cooled rotary engine. With the larger engine, the speed was 116 miles an hour at 6,500 feet, 114 at 10,000 feet, and 105 at 15,003 feet. Duration of flight was 2¾ hours and service ceiling 20,500 feet.









The De Havilland No. 5 (1917-18), commonly known as the D.H.5, was a single-seater tractor biplane with back stagger to enable the pilot to sit well forward in the fuselage immediately under the leading edge of the top plane. It was fitted with the 110 horse-power Le Rhone rotary engine. Its speed was 102 miles an hour at 10,000 feet and 89 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Flight duration was 2¾ hours and service ceiling 16,000 feet.


The D.H.5 carried one synchronized Vickers machine-gun mounted on the left side of the top of the fuselage. It formed the equip-ment of Nos. 24, 32, 41, 64 and 68 Squadrons, RFC, replacing the pusher type fighters (D.H.2 and F.E.8) with which the first three of these squadrons had been equipped. Dimensions: span (equal) 25 ft 8-in, chord (equal) 4 ft 6-in, incidence (equal) 2 degrees, length 22 feet, height 9 feet, gap 5 feet, stagger, centre of upper front spar 1½-in forward of centre of lower rear spar, dihedral (symmetrical) 4½ degrees, allowance for propeller torque, incidence at left outer interplane struts, 21 degrees.


The S.E.5 (1917-18) was a single-seater tractor biplane fitted with the 150 horsepower Hispano-Suiza 8-cylinder water-cooled engine. It was designed at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. Its speed was 119 at 6,500 feet, 114 at 10,000 feet and 98 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Flight duration was 2½ hours and service ceiling 17,000 feet. Two guns were carried, a Lewis gun on a Foster mounting on the upper side of the centre section of the top plane, and a Vickers gun mounted on top of the fuselage. The Lewis gun fired above the airscrew, the Vickers gun, synchronized, fired through it. The S.E.5 was used by Nos. 24, 40, 56 and 60 Squadrons, RFC.

Used a Water-Cooled Engine


The S.E.5a (1917-18) was similar to the S.E.5, but was equipped with the 200 horse-power Wolseley Viper 8-cylinder water-cooled engine developed from Hispano-Suiza designs. The speed of the S.E.5a was 132 at 6,500 feet, 128 at 10,000 feet, 115 at 15,000 feet and 107 miles an hour at 16,500 feet. Flight duration was 2½ hours and service ceiling 20,000 feet. It was used by Nos. 1, 24, 29, 32, 41, 56, 60, 64, 68, 74, 84, 85, 92 and 94 Squadrons, RFC. The S.E.5 and S.E.5a were flown by most of the greatest British aviators, among them Ball, Bishop, McCudden and Mannock. Dimensions: span, 26 ft 7½-in, chord 5 feet, incidence 5 degrees, gap 4 ft 7-in, stagger 18-in, dihedral 5 degrees, length 20 ft 11-in, height 9 ft 6-in, normal incidence of tail plane 5 degrees.


The Sopwith Camel (1917-18) was fitted with four different types of engines, the 110 horse-power Le Rhone, the 130 horse-power Clerget, the 150 horsepower Bentley B.R.1 and the 150 horse-power Monosoupape Gnome. All were air-cooled rotary engines.


The speed of the 110 horse-power Le Rhone Camel was 118 miles an hour at 10,000 feet and 111 miles an hour at 15,000 feet; flight duration was 2¾ hours and service ceiling 24,000 feet. This type was used by Nos. 3, 46, 54, 71, 73, 80, 151 and 152 Squadrons, RFC.


With the 130 horse-power Clerget engine the Camel’s speed was 113 miles an hour at 10,000 feet and 106 miles at 15,000 feet. Flight duration was 2½ hours and service ceiling 19,000 feet. This type was used by Nos. 28, 43, 45, 54, 65, 70, 71 and 73 Squadrons, RFC, and by Nos. 6, 8 and 9 Squadrons, RNAS.


the S.E.5a

FLOWN BY MOST OF THE GREATEST BRITISH PILOTS, the S.E.5a (1917-18) had a 200 horse-power Wolseley Viper eight cylinder water-cooled engine developed from Hispano-Suiza designs. Two guns were carried, a Lewis gun on the upper side of the centre section of the top plane and a Vickers gun mounted on top of the fuselage. The Lewis gun fired above the airscrew and the Vickers gun, synchronized, fired through it. The aircraft's speed was 132 miles an hour at 6,500 feet, 128 at 10,000 feet and 107 at 16,500 feet.



The 150 horse-power Bentley Camel did 115 miles an hour at 10,000 feet and 110 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Service ceiling was 20,000 feet. It was used by Nos. 1, 3, 8, 9, 10 and 204 Squadrons, RNAS.


The Camel’s speed with the 150 horse-power Monosoupape Gnome engine was 117 miles an hour at 10,000 feet and 119 miles an hour at 15,000 feet; flight duration was 2¼ hours and service ceiling 21,000 feet. This type was used for home defence.


The Camel was a single-seater tractor biplane fighter with two synchronized Vickers machine-guns mounted on the top of the fuselage just in front of the pilot’s cockpit. The interrupter gear was of either the Kauper or Constantinesco pattern. As an aeroplane the Camel was unstable, and it could turn rapidly, especially to the right. Its manoeuvrability rather than its speed or climb made it a formidable fighter. Dimensions: span 28 feet, chord 4 ft 6-in, incidence 2 degrees, gap (at fuselage) 5 feet, stagger at centre section 18-in, at outer struts 18 5/16-in, dihedral, top plane nil, bottom planes 5 degrees, length 18 ft 9-in, height 8 ft 6-in, normal incidence of tail plane 1½ degrees, wheel track 4 ft 8-in.


The Spad (1917-18) was a single-seater tractor biplane fighter of French design, fitted with the 150 horsepower water-cooled 8-cylinder Hispano-Suiza engine. The name was taken from the initials of the company which produced them. The wing design was unusual, with double-bay struts and single-bay bracing. It had a fast dive. One synchronized Vickers machine-gun was mounted nearly central on the top of the fuselage; later models had two guns. Speed was 119 at 6,500 feet, 115 at 10,000 feet and 107 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Flight duration was 2½ hours and service ceiling 17,500 feet. The Spad was used by Nos. 19 and 23 Squadrons, RFC. Dimensions: span (upper planes) 25 ft 8-in, (lower planes) 25 feet, chord (upper planes) 4 ft 7-in, (lower planes) 4 ft 2-in, incidence (upper planes) 2 degrees, (lower planes) 1½ degrees, dihedral nil, gap 3 ft 8½-in, stagger 1¾-in, length 20 ft 3½-in.

Two Synchronized Guns


The Sopwith Dolphin (1918) was a single-seater double-bay tractor biplane with the 200 horse-power water-cooled Hispano-Suiza engine. Two synchronized Vickers machine-guns were mounted in the fuselage. The speed was 128 miles an hour at 10,000 feet and 1191 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Flight duration was 2¼ hours and service ceiling 21,000 feet. The Sopwith Dolphin was used by Nos. 19, 23, 79 and 87 Squadrons, RFC.


The Sopwith Snipe (1918) was a single-seater double-bay tractor biplane fitted with a 200 horse-power Bentley B.R.2 air-cooled rotary engine. This was the most powerful rotary engine used in the war. Two synchronized Vickers machine guns were mounted on top of the fuselage. Speed at 10,000 feet was 121, at 15,000 feet 113 and at 16,500 feet 108 miles an hour.


The Sopwith Salamander (1918) was a single-seater double-bay tractor biplane fitted with a 200 horse-power Bentley B.R.2 rotary engine. It was an armoured ground fighter. Speed was 123 miles an hour at 6,500 feet and 117 miles an hour at 10,000 feet.


The Martinsyde F.4 Fighter (1918), officially named the Martinsyde Buzzard, was the fastest British fighter produced during the war of 1914-18. The Martinsyde F.4 was a single-seater single-bay tractor biplane, fitted with the 300 horse-power Hispano-Suiza 8-cylinder or, alternatively, with the 275 horse-power 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce Falcon III water-cooled engine. Two synchronized Vickers machine-guns were mounted inside the cowling on top of the fuselage. With the Hispano-Suiza engine, speed was 144 at 6,500 feet, 142 at 10,000 feet and 136 miles an hour at 15,000 feet. Flight duration was 2½ hours and service ceiling 26,000 feet. The Martinsyde Buzzard did not come out in time to form the equipment of any squadron.


The Spad, a single-seater tractor biplane



OF FRENCH DESIGN, the Spad (1917-18) was a single-seater tractor biplane, fitted with the 150 horse-power eight-cylinder Hispano-Suiza engine. The name was taken from the initials of the Societe Pour Avions Deperdussin. One synchronized Vickers machine-gun was mounted nearly central on the fuselage; later models had two guns. Speed was 119 miles an hour at 6,500 feet, 115 at 10,000 feet and 107 at 15,000 feet.







[From Part 23, published 9 August 1938]




Evolution of the Fighter