rnas WW1 British Naval Aviation

The Royal Naval Air Service (R.N.A.S)


The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) was the air arm of the Royal Navy during World War I and existed from 1914 until 1918 when it merged with the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The RNAS was responsible for a range of activities, including reconnaissance, bombing raids, and anti-submarine patrols. It operated a variety of aircraft, including seaplanes and airships, and played an important role in the Battle of Jutland, one of the largest naval battles in history.
The RNAS also had a number of notable pilots, including the famous ace, Raymond Collishaw, who flew a variety of aircraft on multiple fronts and was credited with over 60 aerial victories.
Overall, the RNAS made significant contributions to the Allied war effort during World War I and laid the foundations for the development of the RAF in the years to come.

Early Development (1908-1911)

Willows No. 4, HMS Airship No.2, 1912
As early as 1908, the British government promoted the creation of an Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. There was also a sub-committee on aviation born from the Committee of Imperial Defense. These were reunions of politicians and military staff to study the best use for nascent aircraft, for military purposes. On May 7, 1909 Vickers was appinted to create a rigid airship usabled for the Royal Navy for reconnaissance and observation. “Mayfly” was a 156 m long aerostat, which crashed after a gust of wind on September 24, 1911 before its maiden flight.
By November 1910, the Royal Aero Club offered the Royal Navy two aircraft for instruction and evaluation, done at its Eastchurch facilities. The British Admiralty accepted, provided that aspiring pilots were voluntary, single and able to pay their dues to the Royal Aero Club…

Still, there were 200 volunteers, and four were trained at the Naval Flying School Eastchurch: Captain E.L. Gerrard of the Royal Marine Light Infantry and Lieutenants C.R. Samson, A.M. Longmore and A. Gregory (Roskill), all patented in 1911.

The RFC naval branch (1912-1914)

Personnel of No.1 Squadron RNAS in late 1914
A Royal Decree of 13 April 1912 creating the Royal Flying Corps also was accompnied by the creation of the Royal Navy Air Detachment, at the same time as the Air Battalion of the Corps of Royal Engineers. The RFC naval unit was soon placed under command of Commander C.R. Samson, with the creation of a Central Flying School open to officers and privates of both services. It was created on June 19, 1912, in Upavon and commanded by a naval officer, Captain Godfrey Paine. A Special Reserve of Officers was also formed for those don’t choosing between both services yet.

The unified structure allowed the Royal Navy to carry out its own tests at Eastchurch. The summer of 1912 also saw the Admiralty creating its own Aeronautical Department, entrusted to Captain Murray Sueter. From September 1912 “Naval Air Service” appeared in documents mentioning four seaplanes tested in coordination with the British Army.
In 1913 the establishment of a seaplane base on the Isle of Grain (Medway entrance) was accompanied by the installation of airships maintenance and facilities at Kingsnorth. Overall, the RFC proposed nine land bases to be usable by the Navy, all close to the coast.
In 1913 also, aircraft took part in British naval maneuvers from HMS Hermes, a converted cruiser into a seaplane carrier.
On June 7, 1913, the Naval Air Service comprised 44 officers and 105 privates, all trained from the Central Flying School and Eastchurch School. In addition 35 specialists had been qualified to handle RN airships. Three blimps ordered for the Army (Willows No 4, Astra Torres AT-14, Parseval No.4) were transferred to this NAS and as a semi-independent entity, the Royal Naval Air Service was officially constituted on 1 July 1914, as the naval element of the Royal Flying Corps. It was however independent as attached directly to the command of the Royal Navy, and took orders from it. As a result, this was the world’s first independent naval branch, and fully under Royal Navy control from August 1, 1915, less than a year after the war has started.

Wartime Operations (1914-1918)

HMS Vindex, one of the serial-converted seaplane carrier
By August 1914 the RNAS boasted no less than 39 planes, 52 seaplanes, 6 airships and 2 captive balloons. The associated personal amounted to 727 men of all ranks and 120 pilots, spread among 12 bases for airships along the British coasts.
The RNAS was at first responsible for naval reconnaissance (1) combat assistance to the fleet (2) surveillance of the coasts (3) and attack of coastal sectors under enemy control (4), like the Flanders Coast. From the experience driven from HMS Hermes, new seaplane carriers were soon converted from requisitioned civilian steamers, freighters and later even liners. By December already, the RNAS could project its seaplane force from HMS Engadine, Riviera and Empress. First operation was a raid on naval installations of Cuxhaven. Due to the weak bomb load of the seaplanes, the RNAS failed to destroy the solidly built Zeppelin hangars, but it proved the concept and had a certain psychological impact.
See the full list of WWI British seaplane carriers and aircraft carriers

HMS Ark Royal was the first tailored ships as a seaplane carrier, soon enabling wheeled undercarriage models to take off from her foredeck, assuming they would later land on the coast. It operated 5 seaplanes and two Sopwith Tabloid for air defence and escort of the former. In February 1915, HMS Ark Royal took part in the Dardanelles Campaign, where most of the later converted seaplane carriers participated in.

In WWI, apart HMS Hermes (ii) which was not completed in time, the Royal Navy operated 14 converted ships: 12 seaplane carriers, some fitted with small decks for planes take-off, and two true “aircraft carriers”, HMS Furious and Argus. In 1918, the RNAS was the world’s largest and best equipped naval air force worldwide.

In 1917, the battlecruiser HMS Furious started to be modified, with 49 m flight deck over an aircraft hangar and by August 2, 1917, Squ. Commander Edwin Dunning died while trying to land with a Sopwith Pup. The rear turret was removed and replace by a 91 m landing bridge, also above a hangar, creating the world’s first true aicraft carrier, albeit still with the bridge, funnel and mast in the middle. This concept was experimented when bombing the German naval installations at Tondern on July 19, 1918: 7 Sopwith Camels took off from Furious and managed to destroy the Zeppelin L.54 and L.60.

HMS Campania in 1917

But apart these spectacular operations, the bulk of RNAS missions was to patrol over the English Channel and North Sea in search of German submarines. 175 U-boats were spotted in 1917 alone, 107 attacked, a few sunk (these models still lacked sufficient bomb loads). In this role, seaplanes were preferred, unquestionably, as they could land anywhere unlike wheeled models. They were generally larger and had a much longer range. Still, it was envisioned to place short runways on most large ships of the RN in an attempt to shoot down Zeppelins when spotted. This was the distant ancestor of the CAM-ships of WW2. Most Battleships in 1918 received such small platforms over their “B” turret in order to launch a Pup for various missions, assuming again it would land somewhere.

HMS Furious in 1918

Contribution to British Armor Development

Talbot Armoured Car of the Admiralty Pattern Mk.II, Turreted, late 1915 type.
One aspect which is not awaited and often overlooked is the importance of the RNAS in developing armour warfare in WWI. Long before the British Army deployed any tank on the western front. The first tank engagement of the war took place on September 15, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. The British Army used tanks for the first time in combat, and the engagement involved a small number of tanks attacking German trenches.
The tanks used in this engagement were Mark I tanks, and they were slow and unreliable. Nevertheless, they were able to provide some support to the infantry and break through the German lines.
The tank crews faced a number of challenges, including mechanical breakdowns and getting stuck in mud and shell holes. However, despite these difficulties, the tanks proved to be effective at crossing trenches and destroying barbed wire obstacles.
The first tank engagement was not a decisive victory, but it demonstrated the potential of tanks as a new weapon of war. As a result, both the British and the Germans began to develop and improve their tank technology and tactics, leading to more sophisticated and effective tanks being used in subsequent battles.

However, added to the rivalry with the RFC, the RNAS started to be in rivalry with the Army as well: The RNAS operating along the Belgian coasts had its vehicles experimentally armored in order to secure its means of communication and recover fallen pilots behind the enemy lines. They were also the only ones available protecting the withdrawal of Belgian troops between Antwerp and the Yser.
In September 1914, the RNAS form an Armored Car Section, with their modifications designed by a special commission from the Air Department of the Admiralty. The first three vehicles were delivered on December 3, 1914.
The RNAS would form over time six squadrons of 12 vehicles. The first was sent to France, and later transferred to Egypt in late 1915, Another went to Africa, two were transferred in April 1915 to Gallipoli and by August 1915 the remainder were transferred to the British Army, although some still sported the “RNAS” inscription in 1916, and kept the same original crews.

Improvized armoured Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, 1914

Admiralty Pattern Mark II Rolls Royce in 1915

Lanchester Armoured Car, same configuration, 1915

Another RNAS Lanchester in Persia, 1916/ Notice the dark sand livery.

In August-September 1914 already, to rescue RNAS pilots which fell behind enemy lines, a detachment of improvized armor vehicles was developed in Belgium for that purpose.
The RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) operated improvized armoured cars to fast moving and return from behind enemy lines, developed by Commander Samson, which personally converted all models he could muster from the RNAS vehicle park at his disposal, converted in Belgium. By the autumn of 1914 dozens of vehicles were ordered to be converted, testing various solution to protect the driver and passenger (including the precious pilot(s) !). From “Open top” configuration they were gradually transformed through two “Admiralty pattern” ending with fully enclosed and turreted vehicles which really pioneered the development of Armoured Cars in Great Britain. The front became static in 1914, but apart in Belgium and Flanders where these rescue missioned became too hazardous to go on, these armoured cars saw action this time with the Army where it really mattered, where the situation was mobile enough: In the middle east and eastern front.
It should be added that the Royal Navy was also intrumental (through Winston Churchill) in the development of Tanks in Great Britain, through the “landship committee”, adoption of casemated naval guns for tanks, etc. But it was not related to the RNAS.

End of Independence (1918)

HMS Argus, the world’s first “through-deck” aircraft carrier. A conversion of the Italian liner Conte Rosso under construction in Beardmore and requsitioned, she was not accepted until September 1918, used to train pilots and still around in WW2.

If the Army eventually recuperated the armored vehicles from the RNAS without much incident, the conflict between the RNAS and the RFC was certainly more intense. The RNAS was diverted from its traditional role when called to the aid of the RFC on the Western Front, and to defend London. Since the latter was a Zeppelin Raid, the admiralty estimated that the last contribution authorized a more proactive answer, by attempting to destroy Zeppelin installations at Friedrichshafen, ending the problem to the source. The raid was carried out on 21 November 1914 from Belfort with RNAS three Avro 504s dropping eleven 9 kg bombs, destroying ground installations plusthe hydrogen production unit, but not the hangar or airships inside.

This success galzvanized the armiralty which launched other raids on Kaiserliches Marine bases at Cuxhaven, Wilhelmshaven and Tondern (after all, these were “navy vs. navy” fights), and the Royal Navy withing a very tight budget eventually created its own autonomous strategic bombardment unit. This was not seen with approval by the RFC and fed a rivalry, leading to tractation on models diversions. The RNAS obtained from Sopwith priority in delivery of Sopwith 1½ Strutter over the RFC, and led the War Office to oblige the TNAS to return these to the RFC. The Navy obtained however to receive also the very first production Sopwith Pup, well before the RFC, and later, the Sopwith Triplane, and in turn the Sopwith Camel, while the RFC went on with upgraded Pups.

On 1 April 1918 the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps, independent from the Army, was seen as a concession, and in exchanged, obtained the merging of the Royal Naval Air Service into a new unified service called the Royal Air Force. The RNAS thus had to transfer a total of 67,000 men, 2,949 aircraft and seaplanes, 103 airships and 126 shore bases. For the Royal Navy this was a hard blow as it would not be easy until the end of the war to collaborate on its own missions.
On April 1, 1924, however, the Fleet Air Arm was created inside the Royal Air Force as a concession, to separate notably RAF units operating from aircraft carriers. It’s only May 24, 1939 that the Fleet Air Arm returned under British Admiralty full control, but having only 232 aircraft among 20 squadrons. Still, the rivalry went on in WW2, shown notably by the halp-hazard complement of RNAS planes compared to the RAF. This time the latter ensured to have the monopoly on delivery of the latest Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire for example, and total monopoly on bombers. This was only lifted in 1943-44 due to the need of having long-range ASW patrol bombers, whereas the complement of aircraft carriers progressed with better models.

Complete List of WW1 RNAS models

Fairey Campania torpedo/bomber/scout, world’s first carrier-borne designed aircraft.

The widely used Short 184 (over 900 built)

The RNAS torpedo-carrier Sopwith Cuckoo was tailored to operate from aircraft carriers, such as HMS Furious

Felixtowe F2A long range flying boat. These bring a considerable improvement in ASW reconnaissance and warfare at the end of WW1.

Short N.2A – seaplane (1910s)
Short N.2B – seaplane (1910s)
Felixstowe F.1 – biplane fighter reconnaissance flying boat (1910s)
Avro Type D – two-seat biplane floatplane (1911)
Lakes Waterbird – floatplane (1911)
Lakes Seabird – floatplane (1912)
Lakes Waterhen – floatplane (1912)
Short S.80 – twin-float seaplane (1913)
Short S.81 – reconnaissance seaplane (1913)
Lakes Hydro-monoplane – floatplane (1913)
Sopwith Bat Boat — flying boat (1913)
Short Admiralty Type 827 – reconnaissance/bomber floatplane (1914)
Short Admiralty Type 830 – reconnaissance/bomber floatplane (1914)
Sopwith Tabloid – biplane floatplane variant, winner of first Schneider Race (1914)
Short S.74 – seaplane (1914)
Short Admiralty Type 74 (1914)
Short Admiralty Type 166 – seaplane (1914)
Hamble River H.L.1 Seaplane – floatplane (1914)
White and Thompson No. 3 two-seat pusher flying boat (1914)
Wright Pusher Seaplane – floatplane (1914)
AD Flying Boat – two-seat patrol/reconnaissance flying boat (1915)
AD Type 1000 – biplane floatplane torpedo-bomber floatplane (1915)
Blackburn Twin Blackburn – two-seat zeppelin interceptor floatplane (1915)
Blackburn Type L – twin-float seaplane (1915)
Short Type 184 – torpedo-bomber floatplane (1915)
Sopwith Baby – biplane floatplane developed from Tabloid (1915)
Wright Seaplane – floatplane (1915)
Short Type 310 – torpedo-bomber floatplane (1916)
Wight Baby – single-seat seaplane (1916)
Wight Converted Seaplane – bomber floatplane (1916)
Felixstowe Porte Baby – biplane patrol flying boat (1916)
Norman Thompson N.T.4 – twin-engined flying boat (1916)
AD Navyplane – two-seat patrol/reconnaissance floatplane (1916)
Mann Egerton Type B – seaplane (1916)
Fairey N.10 – two-seat patrol seaplane (1917)
Fairey Campania – spotter/reconnaissance floatplane (1917)
Fairey Hamble Baby – single-seat biplane scout floatplane (1917)
Felixstowe F.2 – biplane reconnaissance flying boat (1917)
Felixstowe F.3 – biplane anti-submarine patrol flying-boat (1917)
Sage Type 4 – seaplane patrol aircraft/trainer (1917)
Norman Thompson N.T.2B – two-seat biplane training flying boat (1917)
Norman Thompson N.1B – prototype armed patrol flying boat (1917)
Supermarine Baby – fighter flying boat (1917)
Fairey IIIA – spotter/reconnaissance aircraft (1918)
Fairey N.9 – two-seat experimental seaplane (1918)
Felixstowe F.4 Fury – long-range triplane patrol flying boat (1918–1919)
Felixstowe F.5 – biplane reconnaissance flying boat (1918)
Martinsyde F6 – transport floatplane conversion (1918)
Norman Thompson N.2C – twin-engined flying boat (1918)
Phoenix Cork – reconnaissance flying boat (1918)
Vickers Valentia – transport flying boat (1918)


The Royal Flying Corps

The RFC was the direct ancestor of the RAF. The term “flying corp” reflected the use that was made of aviation this moment of pioneers, a simple emanation of the army, devoted to observation. Unlike France, Britain had no active squadrons or aeronautical industry in 1914. His material came, like most countries, from French productions. The British cockade was itself directly inspired by the French cockade, following misunderstandings and friendly shots due to the symbol of St. George cross drawn from the union Jack affixed to the first aircraft, confused with the German cross. But this industrial dependence, Britain began to get rid of it rapidly, and reached very high industrial standards in 1918.

French planes of the Royal Flying Corps

Farman F15

The nation outside United Kingdom that became a major provider was France, overwhelmingly compared to USA and Italy, not only for planes but also aircraft engines. This could take the shape of complete purchased planes or licence-production, direct or indirect. Some French early designs were quite influential like the Farman Mf.11. In late period, proportion of British planes was much larger than in 1914 where the RFC started from scratch. But the list is quite extensive nonetheless:

  • Blériot XI
  • Blériot XII
  • Blériot XXI
  • Blériot Parasol Monoplane
  • Breguet Type III
  • Caproni Ca.1
  • Caudron G.4
  • Caudron R.11
  • Deperdussin TT
  • Farman III
  • Farman F.40
  • Farman HF.20
  • Farman MF.7 Longhorn
  • Farman MF.11 Shorthorn
  • Farman Type Militaire, 1910
  • FBA Type A
  • Morane-Saulnier G
  • Morane-Saulnier H
  • Morane-Saulnier BB
  • Morane-Saulnier I
  • Morane-Saulnier L
  • Morane-Saulnier LA
  • Morane-Saulnier N
  • Morane-Saulnier V
  • Morane-Saulnier P
  • Morane-Saulnier AC
  • Nieuport IV
  • Nieuport 12
  • Nieuport 16
  • Nieuport 17
  • Nieuport 20
  • Nieuport 21
  • Nieuport 23
  • Nieuport 24
  • Nieuport 27
  • Paulhan biplane
  • Voisin III
  • Clement Bayard II Zeta airship

American planes of the Royal Flying Corps

Without the language barrier and with the formidable American industrial resources, some American models made their way into British service. The earliest were converted Wright aircrafts for military purposes in 1912-13 and the Cody V was only two planes operationally tested in 1914 but soon discarded.
But the RFC also operated captured German aircrafts, mostly for tesing purposes, intact or lightly damaged and fallen into rear lines. These were the AEG G.IV and Ago C.IV, Albatros D.I, D.III, D.V, D.Va, DFW C.V, Fokker D.VII, Dr.I, E.III, Friedrichshafen G.III, Gotha G.V, Halberstadt CL.II, D.III, Hannover CL.II, Junkers J.I, LVG C.VI, Pfalz D.III and Rumpler C.IV.

  • Cody V biplane
  • Curtiss JN-3
  • Curtiss JN-4

Famous Models

Here are following some of the most famous British Planes of WW1. They were be studied more exhaustively in the respective manufacturer pages.

Airco DH.5

Airco DH5
DH.5 in March 1917.

The DH5 was supposed to be much more efficient than the DH.2 it replaced had to keep its excellent field of vision while having the advantage of a tractive propeller. This is how he had the distinction of having a superior sail plan offset to the rear and a cockpit very forward. Ready late1916, it was ordered by the RFC 40 copies but its maneuverability was lower than the Pup. The aircraft were operational in May 1917, just after the Allied eclipse on the North Front. This aircraft had a Le Rhône engine but its maneuverability was disappointing and its pilots made it to be quickly placed in ground attack groups. At the end of 1917, the Dh-5 was withdrawn from service and its sails were not taken on later planes.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 7,82 m, Length 6,71 m, Height – m
Weight: empty: – Kgs. In charge: 680 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 The Rhône 9 of 110 hp
Performance: Vmax: 160 km / h at 2000 m, ceiling 4000 m, RA 180 km.
Armament: 1 Lewis machine gun of 7.7 mm hood, 4 bombs of 11.3 Kgs ..

Bristol F2B Fighter

Bristol F2B Fighter
F2B from the front of the Somme, in November 1918.

Bristol was one of the largest engine and aircraft manufacturers in Britain. A 1915 specification of the RFC required an observation aircraft capable of defending against hunters. F2 replaced RE.8 “Arry Tate”, mediocre, and was bigger, faster, and much better armed, with a hood machine gun and a rear-seat defense. Its first engine, the Rolls-Royce Falcon, was soon insufficiently produced to meet the needs of the cell and the Falcon engine F2A, operational in March 1917 within the squadron 48 suffered heavy losses. Faster, the RR Falcon II-powered F2B restores the balance. Sturdy and maneuverable, the F2Bs were observation planes capable of self-defense, but also of hunting, or bombarding targets. 3100 aircraft saw the day of the main F2B, which fought until the armistice.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 11.96 m, Length 7.87 m, Height 2.97 m
Weight: empty: 886 Kgs. In charge: 1297 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 V12 RR Falcon II of 150 hp
Performance: Vmax: 195 km / h at 1500 m, ceiling 6100 m, 3 hours of autonomy.
Armament: 2 x 7.7 mm Lewis machine gun (1 hood, 1 rear station), 12 bombs of 10 kg.

Bristol Scout

Bristol Scout
Scout of the Champagne front, in June 1916.

The Bristol Scout was a reconnaissance aircraft from the Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF) Re8, released in May 1915. Maneuverable, but slow, it was equipped with a French Rotary engine Le Rhône. The Scout C (161 copies) was operational in December 1914, the Scout D (210 copies) divided between the army and the Navy.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 8,33 m, Length 6,02 m, Height – m
Weight: empty: – Kgs. In charge: 570 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 The Rhône 9 of 80 hp
Performance: Vmax: 160 km / h at 1500 m, ceiling 4500 m, 2h30 of autonomy.
Armament: 0.3 in (7.7 mm) Lewis machine gun (wing), 4x 11.3 Kgsbombs

Havilland DH9

De Havilland DH9a
DH9A from the front of the Somme, in September 1918.

Equivalent to the Breguet 14 for its versatility, but known for being a light bombing device, the DH9 was recognized to be an excellent aircraft, maintained in production from 1918 to 1922. Tandem, with a rear defender position, it could also ship a Substantial charge of bombs or rockets. It was operational in January 1918 and from then on adopted and mass produced, to 390 copies in its version A. Very successful, declined after-war in civil versions, it was in service until 1927.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 14,02 m, Length 9,14 m, Height – m
Weight: empty: -Kgs. In charge: 2100 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 Liberty 12 of 400 hp
Performance: Vmax: 195 km / h at 1500 m, ceiling 6100 m, 3 hours of autonomy.
Armament: 2 x 7.7 mm Lewis machine gun (1 hood, 1 rear station), 300 Kgs. bombs.

Handley-Page O/400

Handley-Page O/400
HP0/400 based in Sussex, November 1918.

The HP 0/400 was the largest bomber deployed by the allies, defined in 1917 with the aim of bombing Germany, in response to Zeppelin raiders’ raids. Deriving from the O/400, he was equipped with two machine gun positions for his defense and embarked a 910 Kgs bomb load. Its first flights came in October, but the first operational squadrons were only in August-September 1918, the rest being constituted at the time of the signing of armistice. Otherwise, this large multi-train aircraft was the basis of military and civilian derivatives.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 30.48 m, Length 19.16 m, Height 6.7 m
Weight: empty: – Kgs. In charge: 6360 Kgs.
Motorization: 2 RR Eagle VIII of 360 hp
Performance: Vmax: 160 km/h at 6500 m, ceiling 8000 m, 8 h of autonomy.
Armament: 2 x 7.7 mm Lewis machine gun (1 post with 1 post), 910 Kgs of bombs.


Fe2b from the front of the sum, December 1915.

Royal Aircraft Factory, a state-owned firm, designed the legendary SE5. Among his first productions are this heavy fighter / single engine observation aircraft with a propulsion engine configuration / forward gun position, before the synchronization arrives. Very similar to the Airco Dh.2 it served as a heavy fighter, with good autonomy but improved maneuverability. It flew for the first time in January 1915, with a Green engine (Fe2a, 12 units), then a Beardmore (Fe2b, 1927 units), in service until the end of 1918. A last Version, the Fe2d, (300 units) was powered by a 250 hp Rolls-Royce Mk.III, and had performance well above Fe2a (100 hp).

Dimensions: Wingspan: 14,55 m, Length 9,83 m, Height 3,97 m
Weight: empty: – Kgs. In charge: 1350 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 Beardmore of 120 hp
Performance: Vmax: 130 km / h to 1500 m, ceiling 5000 m, 3 h of autonomy.
Weaponry: 1 Lewis machine gun of 7.7 mm (1 post office), 4 bombs of 11.3 Kgs.

RAF Fe8 Fighter

RAF Fe8 Fighter
Fe8 of the front of the Somme, in March 1916.

Designed at the same time as the De Havilland DH2, the Fe8 was the same type, a single-seater propulsion powered single-seater fighter, before the synchonization was adapted by the allies. He was equipped with a mobile Vickers machine gun in the front, the piloe wedging the handle between his knees and stepping forward to fire and reload the weapon. The mobility of the machine gun had some advantages in combat. First flight made in October 1916, production of 182 copies, withdrawn in the summer of 1917 for insufficient maneuverability. French Gnome engines, but some Clerget and The Rhone, quadripal propeller.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 9,60 m, Length 7,21 m, Height – m
Weight: empty: – Kgs. In charge: 610 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 Gnome Monosoupape of 100 hp
Performance: Vmax: 150 km / h at 1500 m, ceiling 4500 m, 2h30 of autonomy.
Armament: 1 Vickers machine gun of 7.7 mm.

RAF Se5 Fighter

RAF Se5 Fighter
Se5a in Greece, December 1917.

This light hunter was the most famous with the Sopwith Camel. Designed by state-owned RAF, it was designed to outclass German fighters in a hurry and was equipped with powerful online engines early on. He made his first flight in December 1916 with a Hispano-Suiza 150 hp, the same as SPAD VII. He also had two machine guns, hood and wing. A first series of 85 Se5 were launched in April 1917, then gave way to the improved Se5a, equipped with the HS of 200 hp, but the rate of production too slow was alternated with a local engine, the Wolseley W4a Viper. 5127 aircraft of this version went on fire, the last ones in November 1918.

An excellent device, as robust as it was manageable and fast, it was a powerful contributor to the Allies regaining control of the skies on the North Front, but many were also exported or affected in the Commonwealth, fighting in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans … The Se5a, much easier to handle for young drivers than the Sopwith Camel, was still in service in 1922.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 8.12 m, Length 8.30 m, Height – m
Weight: empty: – Kgs. In charge: 880 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 W4 Wolseley of 200 hp
Performances: Vmax: 220 Km / h at 3000 m, ceiling 6000 m, 2h30 of autonomy.
Armament: 1 Lewis machine gun of 7.7 mm, 1 Vickers (1 hood, 1 wing), 6 bombs of 11.3 Kgs.

Sopwith Pup

Pup of the Dutch aviation, May 1916
Pup of the Dutch aviation, May 1916.
Sqn Pup 104
Sqn Pup 104

Originally commissioned by Naval Air Service (NAF), this small agile fighter was fully appreciated by the British pilots and was the first British light fighter in mass service. 1770 units took to the air that fought from September 1916 to September-October 1917. It was removed from service as a fighter, but many still operated against Zeppelins raids in Britain or for light bombing missions.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 8,08 m, Length 6,04 m, Height – m
Weight: empty: – Kgs. In charge: 560 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 The Rhône 9 of 80 hp
Performance: Vmax: 195 km / h at 1500 m, ceiling 6100 m, 3 hours of autonomy.
Armament: 1 Lewis machine gun of 7.7 mm hood, 4 bombs of 11.3 Kgs., Or 8 rockets Le Prieur…

Sopwith Triplane

Sopwith Triplane
Triplane of RNAS Sqn 10 “Black Flight”, in March 1917.

This innovative device was an attempt to have an even more maneuverable device. It was largely derived from the Sopwith Pup, but with a Clerget 9 engine more powerful, but also more maneuverable and having a better field of vision. It was he who inspired the triplans subsequently built for the Germans. He made his first flight in May 1916 and was operational at RNAS * in November. 140 copies were built, but the series stopped there: The recently arrived Camel was better. An ace like Raymond Collishaw earned most of his victories on this device.

*Royal Naval Air Service: Royal Navy Air Branch.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 8,08 m, Length 5,74 m, Height 3,60 m
Weight: empty: 499 Kgs. In charge: 699 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 Clerget 9b of 130 hp
Performances: Vmax: 188 Km / h to 1500 m, ceiling 6250 m, 2h45 of autonomy.
Armament: 1/2 Lewis machine gun 7.7 mm (hood).

Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe

Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe
Snipe, in Sqn 78, November 1918.

Coming from the Camel, the Snipe was an extrapolation, a simpified derivative, remedying notably its lateral control problem by a new drift. With the adaptation of the new Bentley BR2 engine, the Snipe prototype was not really operational until February 1918. Its early armament consisted of two bonnet guns and a third of its wings, but it was quickly removed. The series copies, after the initial order of 1700 machines, were not ready in France until September… The Sqn 43, 78, and 208 implemented it intensely until the armistice, and the Snipe proves that it was in every respect superior to the Camel – and even to all the other hunters of the moment. The newly converted Australian Sqn 4 abolished 36 enemy aircraft in four days, while Major Barker abolished three Fokker DVIIs alone in a Homeric duel.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 9.14 m, Length 6.05 m, Height 2.60 m
Weight: empty: 596 Kgs. In charge: 916 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 Bentley BR2 of 230 hp
Performance: Vmax: 195 km / h to 3000 m, ceiling 6000 m, 3 h of autonomy.
Armament: 2 x 7.7 mm Lewis machine gun (1 hood, 1 rear station), 12 bombs of 10 kg.

Sopwith 1-1 / 2 Strutter

Sopwith 1-1 / 2 Strutter
Strutter, in March 1916.

This light fighter was derived from Fe2, it was a lightweight single-seater, much more maneuverable.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 11.96 m, Length 7.87 m, Height 2.97 m
Weight: empty: 886 Kgs. In charge: 1297 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 V12 RR Falcon II of 150 hp
Performance: Vmax: 195 km / h at 1500 m, ceiling 6100 m, 3 hours of autonomy.
Armament: 2 x 7.7 mm Lewis machine gun (1 hood, 1 rear station), 12 bombs of 10 kg.

Sopwith Camel

Sopwith Camel in March 1916
Triplane, in March 1916.
Sopwith model derived from the FE2b
This light fighter was derived from Fe2, it was a lightweight single-seater, much more maneuverable.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 11.96 m, Length 7.87 m, Height 2.97 m
Weight: empty: 886 Kgs. In charge: 1297 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 V12 RR Falcon II of 150 hp
Performance: Vmax: 195 km / h at 1500 m, ceiling 6100 m, 3 hours of autonomy.
Armament: 2 x 7.7 mm Lewis machine gun (1 hood, 1 rear station), 12 bombs of 10 kg.

Sopwith SF1 Dolphin

Sopwith SF1 Dolphin
Dolphin, in May 1916.

This light fighter was derived from Fe2, it was a lightweight single-seater, much more maneuverable.

Dimensions: Wingspan: 11.96 m, Length 7.87 m, Height 2.97 m
Weight: empty: 886 Kgs. In charge: 1297 Kgs.
Motorization: 1 V12 RR Falcon II of 150 hp
Performance: Vmax: 195 km / h at 1500 m, ceiling 6100 m, 3 hours of autonomy.
Armament: 2 x 7.7 mm Lewis machine gun (1 hood, 1 rear station), 12 bombs of 10 kg.

Other Manufacturers & Prototypes

Prototypes: The jungle of non-commissioned planes

(And lesser known manufacturers)

In war, there are generally more prototypes than production planes, the main reason being competition on official requirements (only one winner), private-venture proposals, tests planes, pre-production planes encouraged and then later dropped when this is no longer the order of the day, and… the end of the war, that led to many program cancellations, in general after a crescendo of production and proposals. Here are most (if not all, the hunt is still ongoing) WW1 British prototypes, from prewar sports planes tested by the military to projects and programs started in the very last days of the war but developed in 1919 or 1920 like the Amazing Tarrant Tabor, largest aircraft in the world.

Pemberton-Billing P.B.31 Nighthawk (1916) - British WWI prototype of interceptor
Pemberton-Billing P.B.31 Nighthawk (1916) – British WWI prototype of interceptor

Tarrant Tabor (1919)
Tarrant Tabor (1919) – British heavy bomber, which design started just at the end of the war by W.G Tarrant Ltd (Only flight in May 1919, and crash) It was the world’s largest aircraft. After this, the larger Caproni Ca.60 Transaereo (a novaplane, or nine-plane aircraft) showed by adding planes were no substitutes for structural strength. Giant planes would return, but made in all metallic structures and sturdier cantilever wings.

Flanders F.4 (1912)

Flanders F4

The Flanders F.4 was a WW1 British prototype serie of two-seat monoplanes designed and made by Howard Flanders, developed from the Flanders F.3. The latter flew in the spring of 1912, with success. Trials urged the British War Office to order four more for the newly created Royal Flying Corps with the same configuration as the F.3 but larger cockpits for two seats in tandem. It was also faster with a 70 hp (52 kW) Renault engine and four-bladed propeller and reviews, sturdier parts and assembly to be easier to maintain and be more reliable. The fixed landing gear was also improved as coil-spring suspensions were fitted to the wheel arms. First flight occurred at Brooklands on 6 July 1912, and the four ordered has been delivered by 2 January 1913, showing good flying characteristics. More were to come when the RFC was rebuffed from monoplanes after a fatal crash by a Deperdussin and a Bristol-Coanda in early September 1912. The Royal Flying Corps banned the use of monoplanes. The Flanders had their engines removed to power Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2s and the fuselage and wings dumped or recycled.

Grahame-White Type XV (1913)

Graham-White Char a banc Type X

Graham-White Type XI Military

Graham-White Type XV school Bus

This military trainer biplane was available before World War I. Often known as the Box-kite, this model was derived from the Grahame-White Type XII, following a long line of civilian and sport models but also the military Type X and XI. In 1911 the company was created by Claude Grahame-White and included an aerodrome (Hendon), a school and a workshop. Famous designer was John Dudley North, later Boulton and Paul’s chief designer. Among the models buit were Aero-bus and Box-kite biplane, influenced by the Farman design. After its prewar own models the company focused on manufacturing other models, like the Henry Farman F.20 (80 hp Gnome/Rhone) and Avro 503, with about 600 delivered of the latter. In 1917 it was ordered also 700 DH-6 two-seater biplanes. Problems and delays on delivery raised disputes with the Air Board and led to huge financial losses that will almost bankrupt the company later, saved after the war by refurbishing war-surplus Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis…

The Type XV was also named Admiralty Type 1600, as it was purchased first by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). This was a pod-and-boom biplane with three-bay unstaggered wings. Early models had seats for the instructor and student pilot fitted on the leading edge of the lower wing. They usually seat in tandem in the nacelle, the engine being locatred at the back of it, in a pusher configuration. Four parallel beams started from the upper and lower wings, ended with twin rudders and the horizontal stabilizer. From equal span wings succeeded extensions on the upper wing. The landing gear was of the two-wheel and skid model. It was one of the most common trainerof the RNAS and RFC as 135 available before the war. By November 1913 one of these underwent trials with of forward-mounted Lewis machine gun, firing at ground targets. The Grahame-White Type XV were obsolete after 1915 and gradually retired or sold, just broken, and apparently three survived the war to see civilian service from 1919.

Graham-White five-seater Char a banc

Read more on Graham-White

Howard Wright 1910 Biplane (1910)

Howard Wright 1910 Biplane

The Howard Wright 1910 biplane was a two-bay pusher biplane of the “Farman type”, with two pairs of booms forward of the wings and bearing a single elevator and others supporting a single rudder half above and half below. The wings were reinforced by a mahogany main spar and short sheet-metal king posts. The upper wings had removable extensions braced by other king posts and the undercarriage had skids and wheels attached underneath. It was propelled by a 50 hp Gnome in a pusher configuration. The prototype traded this later for a 60 hp E.N.V. water-cooled engine and flew at the £4,000 Baron de Forest prize (longest all-British flight). A second prototype was built which flew at Larkhill on Salisbury plain, but crashed in Kent and was resold to the Army, being used by the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers at Larkhill. Another was bought by Thomas Sopwith which later won the Baron de Forest prize. A fourth prototype was shipped to New Zealand in 1910 for Leo and Vivian Walsh. A fifth one was used by the Graham White flying school at Hendon, powered by a Gnome engine, another was flown by Lewis Turner at the 1912 Aerial Derby, and another was powered by a 40 hp (30 kW) Green engine and flew at the Graham White school in 1911 before moving to Rangoon the next year. This gave a total of seven planes which mainly formed many pilots in 1911-1913.

Martin-Handasyde No.3 Monoplane (1910)

 Martin-Handasyde No.4B Dragonfly

A single sport monoplane based on Antoinette monoplanes, with a slender triangular section fuselage. It had also tapered wings braced by mid-span kingposts, and acted by wing-warping. It rested on a pair of wheels on a cross-axle and forward-projected skid. It was powered powered by a 60 hp (45 kW) Antoinette V-8 engine, later a 40 hp (30 kW) J.A.P. It flew at Brooklands with H.P. Martin acting as pilot in November 1910 but crashed in 1912, when piloted by Graham Gilmour, suffering a fatal structural failure. The two-seater was called the Martin Handasyde 4B Dragonfly was 11 m wide, built for Thomas Sopwith.

Cody Mark V (1913)

Cody Mark V

This plane of United Kingdom, was designed by American engineer Samuel Franklin Cody and first flew in July 1912, being introduced into service in late 1912 and was retired in 1913, used as a trainer by the Royal Flying Corps. Only two were ever built. Thy were the result of the December 1911 RFC competition for a Military aircraft capable of carrying a pilot and observer. Showman and aviation pioneer Samuel Cody was well-placed in this competition, already having British Army Aeroplane No 1 at the Army Balloon Factory at Farnborough in 1908, which made the first powered controlled flight in the United Kingdom. He also tested in August 1912 a monoplane powered by a salvaged 120-hp (89 kW) Austro-Daimler engine, and later a monoplane 60-hp Green engine which made a competition flight (tour of Britain) in 1911. This model crashed too, but Cody rebuilt both with a new engine and many modifications, the model being known as the Cody V. It participated an an Army competition and won the first prize, and was used by the Royal Flying Corps from 30 November 1912.

ASL Valkyrie (1911)

ASL Valkyrie

This competition model was a canard pusher designed by Horatio Barber of the Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd in 1910. 11 were built and widely flown during 1911 for sport, race and also for instructional purposes at the ASL flying school at Hendon Aerodrome in London. But they also served military purposes: Four were given to the War Office to promote military aviation in Britain. In 1914 they had been long retired. The Valkyrie B was propelled by a 1Gnome Omega rotary, 50 hp (37 kW) engine and flew at 70 mph (113 km/h; 61 kn).

ASL Viking (1912)

ASL Viking

A unusual single-engine, two propellers tractor biplane built by the Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd and designed by Horatio Barber, which first flew on 12 January 1912. This 360 kgs. plane housed a mid-fuselage Gnome Omega 7-cyl. air-cooled rotary piston engine, 50 hp (37 kW), which actioned two propellers fitted mid-wings on struts, via A.S.L. wooden fixed pitch tractor propellers, chain-driven. It first flew early in 1912 but due to no commercial success Barber basically ceased activities and sold Aerial Syndicate assets in April 1912 to Frederick Handley Page. The Viking ended in the hads of Hamilton Ross, manager of the Chanter Flying School at Shoreham, fitted with floats, and a single propeller driven directly by the engine through a gap in the rear part of the fuselage.

Beatty-Wright Biplanes (1911-1913)

Beatty-Wright Biplane

These were basically Wright Biplanes used at the Beatty School of Flying, some being modified by Beatty. The latter was a gifted pilot, one of the world’s first to make banked turns on his Wright over Hendon. George William Beatty was born on August 28, 1887 in Whitehouse, New Jersey. He used to work as a linotype operator and in 1911 he enrolled at the Wright School at Nassau and in 1912, established a school on Long Island, then shipped his plane to England and formed there a partnership with Handley Page in 1914, establishing a new school at Hendon Aerodrome. Chief pilot instructor became Edouard Baumann. In 1915 Beatty opened a workshop tp produce aeroplane parts, also at Hendon, which worked well until the end of World War and also tested variants of the Wright design. In 1916 he made a reliable and simple two bay plane for training, powered by an Anzani, and then Beatty’s own engine, but it crashed on 13 October 1917. He returned to the USA after the war.

Boulton-Paul P series (1918)

Boulton & Paul P.3 Bobolink

Until the end of the war, Boulton & Paul Ltd, a former generic manufacturer of Norwich had built many aircraft under contract, including 1,575 Sopwith Camels and 550 of the Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2b. With the success of their planes they setup a design department and started working on their own model. Their first model was the P.3 Bobolink, which was designed following an official requirement for a replacement of the Sopwith Camel. They created a no-nonsense two-bay biplane powered by the same Bentley BR2 that already powered the Sopwith Snipe, another contender. This was the first also to feature jettisonable fuel tanks, placed behind the pilot and separated with a sheet of armour to act as firewall. Whereas the Bobolink and Snipe had similar performances, the former had ban ground handling and was more complex, therefore not selected.

The Boulton Paul P.6 was a parallel project, a pure testing biplane, two-bay aircraft made to explore the effects of different airfoil sections and a large interplane gap to test interference effects. The fuselage was virtually a near-copy of the Camel’s and many Camel parts were used, but it was powered by a relatively week RAF1a air-cooled V-8, 90 hp (67 kW). First drawn in April 1918, the P.6 probably flew in the last days of the war (date unknown). From 1919 it was used as a sales planes, with the company name over it. A replica was built by the Boulton Paul Association, now in store at Cosford. It was derived into the P.9 Light utility aircraft of which six were bult, used on the civilian market.

Boulton & Paul P.7 Bourges

The next Boulton & Paul P.7 Bourges was a prototype British twin-engined biplane day bomber made on the official requirement to replace the DH.10 Amiens, powered by the new ABC Dragonfly radial engines, 9-cylinder air-cooled radial engine, rated for 200 hp (239 kW) each. It was classic-configuration two-bays biplane with strut-mounted engines, capable of 123.5 mph (107 kn, 199 km/h) at 6,500 ft (1,980 m) 9¼ h of endurance and a practical 15,000 ft (4,600 m) ceiling, which can be reached in 25 min 25 s (max ceiling 20,000 ft (6,100 m)), and a power to mass ratio of 0.10 hp/lb (0.17 kW/kg). It was armed with two .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns in the nose and mid-upper position, and carried four 230 lb (105 kg) bombs. Three prototypes were ordered by the Air Ministry, but the first, called Bourges Mk IIA only flew in June 1919, fitted with provisional 230 hp/172 kW) Bentley BR2 rotary engines. It became Bourges Mk IA when fitted with the planned ABC dragonfly engines. It was stable, fast but also extremely sturdy and had unusual acrobatic qualities for a bomber. The second prototype had low-wing mounted engines and gulled upper wing, and the third 1920 Bourges P.7B F2905 was fitted with again new engines, a pair of 450 hp (336 kW) Napier Lion. It was called the Mark IIIA, but since the requirement had been abandoned, the prototypes served as test planes at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough until 1924. The Bourges was also declined as a civilian airliner.

The last of these late WW1 company’s models was the Boulton-Paul P.10, a conventional two-seats, one engine biplane made for structural testings. It was the British first all steel aircraft, and first to use plastics as a structural material, Bakelite-Dilecto, which was a hard, synthetic cellulose-formaldehyde compound that had many qualities, like being fire-proof. The fuselage structure used high tensile steel, zinc treated and varnished against corrosion. it was showcased as a knowhow advert at the Paris Salon d’Aeronautique in 1919, but probably never flew.

Dunne D.8 (1912)

Dunne D.8

The Dunne company made some of the most amazing aircraft in these pioneering years: It was a delta wings biplane, with a pusher configuration. It was designed by aviation pioneer J. W. Dunne. In 1906 and up to 1909 he was working for the Army Balloon Factory (later RAE Farnborough) and designed a swept biplane wing aircraft that can have automatic stability. He buit the D.1 in 1907, followed by the sole D.2 and D.3 prototypes, then the D.4. After 1909 he created the Blair Atholl Aeroplane Syndicate Ltd. and his first plane was the Dunne D.5, a single prototype powered by a Green 60 hp engine, and which first flew in 1910 and proved to be aerodynamically stable in flight. The Dunne D.8 was a development for military applications. Only four were built, with a Green engine. It flew at the Larkhill Military trial in August 1912, but was not officially part of the competition. In 1913 the plane was refitted with a 80 hp Gnome engine. A further two were ordered by the War Office order, soon cancelled. There were also the Nieuport-Dunne exposed in 1913 and the Burgess-Dunne hydroplane series built in the US.

Sage Type 2 (1916)

Sage Type 2

This prototype of two-seat biplane fighter aircraft, single-engine with an enclosed cabin was buuilt by Frederic Sage & Co. Limited,
designed by Clifford Tinson, which first flew on 10 August 1916. This single prototype was discarded as more advanced models became available. The company was a well-known woodworker, which created a department for plane manufacturing, soon headed by test pilot and designer, E C Gordon England and recruited Clifford Tinson from Bristol. They designed a very small a small wood-and-fabric tractor biplane, and at that time there was still no synchronising gear for the machine-gun, and a hole was cut in the upper wing above the gunners seat for him to stand and man the Lewis gun. It was powered by a Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine mated to a four-bladed propeller. It was wrecked during a crash landing but never rebuilt. New planes with synchronized machine-guns appeared indeed.

De Havilland DH.15 (1919)

Airco DH.15

AIRCO became De Havilland in 1920. Its first plane was in fact the last Airco prototype, designed as a replacement for the legendary Airco DH.9A of 1918. This was basically and Engine test bed, powered by a B.H.P (Galloway Atlantic) V-12 watercooled, 500 hp engine. It was very stable and sturdy, and can fly at 139 mph (224 km/h), with a service ceiling of 20,000 ft (6,100 m), and rate of climb of 1,500 ft/min (7.62 m/s). It made many test flights in 1919-1920.

Edwards Rhomboidal (1911)

Edwards Rhomboidal

Although this model was never a military plane, it’s so strange it is worth mentioning it. Just like other oddities like the swept-wing Dunne, this was an attempt to replace the tail with a particular wing arrangement, in imperfect lozenge, or Rhomboidal. It was designed by E.W. Edwards and flew in 1911, powered by a single Humber 50 hp (37 kW) inline water cooled engine, driving through cranks and chains, two tractor two-bladed propellers. It used wing warping, the wings being tensioned between the ends of the longitudinal girders and the outer ends of the struts by cables forming the wing leading edges. There was no lateral control and the machine was tested at Brooklands in early 1911 but it is not know of its flew.

Howard Wright 1910 Monoplane (1910)

The derived Howard-Wright AVIS

A Wright-type plane made by Howard T Wright, and designed by W.O. Manning. It was derived from the Howard Wright 1909 Monoplane. At least three of these Howard Wright were on display at the 1910 Aero show at Olympia. One was flown by Thomas Sopwith. This tractor monoplane with uncovered wire-braced wooden fuselag was powered by a 40 hp (30 kW E.N.V. water-cooled engine and tested later a polished aluminium spinner. It was flown at the Royal Aero Club’s flying field, Eastchurch on 3 April by Warwick Wright.

Lakes Water Bird (1911)

Lakes water bird

The Avro-Curtiss design was the first British seaplane. It was built by A.V. Roe Ltd and designed by E.W. Wakefield. It first flew in a conventional wheeled undercarriage with skids and was later reconditioned as a seaplane on 25 November 1911. After Henri Fabre success in 1910, pioneers were concerned to “unstick” their plane, weakly powered, from water. In the US, Glenn Curtiss first flown on 26 January 1911 the first practical seaplane, and A.V.Roe & Co modified a Type D on floats, which flew briefly in November 1911, at Barrow-in-Furness. It was using stepped floats, but was underpowered and just made a “hop” above the water before roughly falling back being damaged in the process. However it was modified, equipped with cylindrical floats and flew 60 times between December 1911 and January 1912. It was used to design the production model Lakes-built Water Hen.

Macfie monoplane (1911)

MacFie Monoplane

Another interesting prewar prototype was the Macfie. It was a small shoulder wing, tractor monoplane powered by a 35 hp (26 kW) J.A.P. V8 engine and had an open-frame fuselage. It was designed and made, and flown by Robert Macfie, and was reminiscent of the Blériot, controlled by wing-warping via wires attached to king posts. But he also envisioned a production model already and his prototype was innovative because of its ease of construction, maintenance and repair. He dropped flying during the war and was an active member of the Landships Committee, militated for the use of caterpillar tracks for an armoured fighting vehicle, submitting many designs of its own.

Mersey Monoplane (1911)

Mersey Monoplane

This prototype was designed by Robert C Fenwick/Sydney T Swaby for Planes Limited, made for the 1912 British Military Aeroplane Competition. However it crashed during trials and was never repaired. Based in Lancashire, W P Thompson of Formby created Planes Limited and hired Frederick Handley Page, creating the Handley Page Type B, later modified by Robert C Fenwick. It was a pusher monoplane, powered by a 45 hp (34 kW) Isaacson radial engine. It was mounted in the nose, while the two-bladed propeller was driven by a long extension shaft ending at the rear. Later Fenwick and Swabey would create their own company, The Mersey Aeroplane Company. Before undergoing military tests, the 1912 plane altready crashed during a test and was rebuilt by Fenwick. But he died in the 13 August 1912 accident.

Paterson Biplane (1910)

A Paterson Biplane replica at the SAAF museum

Designed by Compton Cecil Paterson this pusher biplane was built in his own facility, the Liverpool Motor House. It was similar to the Curtiss Biplane, an open-framed pusher with a sturdy steel-tubes tricycle landing gear. It flew on 23 June 1910 but was damaged, helping later Paterson to obtain his aviator’s certificate.

Roe series (1910-1914)

Roe III Triplane

The Roe series were all experimental prewar triplanes. The Roe I was dubbed as the first all-British plane that ever flew, as all previous flight were made by using French engines. This triplane of 1909 was propelled by a chain-driven HP JAP motorcycle engine which drove a four-bladed propeller. The first “flight” was more of a simple hop. It was made by Alliott Verdon-Roe (E.V. Roe), a British Lancashire aviation pioneer which started as a surveyor in Canada, worked in railways, in a dock, as engineer in various ships, allowing him to see one day an Albatross flying.

Back in UK he had the obsession of creating his own plane. In 1906 he joined the Royal Aero-club as a secretary, and became a draughtsman to represent GLO Davidson’s engines, but he eventually resigned after a passage in the USA. He then started designing planes and won the Daily Mail competition for one of these models in 1907. He started to fly a real size one, the Roe I Biplane based on his winning model at Brooklands in 1907–08. His first recorded flight was made in 8 June 1908.

His behavior had him antagonize with the management at Brooklands, and he moved later to Walthamstow Marshes, creating his workshop under a railway arch at the end of a viaduct. There, he created his first triplane, dubbed the avroplane, which flew in July 1909. This model became the Roe type II. A replica of it was made in 7 June 2008 at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey. He created with his brother the A.V. Roe Aircraft Co. (Avro) on 1 January 1910, and developed his next models, aimed at the military.

The Roe II called “Mercury” was in fact the first product of the Avro company, in 1910. It was designed by Alliott Verdon Roe as a sturdier Roe I Triplane and two were built and tested examples. One became Roe’s company advertising plane, and the other was bought by W. G. Windham. Moved by a two-bladed propeller driven by a Green C.4 4-cylinder inline water-cooled, 35 hp (26 kW), the longest “hop” of this model was 600 ft (180 m) at 45 mph (72 km/h; 39 kn). The Roe III was the last of these prototypes, a triplane tailplane with ailerons, two seats and an open-top fuselage of triangular cross-section.

Production records differed from 3-5 prototype with various ailerons configurations, still powered by a Green engine. One joined the Harvard Aeronautical Society USA, and two were lost by fire en route to the 1910 Blackpool Meeting, later replaced. Avro became one of the most successful British manufacturer to this day. His company built the largest production of planes in WW1 with the Avro 504 (8,300). In the late 1940s, he retired his shares from Avro and created his own company by purchasing S. E. Saunders Co., to create Saunders-Roe, which built the world’s largest floatplane, the Princess.

Scottish Aeroplane Syndicate Avis (1910)

Avis I

The Avis I or a photo assumed to be such

The first plane of this unsung pioneering company was made by Howard T Wright (Nothing to do with the Wright brothers) in 1909, together with William Oke Manning for Alan Boyle at Battersea. Influenced by the Blériot design, this single-seat tractor monoplane had an open-air wire-braced wooden fuselage, cabane struts wire bracing, and used wing-warping for lateral control with foot pedals and a stick for elevation. The cabane prolongated downwards to a skids carriage for wheels using shock cords. The tail was cruciform tail, single assembly and articulated on a universal joint. The “Golden Plover” was propelled by a 30 hp (22 kW) Anzani engine which was soon disappointing on trials and replaced by a 35 hp (26 kW) Anzani and a new propeller made by Wright.

It flew succesfully at Boyle in March 1910 and was sold to Mr Maconie to be used at Brooklands in the summer of 1910. Their Avis II was propelled by a 40 hp (30 kW) J.A.P., exhibited by the Scottist Aeronautical Syndicate at Olympia and used by R.F. Wickham and later lost in a crash. The Avis I name was given to a third prototype, given a 40 hp (30 kW) E.N.V. engine, used by Boyle and lost later at the Bournemouth Air display. An Avis III was bought by racing driver J. H. Spottiswode, and the Avis IV was used by Boyle and resold on auctions when the syndicate was dissolved, at Brooklands, to Eustace Gray from the local press.

Spencer-Stirling biplane (1910)


Spencer-Stirling plane, powered by two props chain-driven by a Berlier engine

A single pusher biplane used by the RNAS. It was designed by Herbert Spencer and first flew on 9 November 1910, of the Farman type. It was later re-enginered with a 50 hp (37 kW) Gnome Gamma rotary engine after having tried the unreliable RH 4-cylinder in-line engine, rated at 40–70 hp (30–52 kW). This plane helped Herbert Spencer to obtain his Aviator’s Certificate at Brooklands, and flew several times until it crashed in February 1912, acting as RNAS trainer.

British Aircraft Manufacturers in Detail

British flag

The Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited

Rather than being named according to the relevant acronym, AMCL, Airco abbreviated as “aircraft company” was perhaps the shortest-lived aircraft manufacturer (1912 to 1920), but produced thousands of planes only for the British military in the span of WW1. If Airco disappeared, it was not the case of all its assets, starting with its famous chief designer, Geoffrey de Havilland. Together with a part of his former team would later form De Havilland, one of the greatest names in British aviation history.

Airco was funded in 1912 by George Holt Thomas in Hendon (north London), which also became one of the first great British dedicated airfields. In 1914, he convinced Geoffrey de Havilland which worked at the Royal Aircraft Factory (Farnborough) to join in as chief designer of the new company. From then on, De Havilland’s would be credited for around 30% of all planes used by the UK and US during the great war. Therefore all Airco models carried the initials “DH”. Also in 1914 William Taylor Birchenough became the company’s celebrated test pilot for the duration of the war.

In 1918 it promoted itself as the largest aircraft company in the world. The end of the war forced the company to convert to civil trasportation, and the company established the first airline in the UK called Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited. However despite of these numerous surplus aircrafts, there was little interest of the public, and no support of the government. The company was soon unprofitable and was sold in 1920 to the Birmingham Small Arms Company, its assets sold and liquidated soon after. However during the short span of WW1, Airco engineered some of the finest British planes ever put into service.

Airco DH.9A
The DH.9A, a development of the Airco DH.9 with Liberty engine which first flown in March 1918 was only retired from service in 1931…

Airco production

Airco DH.11
The DH.11, last bomber of the company (1918). It was to use the failed ABC Dragonfly radial engine.

The first great success of Airco was the DH.2 pusher which in 1916 helped to put an end to the domination of the Fokker Eindecker. Other famous models were the prolific DH.6 trainer, and the reliable DH.4/DH.9 light bombers. The DH.9A had a particularly long career postwar and was chosen as the first de Havilland airliners, later developed as the larger DH.16 and DH.18 operated by Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited owned by George Holt Thomas as a subsidiary before ceasing activities in 28 February 1921. The company record were staggering. Not only they claimed to produce 30% of British aircraft production, but they also produced their own engines as well as licensed copies of the Gnome and Le Rhone rotary engines. Airco also built Airships and seaplanes, and had a workforce in 1918 of about 7-8,000 personal spread into the factories, a metal-workshop and machining, materials testing laboratory, and a wind tunnel.

In addition to the wartime models below, Airco also produced DH.9C (1921), a passenger plane, tested the DH.11 Oxford (1919) a radial engine version of the DH.10, as well as the Airco DH.15 Gazelle (1919) an engine testing DH.9A, the DH.16 (1919) a cabin DH.9A four-seats airliner and the DH.18 (1920) a single-engine with an eight seats cabin.

Airco DH.18
The DH.18, last plane of the company. A 8-seats passenger plane, far away ancestor of the De Havilland Dragon.

  • Airco DH.1:(1915) pusher fighter 100 +70 DH.1A
  • Airco DH.2 (1915) pusher fighter 453
  • Airco DH.3 (1916) 2 pusher bomber prototypes (1 DH.3A)
  • Airco DH.4 (1916) tractor bomber 6,295 (4,846 USA)
  • Airco DH.5 (1916) tractor fighter 552
  • Airco DH.6 (1916) tractor trainer 2,280
  • Airco DH.9 (1917) light bomber 4,091 +DH.9A 1,997
  • Airco DH.10 Amiens (1918) light bomber twin engines 258
Airco DH.1 (1915)

Airco DH.1A
The Airco DH.1A was the first production model of the company, a sturdy pusher that helped claiming back the sky for the entente

The first production aircraft from Airco was somewhat inspired by the “Farman” flown by Britain’s RFC in ww1 but the powerplant which propelled it was anemic at its beginning, and when it was improved to the point of giving the needed speed, the concept was already obsolete. It helped nevertheless to cope with the Fokker scourge, but soon after was reverse to the Middle East or served as a trainer and the Home Defence. Geoffrey de Havilland’s first design was reminiscent of the F.E.2 from his prvious assignment at the Royal Aircraft Factory. The DH.1 was a pusher, with the pilot and observer in tandem cockpits in the nose while the propeller was behind. The observer was stepped down and had a machine gun with a clear field of fire, one great advantage of the pusher formula. The wings were fabric-covered, two-bay structure unstaggered and unswept of equal span. The stabiliser and rudder ended a long pair of open-framework booms. Like the F.E.2b, the Airco DH.1 was designed for the water-cooled Beardmore 120 hp (89 kW) inline engine but since those Beardmore engines were already in high demand and short supply (F.E.2b and R.E.5) the mush smaller air-cooled Renault 70 hp (52 kW) V8 engine was installed in its place.

DH.1A 3 views plan

The DH.1 prototype was given aerofoils placed each side of the nacelle that cold be rotated to act as air brakes. That proved not the most practical idea and they soon removed. The fixed conventional landing gear in V-struts, used coil springs with oil suspension. Geoffrey de Havilland piloted himseld the DH.1 prototype in January 1915 at Hendon seeing the Renault engine underpowered, but performance was not yet appealing and production was authorized, with a first order 49 planes. The DH.1 production was the shifted from Airco, already engaged on a more promising model, to the Savages Limited Factory, King’s Lynn, a previous fairground equipment manufacturer. The final production planes had a simplified rubber cord suspension, and a revised cockpit coaming. But production was so slow slow that only five were delivered to the RFC by the end of 1915. After this initial batch, which was soon reverse to training, the later production at last received the Beardmore engine and was redesignated DH.1A. despite its performannces equal to the F.E.2b both planes were slated for replacement by tractor types. A 50 DH.1As was placed but by June 1915 at Airco the first single-seat D.H.2 had already flown and became one of the best British fighters for the few month. In all 70 1A were delivered total, which added to the Renault propelled DH.1. made about 99 (100 with the prototype) by Savages factory, but on Airco design.

DH.1 of the Bundesarchiv

The DH.1 was sent to the less risky Middle East theatre, but only Beardmore DH.1As in July 1916, used by No. 14 Squadron of the RFC as B.E.2 escort. They claimed an Aviatik in August 1916 and on 5 March 1917, there was a loss during a bombing raid on Tel el Sheria. The Squadron later converted to R.E.8 in November 1917. Already in 1916 the bulk of the production was used for training. 43 were also reported in service with Home Defence fighter units, and 24 aircraft more before 1918. Apparently the model was also used by the Australian Flying Corps, as No. 1 Squadron operated a single aircraft (no. 4620) from June to July 1916.


Dimensions: 8.83 x 12.50 x 3.46 m (28 ft 11⅝ in x 41 ft 0 in x 11 ft 4 in) Wing area: 426 sq ft (39.6 m²)
Weight: 1,356 lb (616 kg) emtpy, 2,044 lb (927 kg) loaded
Engine: Renault Type W, 70 hp (50 kW) 80 mph (70 kn, 130 km/h) climb at 350 ft/min (1.7 m/s)
Armament: 0.303 in (7.70 mm) Lewis machine gun (observer)

Airco DH.2 (1915)

Airco DH.2
The Airco DH.2, side view

The second pushed designed by De Havilland was perhaps better remembered, first as a proper fighter to reach true mass-production, and second to have helped squash the “Fokker scourge”. It was effectively a one-seat version of the previous DH.1 two-seater. Smaller dimensions and weight, helped to reach better performances with the licence-built Gnôme Monosoupape rotary engine rated a 100 hp (75 kW). The need for this plane was naturally the situation in the air over the western front, which urged the need for a single-seat fighter. Before any synchonized system was available, only a forward-firing armament could do the job, therefore pushers became the first fighters. The DH.2 first flew in July 1915 and was armed with a single .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun in the nose. Originally this machine-gun was to be positioned on one of three flexible mountings in the cockpit after transfer in flight. But this system was soon dropped as pilots realized it was much more practical to to aim the aircraft rather than the gun. Higher authorities at first ban the weapon relocation, until a clip allowing it to be released was approved, designed by Major Lanoe Hawker which also devised a gunsight with a ring sight and model helping the gunner in his aiming. The bulk of the large production (by that time) of 430+ planes was taken by the 100 hp (75 kW) Gnôme rotary engine versions, but late production shifted towards 110 hp (82 kW) Le Rhône 9J. models although according to some sources it was only experimental. The nine-cylinder, air-cooled rotary Gnome 100 hp apparently had a tendency for shedding cylinders in midair.

Airco DH.2 blueprint
The Airco DH.2 blueprint

On 22 June 1915 the prototype DH.2 passe all tests and went in France for operational trials with No.5 RFC Squadron. It was shot down and later repaired by the Germans which also evaluated it. production planes soon arrived in No. 24 Squadron RFC, the first entirely equipped with single-seat fighters in France. It was starting operations in February 1916 and was the first of seven squadrons to use the Airco DH.2 on the Western Front. This model proved to be often superior to the Fokker Eindecker, and showed it especially during the Battle of the Somme. No. 24 Squadron alone revendicated 44 kills. The DH.2 had sensitive controls however, which combined with short training traduced in a high accident rate to the point of being called “The Spinning Incinerator”. As time went by though its qualities of agility were recoignised, the inherent instability being also the result of mounting this kind of rear-mounted rotary engine incidentally helped agility as all good fighter pilot knows. However the advantage it had no longer held when facing newly arrived Halberstadt D.II and Albatros D.I in September 1916. In time, No. 24 and No. 32 Squadron RFC swapped on the Airco DH.5s in June 1917. The last DH.2 remaining in service were then on the quieter Macedonian front, and in Palestine until the fall of 1917. It was afterwards still used as an advanced trainer until the end of the war.

The Airco DH.2 helped creating the first British aces. Lionel Rees, James McCudden and 13 more aces distinguished themselves and flew the DH.2. Namely Patrick Anthony Langan-Byrne (10 victories), Alan Wilkinson (10), Selden Long (9), Arthur Gerald Knight (8), Eric C. Pashley (8), John Oliver Andrews (7), Sidney Cowan (7), Hubert Jones (7), William Curphey (6), Stanley Cockerell (5). Tactician Oswald Boelcke was killed because of a collision with Erwin Böhme during a dogfight against DH.2s.


Dimensions: 7.69 x8.61 x2.91 m (25 ft 2½ in x28 ft 3 in x9 ft 6½ in) Wing area: 249 ft² (23.13 m²)
Weight: 942 lb (428 kg) empty, 1,441 lb (654 kg) loaded
Engine: Gnôme Monosoupape rotary engine, 100 hp (75 kW), 93 mph (150 km/h) at sea level
Performances: 250 mi (400 km) (2¾ hours) range, 14,000 ft (4,265 m) service ceiling reached at 545 ft/min (166 m/min)
Armament: .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun with 47-round drum magazines

Airco DH.3 (1916)

Airco DH.3
The Airco DH.3 prototype on 19 January 1919 apparently

The Airco DH.3 was the first bomber of the company. Designed in 1916 as a long-range day bomber by Geoffrey de Havilland, it was a quite large twin-engine pusher biplane with three-bay wings but a relatively slender fuselage and curved rudder. The two 120 hp (89 kW) Beardmore were not mounted as in tractor configuration but between the wings as pushers, like previous planes. There were sturdy tailskid landing gears under the wings, and two additional wheels placed beneath the nose to prevent bumping when landing. Three prototypes flew, the first in January or February 1916 as photographic evidence suggests but didn’t get a War Ministry serial number performances were not good enough for the war office. A second prototype designated DH.3A, flew with 160 hp/119 kW Beardmore engines, and was showcased to the war office, with performances good enough this time to trigger an order for 50 soon after. It was cancelled however because strategic bombing was not a priority and twin-engined bombers were thought to be not effective, therefore the two prototypes were mothballed in 1917. In fact, the DH.3 was a victim of Royal Aircraft Factory internal debate early 1916 with British private aircraft manufacturers squabbling over undue ordered planes from the R.A.F. even if their private competitors proved superior in any ways. There was a growing hostility at the War Office to private sector which combined with the belief of large twin-engined aircrafts being impractical, as shown by the poor F.E.4, strategic bombing being dropped as a tactic, but resurrected over time, due to the German bombing campaign over Britain and the D.H.10 appeared. It was a direct development of the DH.3 (March 1918) but arrived too late in production to see any service. Civilian planes based on its cell would be built after the war.

Blueprint Airco DH.3
DH.3 blueprint, airwar.ru


Dimensions: 11.23 x 18.54 x 4.42 m (36 ft 10 in x 60 ft 10 in x 14 ft 6 in) Wing area: 793 ft2 (73.67 m2)
Weight: 3,980 lb (1,805 kg) empty, 5,810 lb (2,635 kg) loaded
Engines: Two Beardmore 120 hp (160 hp DH.3A) inline piston engines.
Performance: Top speed: 95 mph (153 km/h), range: 700 miles (1,130 km), Endurance: 8 hours, climb at 550 ft/min (2.8 m/s)
Armament: Two flexibly mounted .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns, 680 lb (308 kg) bomb load.

Airco DH.4 (1916)

An American DH.4.

Designed by Geoffrey de Havilland it was a light two-seat tractor biplane, for aerial reconnaissance and light day bombing. it was to be powered by the the brand new Beardmore Halford Pullinger (BHP) engine, rated for 160 hp. It first flew in August 1916, powered by a prototype of the BHP engine that reached 230 hp (170 kW). Tests shown its favourable handling and performance and the Central Flying School (CFS) own evaluations ended with the writing of a very favorable report, praised for its excellent stability, moderately light flying controls good crew positions. it was noted to reach the best climbing rate ever recorded however it also appeared that the BHP engine had flaws that required redesign prior to launching production. This went as far as not planning any schedule for the BHP engine while there was an already available water-cooled Rolls-Royce Eagle, an excellent in-line engine at the end of its development process and offering the same performances and general figures as the BHP. Therefore, in the summer of 1916, the second prototype flew successfully with this Rolls-Royce engine, and this decided the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) to place an order in late 1916 while the Royal Navy interest materialized into an order for two prototypes, configured to its own requirements for evaluation. Equally successful trials bring additional orders for the Royal Naval Air Service.

DH.4 in the sky of France
DH.4 in the sky of France

The DH.4 was a two bay biplane tractor of all-wooden construction, traditional materials but treated plywood for the fuselage a 3mm skin, which made it both strong and lightweight? Therefore cross-bracing owas limited to the rear cockpit area. However the nose cowling designed for the rather long Beardmore Halford Pullinger (BHP) proved roomy for the Rolls-Royce Eagle. In addition to both engines, the American Liberty was used, but also depending of the manufacturer, the RAF3A, Siddeley Puma and even Fiat engine. In all cased, the propeller was four-bladed while Cooling depended of an oval-shaped frontal intake and port-mounted exhaust manifold above the upper wing. The inversion of the engine was also carried out in some production models for the tall Richardo-Halford-Armstrong (RHA) supercharged engine in order to clear the pilot’s view. The observer was separated from the pilot by as space between which the fuel tank was positioned. This large gap caused in-flight communication problems and speaking tube fitted later proved useless in most situations. American-built planes had the pilot’s and observer’s seating and fuel tank swapped which improved communication and the pilot chances of survival in a crash.

Civilian DH.4B in flight in the 1920s

The armament consisted in a single pilot’s forward-firing synchronised Vickers machine gun and one or a twin mount with a lighter and handier .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns on the scarff ring around the observer cockpit. The bomb load was about 460 lb (210 kg) on external racks. Some time later, an additional Vickers gun was tried, as well as a COW 37 mm guns a few days before the end of the war. The numerous DH.4 available after the war made the delight of private owners and regional airlines. The DH.4 was also modified as a seaplane for the navy, fitted with two large floats, and prototypes tested at Felixstowe before the end of the war.

DH.4 of early production
DH.4 of early production

In late 1916, the first batch of fifty with their 250 hp (186 kW) Eagle III engines were accepted by RFC, with a single synchronized 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun for the pilot, and a Scarff ring mounted 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun for the observer. Airco soon received more orders and couldn’t cope with these. Therefore, production was passed on F.W. Berwick and Co, Glendower Aircraft Company, Palladium Autocars, Vulcan Motor and Engineering, Westland Aircraft Workand a total of 1,449 aircraft were delivered at V-day out of the total 1,700 aircraft ordered, in UK alone for the RFC and RNAS. Indeed, SABCA of Belgium produced 15 more in 1926, but USA also did their share. As the Bolling Commission investigated for readily-available planes for the expeditionary force, the DH.4 impressed the board and was chosen, for direct use and production licence and tooling in the United States. The other ones picked by the commission were the Bristol F.2 Fighter, Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5, and French SPAD S.XIII. If a DH.4 was evaluated from the summer of 1917, it was not until 1918 that the first American DH-4s leaved the factory floor from several manufacturers, Boeing, Dayton-Wright, Fisher Body Corporation, and Standard Aircraft Corporation. Over 1,000 modifications were incorporated into the design compared to the original. So much so that a grand total of 9,500 DH-4s were delivered of which 1,885 reached France in time for operations. The Liberty engine was adopted for this version and would also eventually propelled the DH.9A in UL as well. After the war, American-built DH.4s in surplus would be modified by Boeing up to the DH-4B standard (Boeing Model 16), with 111 delivered in 1920, half being refurbished later and in 1923, another Boeing version with a fabric-covered steel tube fuselage designated DH-4M-1 and Atlantic Aircraft’s DH-4M-2 were produced while some DH-4M-1s were converted into dual-control trainers (DH-4M-1T), target tugs (DH-4M-1K) while the USMC took delivery of modified O2B-1s and night O2B-2 which until the crash of wall street.

Wright-radial DH-4B
Wright-radial DH-4B of the US Air Force after the war

With time, DH.4s were fitted with better versions of the Eagle engine such as the 375 hp (280 kW) Eagle VIII which became standard in the end of 1917 despite grossly mismanagements and chronical shortages. This left engineers to investigate for alternatives, and included naturally the BHP (230 hp/170 kW), RAF3A (200 hp/150 kW) Siddeley Puma (230 hp/170 kW) and even the 260 hp (190 kW) Fiat which made their way to production aircraft but none matched the outstanding Eagle engine.

The DH.4 enjoyed a fairly long career, helped by its legendary reliability, quality and durability, performances and love by its crew. Entering service in January 1917, with No. 55 Squadron, two more squadrons in May 1917, then six squadrons by the fall of the year with the RFC’s will to launch retaliatory bombing raids on German. Russia was an early and happy customer of the DH.4, with 50 of them by September 1917. The RNAS was equally satisfied with the DH.4 starting with No. 2 Squadron in May 1917. In addition to France, they were also used over Italy, patrolling the Aegean front and Otranto barrage. During one of many RNAS coastal patrols Major Egbert Cadbury and Captain Robert Leckie shot down Zeppelin L70 on 5 August 1918. Later on, four DH.4s sank UB 12 on 19 August 1918. The DH.4 is considered by experts today the best British one-engine light bomber in service in WW1. The crews in particular loved its speed and altitude that made it immune to German fighters. It was never escorted, and the feat was repeated by the Mosquito of ww2 fame.

By the fall of 1918 RFC’s equipment of DH.4 began to fade as engines were in short supply, production switching to the disappointing DH.9 instead and replacement by the far better DH.9A with an American Liberty engine available in very large numbers. In June 1918 DH.4s of 55 Squadron performed strategic bombing raids over Germany in daylight, flying in wedge formations, for the leader to guide bombing drops and having the advantage of a massed defensive fire. This unit accused losses, but operated without replacement as these were the lowest of all units in operation in November 1918. Many were converted after the war for passenger transport, with enclosed cabins. The list of operators included also Argentina (civilian service) Australia (idem), Belgium (Aviation Militaire Belge), Canada, Chile, Cuba, Greece, Iran, Mexico, Nicaragua, New Zealand, South Africa, Soviet Union, Spain, and Turkey (postwar!).

DH-4 airmail
One of the numerous civilian versions postwar, this CAM 2 served with the US airmail by the Robertson Aircraft Corp. by 1926


Dimensions: 9.35 x13.21 x3.35 m (30 ft 8 in x 43 feet 4 in x 11 ft) Wing area: 434 ft² (40 m²)
Weight: 2,387 lb (1,085 kg) empty, 3,472 lb (1,578 kg) fully loaded.
Engine: Rolls-Royce Eagle VII inline liquid cooled piston 375 hp (289 kW)
Performances: Top speed 143 mp (230 km/h), range: 470 mi (770 km), endurance: 3/4 hr, ceiling: 22,000 ft (6,700 m), climb in 1,000 ft/min (305 m/min)
Armament: .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers, rear 1/2 Lewis gun (observer), 460 lb (210 kg) of bombs.

Airco DH.5 (1916)

Modern replica DH.5 in New Zealand
Modern replica DH.5 in New Zealand

De Havilland designed the Airco DH.5 combining a classic tractor biplane with better forward visibility inherited from the pushers. The main planes indeed were 27 inches separated, the upper one being more backward, to free frontal vision for the pilot, his vision no longer cluttered by the upper plane. The prototype had a forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun was given a system allowing to fire it both upwards or to change its angle in flight. The production model would go for a fixed mounting on top of the cowl but offset to the left. The main fuel tank was installed behind the cockpit and below the oil tank for gravity, with another gravity fuel tank over the top main plane offset to the right.

The DH.5 prototype started trials in December 1916 whereas the Sopwith Camel and RAF S.E.5 were about also to enter service. The DH.5 however proved inferior to the earlier Sopwith Pup, compounded by the use of a single machine gun when two were mandatory. It was nevertheless trusted enough to be ordered from four manufacturers, starting with the bulk of the production by Airco (200), British Caudron (50), Darracq (200) and March, Jones & Cribb (100). The DH.5 rapidly proved unpopular in 1917, compounded by alleged handling difficulties and poor performance at high altitude, with a tendency to fall rapidly when in action.The upper main plane was also a blind spot to the rear and weak point as most attacks came from that angle in 1917. However the DH.5 was both robust, good at low altitude with an excellent forward field and it was discovered it excelled best as strafing attack plane, showing excellent performances in the Battle of Cambrai. The DH.5 served also with the No. 2 Squadron Australian Flying Corps, the first Australian fighter squadron also for ground-attack until December 1917. In 1918 all DH.5 in service were being replaced by the S.E.5a in January 1918 and gradually moved to training units briefly before being removed RFC service. Just one reproduction has been made in the United States by John Shiveley at Aviation Heritage Centre, Omaka Aerodrome, New Zealand.


Length: 6.71 x7.83 x2.78 m (22 ft x 25 ft 8 in x 9 ft 1½ in) Wing area: 212.1 ft² (19.7 m²)
Weight: 1,010 lb (459 kg) empty, 1,492 lb (676 kg) loaded
Engine Le Rhône 9J 9-cylinder Rotary engine, 110 hp (82 kW)
Performances: Top speed: 102 mph (89 knots, 164 km/h), 2 hours 45 min endurance, ceiling 16,000 ft (4,878 m.)
Armament: One 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun, four 25 lb (10 kg) bombs under fuselage racks

British flag Armstrong Withworn

From the Armstrong Whitworth Aerial Department

Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft was established as the Aerial Department of Sir W. G Armstrong Whitworth & Company engineering group, and the factories were moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1912. In 1914-1917 the company’s models were famously designed by Dutch designer Frederick Koolhoven (prefix “F.K.”). Best sellers were the FK3 and FK 8 observation and general purpose planes, but AW also tried a quadruplane fighter, the FK9, without much success. The company later moved to civilian planes, and was eventually merged with Armstrong Siddeley which also comprised the Gloster Aircraft Company and Hawker Aircraft. Now it’s Hawker Siddeley.


The first plane of the company was the result of the British War Office asking W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd to manufacture aeroplanes and aircraft engines for the Army. Soon after the department was set up and Frederick Koolhoven in (formerly head of British Deperdussin design), a small, single-seat scout aircraft was soon created. Of single-bay tractor configuration the F.K.1 and balanced elevators and no fixed tailplane. It was powered by a 50 hp (37 kW) Gnôme although a 80 hp had been originally planned, in short supply. Koolhoven flew it personnally in September 1914 but as suspected it was underpowered. Modifications included a fixed tailplane, enlarged ailerons but since the superior Sopwith Tabloid and Bristol Scout were available the army delined any order. The “Sissit” was abandoned. For the next model however, the Dutch designer simply “borrowed” the Aircraft Factory B.E.2c design already produced under licence and modified it in some points; it was a success, produced to around 500 as the F.K.3. The next F.K.4 was a paper project, just like the F.K.2, but the F.K.5 and 6 were built, as experimental triplanes to serve as escort fighters, answering to a 1916 War office specification. The FK5 never flew, modified with the gunner’s nacelles slung under the middle wing, shorter and a deeper fuselage, and conventional tailskid. Four were ordered in April but only one built, showing poor performances, whereas synchronized MGs were now available, and the whole program ended.

AW FK8 cockpit closeup

The next F.K.8 was a simple “copy-paste, repeat” of the F.K.3. It was a conventional, sturdy, all-purpose two-seater biplane powered by a Beardmore 120 hp 6-cylinder inline piston engine, 160 hp (112 kW). About 1,650 were manufactured, which served long after the war for the company Qantas, the Kingdom of Hejaz and Paraguay. The previous F.K.7 has been planned as a replacement for both the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c and the Armstrong Whitworth F.K.3. introducing basic dual controls for the pilot and observer. It flew in May 1916, but for marketing purposes when pitted against the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 it was renamed F.K.8. and ordered in quantities. The next F.K.9 and F.K.10 were interesting escort fighter designed as quadruplanes, the only ones in service with the RFC (Photo).

AW FK8 cockpit closeup

This oddball only saw one prototype for the RFC (with a 110 hp (80 kW) Clerget 9Z engine) and eight of pre-production test F.K.10, featuring a revised fuselage and tail, with a 130 hp (100 kW) Clerget 9B/Le Rhône 9J engines. The initial order of 50 was dropped after testing the first batch (see later for details). The next wartime model of the company was the Armadillo, this time designed by Koolhoven successor, Fred Murphy. It was a private-venture project, centered around the promising Bentley BR2 rotary engine. It was more to test the skills of the new design team rather than a response to an official requirement. It was a two-bay biplane with a square section fuselage, with two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns fitted on the cowl and synchronized, in January 1918. It made its first flight in April 1918 and compared badly to the Sopwith Snipe because of its poor view from the cockpit. It led to the more advance Ara, postwar (first flight 1919) of which two prototypes were built and tested but dropped because grave issues with the new ABC Dragonfly engine.

AW Models:

  • Armstrong Whitworth F.K.1 (1914)”Sissit” (1)
  • Armstrong Whitworth F.K.2 (1915) (8)
  • Armstrong Whitworth F.K.3 (1915) (500)
  • Armstrong Whitworth F.K.6 (1916) (2)
  • Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 (1916) “Big Ack” (1,650)
  • Armstrong Whitworth F.K.9/10 (1916-17) “Quadriplane” (9)
  • Armstrong Whitworth Armadillo (1)
  • Airship R25
  • Airship R29
  • Airship R33
Armstrong Whitworth F.K.3 (1915)


This two-seat general-purpose biplane was designed by Dutch designer Frederick Koolhoven. It was a near-copy of the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c, already built by AW for the Royal Flying Corps. Th first prototype was flown in 1915 by Norman Spratt, powered by a 70 hp (52 kW) air-cooled Renault 70 hp V-8. It was made simpler than its inspiration plane, by eliminating welded joints and complex metal components in the structure. To test the concept, seven aircraft were built, retrospectively called FK.2 sometimes. It was rejected by the RFC as offering little advantage over the BE2C; therefore Armstrong Whitworth worked on an improved version, with a new fin and rudder, a more effective field of fire for the observer, straight leading edge, no horn balance, and a 90 hp (67 kW) RAF 1a engine, derived from the Renault engine. The new FK.3 flown at Upavon in May 1916 and this time estimated superior to the BE2C on all accounts but the loading capacity despite its formula was already obsolescent. 150 were ordered by the RFC to AW, while 350 more were ordered to Hewlett & Blondeau Limited at Luton. The arly and later version could be distinguished by their rams’ horns forward stubs, which replaced their initial twin high exhaust pipes exiting above the upper wing. Later during production, RAF engines were in short supply, therefore 12 planes were tested with the new heavier 120 hp (90 kW) six-cylinder inline water cooled Beardmore 120 hp and span was increased by 2 ft (610 mm) to compensate. They were converted back with RAF engine as soon as they were available. Oddly these planes were never deployed operationally in France (FK.8 were preferred), but kept mostly for training and reserve units in UK, with the No. 43, 47, 53, 55 and 63 Squadron RFC. Only those of the 47 Squadron at Salonika operated this model in action, which was obsolete by early 1918. The bulgarians captured one, and the Australian Flying Corps No. 3 Squadron AFC also used this model for training.


Dimensions: Length: 29 ft (8.84 m), Wingspan: 40 ft (12.19 m), Height: 11 ft 11 in (3.63 m)
Empty weight: 1,386 lb (629 kg), Max. takeoff weight: 2,056 lb (983 kg)
Engine: 1 × RAF 1A inline piston engine, 90 hp (67 kW)
Performance: Top speed: 77 kn (89 mph, 143 km/h) at sea level
Service ceiling: 12,000 ft (3,660 m), Endurance: 3hr
Armament: 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis Gun, rear observer cockpit/up to 112 lb (51 kg) bombs, single seater version

Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 (1916)

AW FK8 early production

This British two-seat general-purpose biplane served alongside the R.E.8 until the end of the war. 694 F.K.8s have been delivered, 1650 total, counting exports and postwar production. It was designed by Frederick Koolhoven to replace the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c and FK.3. It was more powerful (160 hp (110 kW) Beardmore water-cooled engine), larger, sturdier, had oleo-pneumatic landing gear, a scarff-mounted MG Lewis, and the rudder had a rudder featuring a long, pointed horn-balance. It was also serial-fitted with dual controls in case the pilot was injured, for the observer to take control. Outside the Armstrong Whitworth synchronization mechanism, not reliable, the plane used at an early stage the Arsiad interrupter gear and Constantinescu gear. Bt the plane had many teething problems like a weak oleo undercarriage and blocked radiators.

AW FK8 late production

The tail was modified also and the wings, gunner’s seat and exhaust system were revised, nose cowling and radiators too lately so there were three distinct production versions over time. Nicknamed “Big Ack”) it proved effective and dependable, was liked for its crew and trusted upon to led reconnaissance missions as well as strafing and ground attacks or night bombing. The prototype flew in late 1916 and it arrived first at 35 Squadron RFC, in January 1917. It served well in France, Macedonia, Palestine, for home defence. It was able to carry six 40 lb (20 kg) phosphorus smoke bombs, four 65 lb (29 kg) bombs or two 112 lb (51 kg) bombs on underwing racks and the pilot was given a forward-firing .303 in Vickers machine gun. By the early 1920s these planes had been all discarded. Some served for much more years afterwards with QANTAS in Australia, the small Kingdom of Hejaz AF or Paraguay.

AW FK8 final Prodution


Dimensions: Length: 31.5 ft (9.58 m), Wingspan: 43.6 ft (13.26 m), Height: 10 ft 11 in (3.33 m)
Empty weight: 1,916 lb (869 kg), Max. takeoff weight: 2,811 lb (1275 kg)
Engine: Beardmore 6-cyl engine, 160 hp (112 kW)
Performance: Top speed: 83 kn (95 mph, 153 km/h) at sea level
Service ceiling: 13,000 ft (3,960 m), Endurance: 3hr
Armament: 1x .303 Vickers FF, 1x 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis Gun (observer), up to 224 lb bombs

British flag Avro

Early History

The Avro company is a familiar one in British History, forging so many of memorable plane over decades of engineering imagination. In the cold war, Avro forged the “V” bombers, an infamous family that assured British dissuasion power during the early cold war, and made the equally successful Lancaster in WW2, pioneered pilot-less fighters and missiles as well as the Concorde. But its started as A.V. Roe and Company on 1 January 1910 at Brownsfield Mill, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester. The company was funded by Alliott Verdon Roe and his brother Humphrey Verdon. Alliot constructed a successful aircraft, the Roe I Triplane “Bullseye” which was followed by early production models such as the Avro E or Avro 500 (March 1912, 18 built) for the RFC which had just been created. The world’s first enclosed cockpit also was pioneered in 1912, and the monoplane Avro Type F and biplane Avro Type G also appeared this year as prototypes. The Avro 504 (September 1913) was evaluated by the War Office and entered service in the early months of the war first as observation plane, then for training aircraft. Amazingly it remained in that role until 1933, with a production which lasted 20 years and 8,340 produced also by Hamble, Failsworth, Miles Platting and Newton Heath. Nothing came close in this area but De Havilland’s Tiger Moth.

Avro Type F

Avro Type G

The Roe Bulls eye triplane, 1911, one of the first production of the firm
The Roe Bulls eye triplane, 1911, one of the first production of the firm, and the Type F and G.

It should be noted that the company also tested a pusher in april 1915, the Avro 508, drew plans for a new seaplane, the 509, produced six 510 seaplanes in July 1914 for the RNAS, tested a fast scouting aircraft, the 511, later 514 in 1914, tested and produced four Avro 519 in 1916, two 523 Pike, two 529, two Avro 533 Manchester bombers, a single two-seat fighter Avro 521 in late 1915 and Avro 527 in 1916, but also a reconnaissance model for the RNAS (Avro 528), another 2-seats biplane 530 in 1917, a prototype one-seat fighter Avro 531 Spider in 1918

The prototype bomber Avro 529
The firm produced during the war a dozen interesting models of prototypes, ranging from single-seat fighters to four engine bombers, like this Avro 529 of April 1917.

The legendary Avro 504

Avro 504
Avro 504

Although the company Avro will turn a hundred types of planes before being absorbed into Hawker Siddeley Aviation in 1963 and disappear as a name, its most iconic model before, through and after WW1 would remain the 504. This very plane totalled 8,970 during the war and production went on for almost 20 years (10,000 from 1913 until 1932). It was by all means the most-produced aircraft of any kind during the great war, and one of the most produced airplane worldwide prior to WW2. And this fantastic twits of fate proceeded from humble beginnings, the Avro 500 of 1912.

Avro 500

Early Models

Avro 500 (12 built)
The first production model designed by Alliott Verdon Roe was the 500, which made its fist flight on March, 3, 1912. It was a development of the Type E biplane, a prototype which was developed in parallel to the Avro Duigan. The latter was tailored by Roe as a two-seats tractor biplane for the pioneer Australian aviator John Robertson Duigan in 1911. It was powered by a 35 hp (26 kW) E.N.V. V-8 motor for 40 mph (65 km/h) and later after reconstruction by a 50 h (37 kW ) Gnome engine. It was considered as a basis for the 500. The latter was a single seat biplane with the same characteristics, but crucially, a 60 hp (45 kW) E.N.V. meeting success in 1912. If at first the prototype’s top speed and rate of climb were not impressive, the pilot was dithyrambic about its agility and other corners of flight. The second prototype used a lighter 50 hp (37 kW) Gnome air-cooled rotary engine and flew on 8 May 1912. It was able to climb to 2,000 ft (610 m) in five minutes and later covered 17 miles (28 km) in 20 minutes. This met the War Office requirements for a “Military Aircraft” published for the Military Aeroplane Competition. Therefore an order was placed for two more, and later the model renamed the Avro 500, received nine more orders, including five single-seats. In addition to the No. 3, 4 and 5 Squadrons of the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service, a single plane was purchased to serve with the Portuguese Air Force.

Avro 503 Avro 501/503 (3)
Very close to the Avro Type H, the 501 and 503 were early British military seaplanes developed from the succeful Avro 500 design. They were designed as amphibious planes, with a single large main float and wheels under the fuselage. The first flew over Windermere in January 1913, later rebuilt in a twin-float configuration and tested further by the British Admiralty and later converted. The improved version, type 503 impressed the Inspector of Naval Aircraft, order three, and later Avro showcased it to the Imperial German Navy staff in June 1913. One was purchased for evaluation and flew from Wilhelmshaven to Heligoland in September 1913, later licence-built by Gotha as the WD.1 or Wasser Doppeldecker-1 while others were turned (without licence) by Albatros, AGO, and Friedrichshafen and later were eventually given to the Ottoman Empire during the war after being declared obsolete. So in all five airplanes of both types were produced. These single-seat biplanes were propelled by a Gnome Omega Omega 14-cyl two row air-cooled rotary piston engine, 100 hp (75 kW) which gave them a top speed of 55 mph (89 km/h).

Success story: The 504

Avro 504K at Shuttleworth airfield
It seems amazing that only after producing a dozen Avro of all models for the military, the firm should be entrusted to turn so many of the next iteration in the lineage. This process however took some time before the merits of the plane were fully recognized. It first flew on 18 September 1913, at that time powered by an 80 hp (60 kW) Gnome Lambda. This was a proven seven-cylinder rotary engine. It was designed for training and private flying, a reliable two-bay all-wooden design with a solid square-section fuselage. Although not revolutionary, this made for a sturdy, dependable and very stable aircraft. In particular it was given the trademark of training planes of that era to prevent bad landings, a central ski fitted between the wheels, called “tooth pick”. It was of course, declined in two and one-seat versions, and largely deployed by Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) before the war. It was sent in France soon and rapidly became the #1 British military plane in availability, performing many useful tasks like observation outside training. One Avro 504 became the first British plane to be shot down, on 22 August 1914.

Also in November 1914, several 504s took off from from Belfort in north-eastern France to perform the first bombing attack against Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen (Lake Constance). They carried then four 20 lb (9 kg) bombs each and the mission was a success. Later on, because of a growing number of encounters, the Avro 504 was armed with the Lewis gun, with a Foster mount for night fighting. This model was known as the Avro 504K. There were many other wartime variants. The most famous and current were the 504K and 504J. Both were equipped with 100 hp (75 kW) Gnome or 110 hp (80 kW) Le Rhône because of shortages, and these models ended in the Home Defence squadrons of the RFC by 1917. In Russia, White Russian Type 504 captured became Soviet planes, rapidly copied like th U-1 in the early 1920s, leading later to the ubiquitous Polikarpov Po-2. In Japan it became the Yokosuka K2Y1 and successors. During all its production, the 504 will be declined into 23 major variants, and sold to 38 countries. It became overnight the first plane of many air forces around the globe, from Australia to Japan, Sweden to Russia, Argentina to Malaysia. The most popular export model from 1925 was the 504N. The 504 was ultimately replaced by the Avro Tutor (only 600 built). Many replicas are still flying today.


-Length: 29 ft 5 in (8.97 m), Wingspan: 36 ft (10.97 m), Height: 10 ft 5 in (3.18 m), Wing area: 330 ft² (30.7 m²)
-Empty weight: 1,231 lb (558 kg), load 180 lb (82 kg)
-Crew: 1 or 2
-Powerplant: Le Rhône 9J Rotary, 110 hp (82 kW)
-Performances: Top speed 90 mph (145 km/h), Cruise 75 mph (121 km/h), Range 250 mi (402 km), Ceiling: 16,000 ft (4,876 m), Climb: 700 ft/min (3.6 m/s)
-Armament: 2x synchonized 0.303 Vickers machine guns.

Drawing of the type

British flag Beardmore

William Beardmore and Company, Ltd.

Ships, Planes, Locomotives, and more… Glasgow-based giant conglomerate was Scottish premium industrial group in 1914, already known for its numerous locomotive and ships for the Royal Navy and merchant marine. There was not a long stretch from there to manufacturing planes and airships in a new branch.


Beardmore built at the same time licence models (starting with the Nieuport 12, then Sopwith Pup and BE2C, which gave the company enough skills to launch its own models W.B. and even its own engine, the Beardmore Adriatic. Licence-production comprised the 1918 heavy bomber Handley Page HP V/1500, Nieuport 12, R.A.F. BE.2C, Sopwith Camel and Sopwith Pup. The WB.1 was a 1917 light bomber prototype designed by G. Tilghman Richards, chief designer of the aviation department of William Beardmore, starting operations in 1916. The W.B.1. was to be a single engined bomber, single seat made for the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and optimized for low altitude, furtive attacks. Of three-bay biplane construction with with long span ratio wings highly staggered, it had a 230 hp (172 kW) BHP engine. The first flight intervened in early 1917 and it was sent to be tested at the RNAS Cranwell facility in June 1917,, but the latter preferred the larger Handley Page O/100. It was followed by the two-seater W.B.1a, a long-distance bomber biplane propelled by the domestic engine, Galloway Atlantic, 500 hp. It was fast (110 mph) despite its Gross weight of 8,900 lb and had a 6 h 30 min autonomy, but it was not enough for the RNAS and stayd as a prototype;

Beardmore WB.3
WB.III, the only production aircraft, a near-clone of the Sopwith Pup, designed for RNAS carriers.
The next WB.2 of wooden construction was another private venture developed from the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c by G. Tilghman Richards, also in the fall of 1916. A two-seater Powered by a 200 hp (150 kW) Hispano-Suiza 8Bd engine and armed with two MGs it was tested early on 30 August 1917 with success, but the Air Ministry was not keen to adopt the 8Bd engine in short supply and allocated to the S.E.5a already. Production of two W.B.2B occurred after the war as civil planes and a third proposed was to have the Galloway Adriatic engine. The W.B.III however was a successful design, a single-seat fighter developed from the Sopwith Pup, built to around 100 planes for the RNAS. There were designed to operate on carriers, like the converted HMS Furious, HMS Argus and seaplane tenders like the Nairana and Pegasus. The newt WB.IV was a prototype fighter, tailored to answer the Royal Navy’s Admiralty Specification N.1A, aimed at a naval land/ship-based fighter. The pilot was to be able to be safely ditching and remain afloat. So WB designed a large permanent flotation chamber into the fuselage, under the nose while the pilot had a watertight cockpit and the propeller shaft underneath the cockpit was coupled with the inline Hispano-Suiza located over the centre of gravity while the undercarriage could be jettisoned. Wing tips also had additional floats and could fold for storage. Althoough the concept was sound, as shown on 12 December 1917, and later evaluated at Martlesham Heath in July 1918 its performances were just too poor compared to regular naval planes and in addition the prototype sank during a ditching test.

Meanwhile, the company’s designer also conceived another naval plane, to answer another official requirement for a ship-borne fighter aircraft armed with a 37 mm Le-Puteaux QF gun to chase German airships. This W.B.V single seater, two-bay tractor biplane was given the same 200 hp (149 kW) Hispano-Suiza engine and its wings were foldable for storage. The heavy gun was squizzed between the cylinder banks of the V-8 engine, firing through the propeller, but it had no buoyancy chamber, rather inflatable flotation bags. It flew in December 1917 but the Puteaux gun was judged too dangerous and was replaced by a standard Vickers machine gun while a Lewis gun was mounted on a tripod mounting. This second prototype was showcased but gained no order. The next W.B.VI was another private venture ailed at the RNAS, single-engine folding torpedo bomber biplane powered by Rolls-Royce Eagle, 350 hp, but it attracted no orders. The company will also produced several civilian and military aircrafts in the early 1920s, but most importantly, manufactured a range of airships: Two R23 class (one more built in Vickers and another at Armtrong Withworth), one R27 (R23X-class airship), and two of the R31 class in 1918. Postwar, the company will also built the R33-class (2, 1919) and R36 (1, 1921) used by the RNAS.

Beardmore R27
Airship R23 of the RNAS class R24. Two were built in 1917 by Beardmore. Notice the underbelly self-defence Sopwith Camel, also built by Beardmore.

  • Beardmore W.B.1 (1917) light bomber
  • Beardmore W.B.1a (1917) light bomber
  • Beardmore W.B.2 (1917) fighter
  • Beardmore W.B.III (1917) fighter: 100 built
  • Beardmore W.B.IV
  • Beardmore W.B.V
  • Beardmore W.B.VI
  • —————

  • Airship R24
  • Airship R27
  • Airship R32

British flag Blackburn

A long-lasting British manufacturer

Blackburn monoplane 1909 The one-man affair Blackburn Aircraft company was founded by Robert Blackburn in Leeds in 1908. Robert Blackburn flew his aircraft on the beaches at Marske and Filey, and Holme-on-Spalding Moor.
Several models followed until the company’s Olympia Works were setup at Roundhay in 1914. From there the definitive company was funded as Blackburn Aeroplane & Motor Company and a new plant was later dedicated at Brough (Yorkshire) in 1916, headed by Robert’s brother, Norman Blackburn as managing director. The company would manufacture about twenty models with various success during the war, most of which being successful U-boat and Zeppelin hunters. After the war in the 1930s the company acquired Cirrus-Hermes and started a range of Blackburn Cirrus engines and the same year in 1937 Maurice Denny (Denny Bros.) approached the company for a merger with the Dumbarton shipbuilding company, a new factory was established at Barge Park, Dumbarton.

Blackburn Type D
The single Blackburn Type D replica

The Blackburn Botha was from this plant in 1939. Becoming the Blackburn Aircraft Limited in 1939, it was amalgamated with General Aircraft Limited after the war in 1949 and back to Blackburn Aircraft Limited by 1958. However with the rationalization of British aircraft manufacturers it was absorbed by Hawker Siddeley and then Bristol Siddeley and disappeared as independent entity in 1963. There was also in 1929 an American manufacturer, Blackburn Aircraft Corp., in Detroit. But Blackburn also had plants at Olympia, Leeds, Sherburn-in-Elmet, and Brough (East Yorkshire).

Blackburn Mercury
Blackburn Mercury, a replica at the Yorkshire Air Museum

Blackburn White Falcon
Blackburn White Falcon

Blackburn Models

The Blackburn First Monoplane in 1909 was a single-engine, single-seat high-wing monoplane and the second Blackburn Monoplane of 1911 was a single-engine midwing model. And the came the Blackburn Mercury in 1911, as a Single-engine, two-seat midwing monoplane for training. A development of it was the Blackburn Type B (1912), suceeded by the Type D the same year, 1912 with the same monoplane configuration, now preserved in flying condition at the Shuttleworth Collection (Old Warden). The Type E, also the same year, was metal-framed, and one variant was a two-seater. The year 1913 saw the Blackburn Type I emerge with a new monoplane configuration, single-engine 1/2-seat and mid-wing and proposed and tested both as land-based and seaplane. The Type L, a single-engine two-seat biplane seaplane appeared just before the war, and became a mass-production success. But the planes Blackburn were best remembered for became the Blackburn Twin Blackburn in 1915, which was a twin-engine twin-fuselage and seats, anti-Zeppelin seaplane. The AD Scout which appeared the same year was an Admiralty design, a single-engine, single-seat pusher which was specialized to hunt Zeppelins, but only two were built by both Blackburn and Hewlett & Blondeau for testings.

Blacburn GP
The Blackburn GP was the blueprint for the RT1 Kangaroo

RT1 Kangaroo Interesting models of 1916 were the Blackburn Triplane, a triplane version of Scout (also built under licence), the White Falcon, which was a single-engine two-seat mid-wing monoplane, and the “General Purpose” a twin-engine three-seat seaplane biplane anti-submarine patroller, upon which the RT1 Kangaroo was built. Close to this mass-production success, Blackburn tried to replace it with the Blackburd in 1918, as single-engine, single-seat biplane torpedo bomber, long range. The company also tried a single-seat biplane flying boat for the bombers escort, called the N.1B/Pellet (1918) and a light bomber variant, started but ever completed and never flew. The largest and perhaps best known model was the RT1 Kangaroo, an excellent torpedo bomber.

WW1 Models

Blackburn Blackburd
Blackburn Blackburd, three built for testings by Harris Booth

  • Blackburn Monoplane (1909) (1)
  • Blackburn Monoplane (1911) (1)
  • Blackburn Mercury (1911) (9)
  • Blackburn Type B (1912) (1)
  • Blackburn Type D (1912) (1)
  • Blackburn Type E (1912) (2)
  • Blackburn Type I (1913) (3)
  • Blackburn Type L (1914) (1)
  • Blackburn Twin Blackburn (1915) (9)
  • Blackburn AD scout (1915) (4)
  • Blackburn White Falcon (1916) (1)
  • Blackburn Triplane (1916) (1)
  • Blackburn General Purpose “GP” (1916) (2)
  • Blackburn N.1B/ Pellet (1918) (1)
  • Blackburn Blackburd (1918) (3)
  • Blackburn RT1 kangaroo (1918) (20)

British flag Bristol

The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, Ltd (1910)

The company was founded in February 1910 by Sir George White, son and brother, as chairman of the Bristol Tramway and Carriage Company, to extend his activities to aviation. This inspiration came from an encounter with Wilbur Wright in France in 1909. The latter convinced indeed aviation as holding considerable business potential. British and Colonial could bring its financial backing to the enterprise and the sum of business experience that led it to a good path since the beginning. The entity however was conceived as separate from the Bristol Tramway Company to not frighten the main company shareholders. In fact Sir White paid the capital of £25,000 from his own pocket and family associates. But still, connection existed between both companies and in fact a pair of former tram sheds at Filton were leased by the Tramway entity while key personnel were recruited from the Tramway Company too. George Challenger in particular became Bristol’s chief engineer and working manager.

Britol Boxkite, the first commercial success of the company

At Brooklands, Surrey, and Larkhill on Salisbury Plain the company established hangars and a school, in the latter case leased from the War Office. In 1914 they had delivered 308 Royal Aero Club certificates for a total of 664 in UK by 1914.

Bristol Boxkite

The commany created a first model greatly influenced by Wright’s pushers. In 1910 the Boxkite was a capable and sturdy training machine, but two years later it was found not capable of any more development. The company therefore already took over the design of a small tractor biplane and a tractor monoplane, both exhibited at the 1911 Aero Show, Olympia. Tests however showed poor performances, and no orders followed. At the same time the future looked bleak for the new company, George Challenger and another key engineer left Bristol to join Vickers aviation, just established as a division of the giant military manufacturer. Frenchman Pierre Prier took their place, as former chief instructor of the Blériot Hendon flying school, later joined by Gordon England. The last addition was in January 1912 genius Romanian engineer Henri Coandă as chief designer. With this international and gifted team, the company started the development of new models. In 1912 was established at Bristol a secret separate design office called “X-Department”. Dennistoun Burney naval aircraft was its first product, designed by Frank Barnwell, which replaced in October 1914 Coandă. Barnwell became a very prolific and well inspired, famous aeronautical engineer until 1938. With the success in 1916 of the Bristol FE2B, the expanded to the Brislington tramway works and had 200 personal already in 1914, much more and the end of the First World War.

Britol FE2B

Bristol during the war

In August 1914, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) only counted seven squadrons with a mish-mash of types, none armed. First policy was to ordered Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) designs only, but Bristol’s B.E.2 two-seater reconnaissance aircraft was already recognized and well-produced, therefore the RFC and RNAS pilots themselves lobbied to order planes to Bristol, especially a new model then in development, the Scout. Barnwell returned from France in 1915. He has been there a gifted fighter pilot, but his intuition and effort over improving the design of aircrafts made him desirable as a designer. He soon recruited Leslie Frise, newly graduated from Bristol University’s engineering department and by 1916 the team received orders from Stanley White, the son’s CEO Sir Georges White, which has just passed out. Barnwell and his team worked on the Bristol T.T.A., a two-seat fighter for home defence against Zeppelins, not successful but leading to the Bristol F.2A, later declined into the very successful F.2B Fighter, one of the most falous British plane of the time, mass-produced and used by the RAF up to the mid-1920s and even 1931 in some units and much later by many other air forces round the globe. The other success was the Bristol Monoplane Scout, extremely popular with pilots but capped by the War Office which was opposed to any others than biplanes and in addition a relatively high landing speed dangerous to operate with the field conditions of the Western Front, the 130 planes built being relocated Near East instead.

Bristol models

As usual production models are in bold, with production figures and date in brackets.

  • Bristol Boxkite (78)(1910)
  • Bristol Glider (1910)
  • Bristol Racing Biplane (1911)
  • Bristol Biplane Type ‘T’ (5)(1911)
  • Bristol Monoplane (2)(1911)
  • Bristol Prier monoplane (34)(1911)
  • Bristol-Burney seaplanes (1912)
  • Bristol-Coanda Monoplanes (37)(1912)
  • Bristol Gordon England biplane (5)(1912)
  • Bristol B.R.7 (8)(1913)
  • Bristol Hydro no.120 (1913)
  • Bristol G.B.75
  • Bristol TB.8 (54)(1913)
  • Bristol P.B.8 (1914)
  • Bristol S.S.A. (1914)
  • Bristol Scout (374)(1914)
  • Bristol Type 6 T.T.A. (1916)
  • Bristol M.1 Monoplane Scout (130)(1916)
  • Bristol F.2 Fighter (5329)(1916)
  • Bristol Type F.3A (cancelled)
  • Bristol Type 13 M.R.1 (2)(1917)
  • Bristol Scout F.1 (4)(1918)

British flag Fairey

Fairey Aviation Company Limited 1915-1960

The company best known product perhaps for WW2 was Swordfish, the “stringbag” which sank to the bottom so many Axis capital ships it is hard not to have admiration of such obsolete-looking aircraft. The company started operations in 1915, funded by Charles Richard Fairey (later made a Sir) and Belgian engineer Ernest Oscar Tips. Both left the Short Brothers. At first in their factory, Fairey built under licence otger models, and produced parts as subcontractor. Fairey first created the Fairey Campania, a patrol seaplane which first flew in February 1917 and was reserved for the aircraft carrier of the same name. Many more will followed. Fairey had its own Propeller Division (Fairey-Reed Airscrews), the Hayes factory, that produced Sylvanus Albert Reed patended models in the 1920s, when Charles Richard Fairey studied the use of the Curtiss D-12 engine. The also made use of the flaps designed by Robert Talbot Youngman. Production took place at first at the factory in North Hyde Road, Hayes (Middlesex). Tests were generally carried out at the Northolt Aerodrome from 1917.

Fairey F2 Fighter
The Fairey F2 was a prototype of Royal Naval Air Service long range fighter, probably intended to chase Zeppelins, but never passed the prototype stage.

HMS Singer seaplane Fairey would take part in the production of the Short Type 827 (12 manufactured), and a hundred Sopwith 1-1/2 Strutter. Experienced with Sopwith Planes, the company designed a single-seat naval patrol floatplane Hamble Baby, produced for the Royal Naval Air Service (about 180) in 1917. Fairey also designed the F.2 fighter originally ordered by the Admiralty in 1916. This was not a small, fast and agile machine but rather a massive, three-seat long-range fighter powered by two Rolls-Royce Falcon engines, but only stayed at prototype stage. The Fairey Campania, after the HMS Campania, first British aircraft carrier, was a patrol floatplane propelled by a Rolls-Royce engine Eagle (various series) or the Sunbeam Maori II. It also flew with three RAF squadrons. 62 were delivered in all. In between, Fairey would also tried the N.9, a prototype carried out the first shipborne catapult launches from RN ships. It was one of two separate designs prepared for the Admiralty Specification N.2(a), asking for a two-seat carrier-based seaplane. One was propelled by a Rolls-Royce Falcon engine, and the other had a more powerful Sunbeam Maori. But of course the model that would be called to fame was the Fairey III, a traditional sesquiplan biplane derived from the N.10 floatplane the larger version answering the same specification that approached the N.9. It was basically a carrier-based seaplane with folding wings, propelled by a 260 hp (190 kW) Sunbeam Maori engine that first flew in September 1917. It was declined rapidly with a conventional wheeled undercarriage and from there was produced to 964 units through 10 main variants and five sub-variants and served with many naval aviations for most of the twenties.

The Fairey III (Here a F type floatplane) was a fast and successful naval airplane declined later in the 1920s Fairey Gordon and Fairey Seal.


Production in bold, numbers between brackets.

  • Fairey Hamble Baby – 1917 (180)
  • Fairey F.2 – 1917
  • Fairey Campania – 1917 (62)
  • Fairey III – large biplane family, starting late 1917 (964)
  • Fairey N.9 – 1917

British flag Felixtowe

Seaplane Experimental Station (RNAS Felixtowe)

The Felixstowe unit started on 5 August 1913 under commission and control of Captain C. E. Risk, RM. It was officially named Seaplanes, Felixstowe, and direction changed again for Lieutenant C. E. H. Rathborne, or the Royal Navy in 1914. Eventually the unit became famous under Lieutenant-Commander John Cyril Porte, in 1915, also from the Royal Navy. It was an emenation of the new naval branch of the Air Service 1 July 1914, called the RNAS or Royal Naval Air Service. This unit was created to design seaplanes and flying boats, test and improved them. The name Felixstowe stick bvecause of the location but in reality apart from the prototypes, actual production was managed by other aircraft little-known manufacturers: Short and Dick, Kerr & Co., Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company. Thanks to Porte management and lobbying, Curtiss flying boats were acquired and tested first. Improvements in their hull designs led to develop a line of seaplanes under the Felixstowe name. Later, many would be built under licence in the USA and they played a significant part in the latter part of the battle of the Atlantic, in search and destroy missions against U-Boats. The Felixtowe was indeed made for long-range patrols, and was equally employed in the North Sea, for reconnaissance, trying to spot German High Seas Fleet ships and Zeppelins. Most but not all were based at RNAS Felixstowe base. On 24 April 1916 there were tests to convert them as torpedo-bombers, and trials with the Submarine Service (Parkeston Quay) implied the loading and launching of two Sopwith Schneider seaplanes on board on submarine E22, sunk the next day off Great Yarmouth by SM UB-18. After joining the Royal Air Force on April 1918 as the “Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe”, the unit was eventually disbanded in June 1919 and its assets taken over by the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment which operated from April 1924 to and throughout WW2, before closing on 21 June 1962. Schneider Trophy teams also trained there.

Felixtowe Baby
The Felixtowe “baby”, an oxymoron given the size of the beast, was large enough to carry a parasite fighter, here a Bristol Scout.

Felixtowe aircrafts line

After the modified Curtiss models, the first proper domestic model was called “Porte Baby”, a very large plane designed by John Cyril Porte at the naval air station as a prototype; Ten more were ordered and manufactured by May, Harden and May of Southampton in operation from November 1915 was a three-bay biplane with wood-and-fabric construction and powered by three Rolls-Royce Eagles alternating tractor and pusher configuration. Both pilots were seated in an enclosed cockpit and three gunners took place in open stations on the hull. These were big planes, large enough to carry their own escort, a Bristol Scout as parasitic plane. A successful launching test took place on 17 May 1916. The Felixtowe F.1 on its part ws a smaller derivative of the Curtiss H-4, Porte designing a proper hull better fitted for the conditions in the North Sea. In fact Porte has been working with Glenn Curtiss on a trans-atlantic flying boat in the US. He came back in the UK when the war broke out. So part of this knowledge went into the the choice of the plane, then design modifications by Chief Technical Officer John Douglas Rennie and including a single-step hull “Porte I”. But only four were built ultimately as Porte swapped on the better Curtiss H-12. The latter led to the design of the F.2, with the same modification. And it was a tremendous success. The plane first flew in July 1916 and was introduced from early 1917 in many RNAS squadrons, RAF squadron, the US Navy and after the war the Chilean Navy and Dutch RNAS. It was declined into three sub-variants, the F.2A (Curtiss H12 with new hull), F.2B (same with open cockpit), and F.2C (lighter hull, only two prototypes). It naturally led to the next series, Felixstowe F.3, F.5 and F5L in 1917-18.

Felixtowe F3
Felixtowe F.3 in the Mediterranean, Malta.

The heavier and larger F.3 was also a success with more than 180 built by several manufacturers. In addition to the RNAS, RAF, and US Navy this model was also used postwar by the Spanish Aeronáutica Naval (Spanish seaplane carrier Dédalo), Portuguese Navy, and Australian and Canadian Air services. They were propelled by two Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII V12 inline piston, 345 hp (257 kW) each in tractor mode, had a semi-enclise cockpit, front, rear and side gunners, and could carry up to 920 lb (418 kg) of bombs beneath the wings to attack U-Boats. However it was less popular with its crews compared to the more agile F.2A. The Next F.5 introduced in mid-1918 was also mass-produced, by an array of manufacturers including the Short Brothers (23), Dick, Kerr & Co. (2), the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company (17), Gosport Aircraft Company (10), S.E. Saunders Ltd, Boulton Paul Ltd, and Aircraft Manufacturing Co. Ltd. The Imperial Japanese Navy also adopted it, and produced it through the Yokosuka Naval Air Technical Arsenal (10), Hiro Naval Arsenal (60) and Aichi (40) as Hiro H1H. This F.5 was a crossover between the F.2 and F.5, with power to match. It first flew on November 1917 and was also largely adopted by many naval aviations, flying until the 1930s. However its introduction seems to have been post-WW1 for most models, replacing the F2 and F3 in service. The F.5L was an American production model, made for the United States Navy and also built and operated by the Aeromarine Plane and Motor Company (as Aeromarine 75). They were built in addition by the Naval Aircraft Factory (137), Curtiss (60) and Canadian Aeroplanes Limited (30). Many also flew with the Brazilian and Argentine Navies and it flew as the U.S. Navy’s standard patrol aircraft until 1928. The last model was the Fury, a prototype destined to revive the Baby, and named “Porte Super-Baby”. It was a very large five-engined triplane flying-boat built and tested at the Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe. It was the largest seaplane in the world and largest British aircraft on record and also the first to incorporate servo-assisted controls. In 1919 it flew from UK to South Africa, but when flying back it stalled into the sea on take-off and was wrecked beyond repair.

Felixtowe paintings
Felixtowe models often received brightly coloured liveries. Origin: Profiles by J. Gregovski

Models in detail

Production in bold, numbers between brackets.

  • Felixstowe Porte Baby 1915 (11)
  • Felixstowe F.1 1915 (4)
  • Felixstowe F.2 1916 (175)
  • Felixstowe F.3 1917 (182)
  • Felixstowe F.5/F5L 1918 (163+227)
  • Felixstowe Fury 1918 prototype

Felixtowe line
Felixtowe flying boats F.2Bs starting out on patrol, the photo also showed the towing motor boats.

British flag Handley

The Bomber Maker

Handley Page Limited was founded by Frederick Handley Page or Sir Frederick in 1909. Not just an average company. In fact its was no less than the first publicly traded aircraft manufacturing company in Great Britain. It had a long and profitable exploitation before ceasing any activity in 1970. Based at Radlett Aerodrome (Hertfordshire) it was a noted aviation pioneer, especially in the field of heavy duty planes, either bombers and airliners.


Handley-Page O/100 bomber – notice the camouflaged underwings and struts

Frederick Handley Page created several biplanes and monoplanes tested in Woolwich, Fambridge, but also Barking Creek and in 1912 he established a factory at Cricklewood, tested and flown from nearby Cricklewood Aerodrome, also later the Handley Page airline base i peacetime. When the plant was sold to Oswald Stoll it became a massive film industry location, known as Cricklewood Studios. With the Great War, Handley Page started producing heavy bombers, handled by the Royal Navy to bomb the German Zeppelin yards and the long-term objective to raid Berlin and avenge the London blitz. The company also was asked by the Admiralty to produce even more massive bombers, the O/100 (1915), O/400 (1918) and V/1500 all capable of reaching Berlin from the United Kingdom. The latter however arrived to late to take part in operations.

Handley-Page O/100

In the interwar, a V/1500 was converted into a civilian airplane, dubbed “Atlantic”, trying to make the world’s first non-stop transatlantic flight, but beaten by a Vickers Vimy piloted by Alcock and Brown. Many O/400’s were also converted by the company to passenger use as the W.8. For the Imperial Airlines, they created the Handley Page H.P.42. Some of these planes had a specific type of slat. At the same time a new, larger plant was created at Radlett from 1929. After producing the HP.52 Hampden, the company focused on the HP.57 Halifax, most famous British bomber (and most prolific) after the Lancaster. The story went on in the cold war with the HP.80 Victor nuclear bomber.


Here are the military and early models of the company, with the production models in bold and production figures in brackets. The only two models that really counted were the O type bombers, twin-engine heavy bombers that executed hundreds of raids over Germany.

HP.5 or Type E

  • Type A or HP.1 monoplane (1910) (1)
  • Type B or HP.2 biplane (1910) (1)
  • Type D or HP.4 monoplane (1911) (1)
  • Type E or HP.5 monoplane (1912) (1)
  • Type F or HP.6 monoplane (1912) (1)
  • Type G or HP.7 biplane (1913) (1)
  • Type L or HP.8 biplane (paper project)
  • HP.14 prototype naval reconnaissance (1917) (3)
  • Type O twin-engined bomber (1916) (600)
  • V/1500 or HP.15 four-engined bomber (1918) (63)

British flag Martinsyde

Martinsyde: From aircraft to motorcycles

This strange name was the contraction of an association, since the first plane was the result of a 1908 partnership between H.P. Martin and George Handasyde. Thus it was known first as Martin & Handasyde, making soon their No.1 monoplane in 1908–1909, which took off the ground only to be wrecked in a gale. Not deterred, they embarked in other models until the success of the S.1 of 1914, and ultimately turned to mass production an became Britain’s third manufacturer, as company Martinsyde Ltd in 1915. The factory was moved to Woking and flight and trials took place in nearby Brooklands. The company launched a very successful model fitted with a Rolls-Royce engine in 1918, the F.4 “Buzzard”, last in a line of small production or prototypes starting with the RG of 1916. Great plans were made to scale up the production of the Buzzard, with 400 on orders and many more destined not only to the RFC but also the French Air Force (Aéronautique Militaire) and the American Expeditionary Force Air Service.

The RG/F.1/F.2 was a lineage which led to the F.3, pre-production prototype for the excellent F.4 Buzzard in 1918

The RG/F.1/F.2 was a lineage which led to the F.3, pre-production prototype for the excellent F.4 Buzzard in 1918

Postwar surplus Buzzard airframe were later fitted with a reworked fuselage around a new engine, the radial Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar. This test by the Aircraft Disposal Company (ADC) which already produced under licence BE.2c and S.E.5a aircraft, was marketed as the “Martinsyde ADC.1” in 1924. Two F.4s were also declined by the same as “ADC Nimbus” prototypes. But from 1919 Martinsyde converted into the motorcycle business, with great success. They borrowed engine designs by Howard Newman and made a serie of racing motorbikes first under the name Martinsyde-Newman. The 1922 Quick-six was capable of 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) but the same year the Woking factory was destroyed by fire and to liquidation followed a short revival until 1925 by Bat Motor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. Brooklands however would stay one of British most famous racing track…

The Martin-Handasyde 4B Dragonfly was the first serial model built by the company, which changed name in 1915 for Martinsyde.


As usual production models are in bold, production figures (estimated in some cases with a ?) are in brackets.

  • Martin-Handasyde No.3 sports plane 1910)
  • Martinsyde S.1 single-seat scout 1914 (60)
  • G100/102 “Elephant” scout plane 1915 (171+100)
  • Martinsyde RG 1917 (2)
  • Martinsyde F.1 1917 (1)
  • Martinsyde F.2 1917 (1)
  • Martinsyde F.3 RR Falcon engine 1918 (3)
  • Martinsyde F.4 Buzzard fighter 1918 (370+)
  • Martinsyde Semiquaver (racing plane)

Martynside S.1 (1914)

Martinsyde S.1
Martinsyde S.1

Prototypes: Martynside RG, F.1, F.2 (1917)

The was R.G. was apparently derived from the earler Martinsyde G.100 “Elephant”, started as a single-bay variant, by A A Fletcher. It flown late in 1916 and initially the model had on the cockpit a fixed Vickers 0.303-in (7,7-mm) gun mounted on the port upper longeron, outside the cabane struts, and a Lewis gun on the starboard side and a 190 hp Rolls-Royce Falcon 112-cylinder water-cooled engine. Final official trials started in February 1917, but the designed was revised in many ways. The final version had two fixed Vickers guns on the hood, forward of the windscreen. They were synchronized, using the Constantinesco gear; They had rear firing levers and a mechanical gear, a combination apparently developed by as Martinsyde electrical synchronising gear in early 1916. The cockpit was also moved aft and its cut-out was enlarged, the lower wing span was reduced, and a 275 hp Falcon III engine was fitted. The R.G. started official tests at Farnborough in 1917 and was seen as a potential rival of the Sopwith Camel, being the first British fighter with twin Vickers guns. The report also stated “performance… far and away better than any other machine manufactured”. But development was discontinued in favour of the superior F.3. while the F.1 and F.2 were largely unsuccessful. This was an episode which will led ultimately to the famous F.4 Buzzard.

Next a single prototype of the F.1, a two-seat fighter was tested in 1917. At the origin, its plans were laid up in late in 1915 as a two-seats tractor biplane where the gunner occupied the forward seat, standing to fire a wing-mounted 0.303-in (7,7- mm) Lewis gun. It was propelled by a 250 hp Rolls-Royce Mk III. But it suffered from a long and protracted development, with phases of mothballing, and in the end when it resurfaced in July 1917, official tests results were disappointing. In fact it was seen as obsolete back then. There are not a flurry of informations about the F.1, and this two-seat fighter of 1917 seemed to have been related to the Vickers F.B.24E, but only because of a relatively similar layout. H.King about “Armament of British Aircraft” (Putnam) tend to think that both planes were tailored for the Vickers twin MG mounting and resorted to the same solutions.
The next F.2 was a general design improvement over the F.1, with a revised armament comprising a fixed Vickers gun to port, and a rear gunner which was given a scarff-mounted Lewis gun. It was propelled by a 200 hp Hispano-Suiza 8Bd eight-cylinder water-cooled engine. Also a two-seater of wooden construction with fabric and plywood it was designed when the F.1 was already under construction. In fact the F.2 was completed earlier and made official tests two months before the F.2 in May 1917. No production followed but the F.2 prototype was used from then on to test the new Sunbeam Arab engine.

British flag Royal Aicraft Factory

Early History

The Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) was a British research establishment which later came under the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) supervision, and through mergers finally became the Royal Aircraft Factory, main state provider of the Flying Air service, future RAF during the great war. Initially it was based at Farnborough Airfield in Hampshire, and later second RAE Bedford (Bedfordshire) in 1946 was added. In 1988 this became the Royal Aerospace Establishment now part of the new Defence Research Agency from 1991.


From 1904 the Army Balloon Factory (Army School of Ballooning) of Colonel James Templer had been moved from Aldershot to Farnborough. He was replaced by Colonel John Capper which associated with Samuel Franklin Cody’s war kites and aeroplanes designs. J. W. Dunne soon also joined in. Their first aeroplane flew in October 1908. In 1909 the Factory came under civilian control, led by Mervyn O’Gorman and in 1912 the institution was renamed the Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF). Famous chief designer became Geoffrey de Havilland. Later on John Kenworthy from the Austin Motor Company joined in 1918 and Henry Folland. Samuel Heron was also part of the team. He would later invent the sodium-filled poppet valve for piston engines. He naturally designed a radial engine that he was not able to build during his time there, which design of the RAF.8, was passed on to Siddeley-Deasy and from there was later developed as the Jaguar engine. Heron would later worked in the US on the Wright Whirlwind. Major F.M. Green, G.S. Wilkinson, James E. “Jimmy” Ellor, Prof. A.H. Gibson, and A.A. Griffith, both of which would also work for Rolls-Royce Limited also joined in. In 1918 the Royal Aircraft Factory became the Royal Aircraft Establishment to avoid confusion with the Royal Air Force and from then on concentrated on research, dropping production.

RAF B.S.1 (1913)

Industrial records

The RAF was famous for producing a large array of plane, about 40 models in all and a lineage of eight engines tailored for aircrafts that would be destined to a great future in the automotive and aeroplane industry. Aircraft Factory designs. Most of the aeroplane designs however were essentially research aircraft. A selected few went into mass production in the war period with the bulk of the production made by private British companies. By far the greatest achievement of the RAF was the SE.5, by number the #1 British aicrafts until 1918, with a production that far surpassed the better known Sopwith Camel. RAF also worked on foreign designs, namely French, up to about 1913, leading to designations such as S.E. (Santos Experimental), B.E. (Blériot Experimental) and F.E. (Farman Experimental) which tested three configurations of airframes and propellers.

RAF B.E.8 (1914), small production trainer

From 1913/4 this denomination was based on the plane function:

  • A.E. = Armed or Armoured Experimental
  • C.E. = Coastal Experimental (e.g. Royal Aircraft Factory C.E.1 – prototype only)
  • F.E. = Fighting experimental (although they remained “Farmans” in the sense of being pushers)
  • N.E. = Night Experimental (e.g. Royal Aircraft Factory N.E.1 – prototype only)
  • R.E. = Reconnaissance experimental (two-seat machines)
  • S.E. = Scout experimental fast single-seat aircraft.
  • R.T./T.E. were also used for strictly one off prototypes.

Aeroplane Designs produced

The first airships and aeroplanes were produced by the Army Balloon Factory, mostly Cody and Dunne designs.
From then on, some designations became confusion, the “F.E.2” referring to three quite distinct types by years from 1911 up to the only famous one of 1914 which was the only one that came into mass production, under three main variants, a, b, and d. While the F.E.2c was not a proper subtype but a one-off conversion of the F.E.2b. The same applied to the B.E.1/B.E.2 and B.E.2c which shared little in common. To add insult to injury, the S.E.4a had nothing in common with the S.E.4. Several designs were “reconstructions” of existing aircraft which add further complication in tracking down the types corresponding to designations.


RE8, twin seat observation plane, 4000 produced until 1918

RE8, twin seat observation plane, 4000 produced until 1918
SE5 by far the most famous RAF plane, built to 5200 and largely distributed among allies

SE5 by far the most famous RAF plane, built to 5200 and largely distributed among allies

Legend: In italic, dirigibles/baloons, starred: prototypes, bold: war production planes (production).

  • British Army Dirigible No 1 Nulli Secundus—1907
  • Nulli Secundus II—1908
  • British Army airship Beta – 1910
  • Dunne D.1 – 1907
  • British Army Aeroplane No 1 (Cody) – 1908*
  • Dunne D.3*
  • Dunne D.4*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.1—1911*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.1—1911*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.1—1911*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2—1912 (3500)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.3—1912*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.4—1912*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.3—1913*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.7—1913*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.2—1913*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.1—1913*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.2—1913*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.8—1913 (70)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.3—1913 >Avro type D (5)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory H.R.E.2—1913*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2/F.E.2b—1914 (1939)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.2—1914*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.5—1914 (25)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.4—1914*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.6—1914*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.7—1915 (230)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12—1915 (601)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.9—1915*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.8—1915 (295)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.4a—1915*
  • SS class airship – 1915
  • Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.4–1916*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.10–1916*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.7–1916*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8/R.E.9–1916 (4077)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5/S.E.5a-1916-18 (5205)
  • Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.9—1917*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory N.E.1—1917*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory A.E.3—1918*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory C.E.1—1918*
  • Royal Aircraft Factory Ram—1918*

British flag Short

The Floatplane specialist

Like so many aviation businesses, Short started with brotherhood and craftsmanship, often one was more gifted with the engineering and mechanical side while the other complemented the team by bringing marketing and economical or human management skills. In the case of Short, later the large “Irish” aircraft manufacturer of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was originally founded in 1908 in London as the world’s first production aircraft company. In 1943, the company, that long had been seen as a specialist for large airplanes and flying ships, was nationalised. The status was reverted after the war and the company moved in 1948 from Rochester, Kent to Belfast and afterwards concentrated in turboprop airliners, aerospace components and missiles until bought by Canadian group Bombardier in 1989, nowadays the largest aircraft in Northern Ireland, producing nowadays engine nacelles and flight control systems for various manufacturers. Probably their most famous model was the massive and useful Short Sunderland of WW2 fame or the Stirling heavy bomber.

Short S.184


Prior to the Great War, the company formed by Eustace and Oswald Short existed since 1902 to produce and sell balloons at Hove, Sussex in the acoustics laboratory of their third brother, Horace; But they had to relocated in railway arches in Battersea, when their brother turned to Turbine manufacturing. Their first great success was an order from Rolls to win the Gordon Bennett balloon race. With fame others followed in 1906-1907 by Aero Club members. But a Wright Bothers show in 1908 at Le Mans reported by some of these aero Club members convinced the brothers that the balloon era was over and they turned their attention to heavier-than-air craftsmanship. But the two needed the backing and experience of their older brother and Oswald succeeded in persuading Horace to leave his job with Parsons and joined them, to form the Short Brothers and just installed their reputation helped them securing an order from Charles Rolls (glider) and another from Francis McClean. The latter would purchased more and eventually acted as unpaid test-pilot for the company. The 1909 Short No.1 biplane was a skid-based, forward tail pusher biplane with some original features, exhibited at the first British Aero Show held at Olympia and soon obtained Wright’s licence. They also started construction of a new facility at Leysdown, near Shellbeach on the Isle of Sheppey acquired by the Aero Club while Mussell Manor became their HQ and club house for the Aero Club. They were the first in the world at that stage to have launched the simultaneous construction of six aircrafts. They also built the Dunne D.5, first tailless aircraft. The next year, the Royal Aero Vlub and their facilities moved at Eastchurch, just 2.5 miles (4 km) away. Their network allowed them to act for the Admiralty, using the flying field to train their first pilots with Frank McClean as instructor. This led to the production of the furst RNAS trainer, the Short S.27 pusher.

Short Tandem Twin

Short Tandem Twin

Short S.28 N°38 oboard HMS Hibernia

Short S.28 N°38 tested on a ramp onboard HMS Hibernia

Short S.38

Short S.38 RNAS Coastal patroller and trainer (1912)

Wartime production

The next year in 1911, Short built the first twin-engine aircraft called the Triple Twin. Also in 1913 new tests pilots joined in. Gordon Bell (replaced by Ronald Kemp in 1914) and later John Lankester Parker as secondary test pilot. They built a large number of military floatplanes. The Short Admiralty Type 184 was the first to conduct an aerial torpedo attack, launched from HMS Ben-my-Chree. This succesful model (900 ordered and licenced to other manufacturers) was also declined into a land-based bomber. Short also produced the F.3 and F.5 flying boats designed by John Porte (also known as Felixtowe) in their Rochester facility.

Success translated into a mass of seaplanes helped by ready access to the sea. These ealry naval birds were taken by road to Queenborough, loaded onto lighters up to the RNAS station, Isle of Grain for testings. However from 1913 3.4 hectare were purchased near the river Medway and Rochester, Kent to built a facility which opened in early 1915 as the “Seaplane Works” later completed by the Eastchurch factory complex (third one) completed in 1917. It comprised a long concrete slipway to enable 20 tons aircraft to be launched even at any tide and all weather. This was just a fact of Short operations, as in 1916 an order for two large airships was obtained for the RNAS. The contract included the loan of a site near Cardington (Bedfordshire) to built the large facilities required. The nearby housing estate built near Cardington for the personal became “Shortstown”.

Short Bomber
Short Bomber (1915) land-based bomber derived from the famous S.827

Civilian/Sport Models & Trainers

  • Short Biplane No. 1 (1909)
  • Short Biplane No. 2 (1909)
  • Short Biplane No. 3 (1909)

Military Models

Large production models are in bold, production figures in brackets.

  • Dunne D.5 (1910)
  • Dunne D.6 (1911)
  • Short S.27/34/Type 3, Tandem-Twin (1910), S.39 Triple-Twin (200?)
  • Short S.36 (1912) prototype
  • Short S.38 (1912) (48)
  • Short S.41/42 (1912) (3+?) folding wings prototypes
  • Short S.42 monoplane prototype
  • Short S.45 (1912) (4)
  • Short S.46 (1912) “Double Dirty” prototype
  • Short S.47 Triple-Tractor (1912) prototype
  • Short Folder (1913)
  • Short Admiralty Type 63 (1912)(4)
  • Short Admiralty Type 74 (1914)(7)
  • Short Admiralty Type 81 (1913)(5)
  • Short S.80 “Nile pusher” 1913 prototype
  • Short Admiralty Type S.81 (1913)(9)
  • Short S.81 (1913) prototype
  • Short Admiralty Type 135 prototype (1914)
  • Short Admiralty Type 136 prototype (1914)
  • Short Admiralty Type 166 (1914)(26)
  • Short Admiralty Type 184 (1915)(936)
  • Short Bomber (1915)(83)
  • Short Type 827 (1914)(108)
  • Short Type 830 (1914)(18)
  • Short 310 (1916)(128)
  • Short Type 320 (1916)(127)
  • Short F.3 Felixstowe (1917)(?)
  • Short N.2A (1917)(2) prototypes
  • Short N.2B (1917)(2) prototypes
  • Short F.5 Felixstowe (1918)(23)
  • Short N.1B Shirl (1918)(4) prototypes
  • R31 (airship)(2) (1918)

British flag Sopwith

The British Fighter Powerhouse


Thomas Sopwith This is strange that both Allies most prominent fighter companies started with “S”. SPAD in France and Sopwith in UK. The company was a relative newcomer. Indeed Thomas Octave Murdoch (Tommy, later Sir Thomas, born 1888) Sopwith, was a known, young daring-do wealthy gentleman, a sportsman interested in aviation, yachting and motor-racing, hot air ballooning, expert ice skating and motor cycling. A flurry of activities perhaps related to a gun accident that killed his father at ten. He was hooked by flight after seeing John Moisant crossing the Channel as a passenger and he later flew himself on a Farman with Gustave Blondeau in Brooklands. He was a self-taught pilot, flying a Howard Wright Avis monoplane, flying in 22 October 1910 but crashing after just 300 yards. This did not deterred him and by the newt month he obtained his certificate from the Royal Aero Club. Better still, in December he won a £4000 prize for the longest flight between England and the Continent. The prize and fame helped him funding the Sopwith Flying School at Brooklands. Two years later he associated with Fred Sigrist and others to create the Sopwith Aviation Company. At the end of the year he has rebuilt and modified a Wright Model B, helping Harry Hawker to win the British Michelin Endurance prize. Definitively on a raising curve, he moved his staff and built a much larger facility at Kingston upon Thames. There and in other plant, the company would produce around 16,000 planes, a record for any British aircraft manufacturer, many more when taking in account Fairey, Clayton and Shuttleworth, William Beardmore and Company and Ruston Proctor. He earned the Order of the British Empire and became a Sir in 1918.

Factory developments

Sopwith Schneider Of course the company would be always remembered for the legendary Sopwith Camel, the one fighter that emulated the Spitfire of WW2, fast and supremely agile, preferred by aces, which helped secured the mastery of the sky for the entente in the fall of 1917 and 1918. But many more models preceded this landmark, or followed it without really ever reach that fame again. By 1917 the company leased the National Aircraft Factory No.2, helping the production of Snipe, Dolphin and Salamander fighters. Starting with 200 in 1914, the company had 6000 in 1918, spread between facilities. But postwar years were harsh, between the absence of orders and punishing taxes. Recycling planes with the civilian Dove and swallow never saved the company from bankruptcy. One facility was sold to Leyland Motors while all the assets, including patents, and even the team were now part of the H.G Hawker Engineering Company in 1920. So Sopwith passed into posterity through Hawker Aircraft, and Hawker Siddeley.

Sopwith Bat

RNAS Sopwith Bat, 1911

RNAS Sopwith 860 torpedo bomber, 1914

RNAS Sopwith 860 torpedo bomber, 1914

Sopwith Composite baby

Sopwith Composite baby of 1915

Sopwith Lineage

The earliest models, prewar, were the Three-seater and Bar Boats, were used by the RAF and RNAS, and produce din small quantities, only 16 and 6 respectively. Next, the two-seat tractor biplane called Sociable remained a Royal Naval Air Service prototype tested in 1914. The single Sopwith 1913 Circuit of Britain floatplane was created to win Daily Mail Circuit of Britain Air race, but unfortunately withdrawn after a landing accident at the end of the race. The next Admiralty Type C was a torpedo bomber, not adopted. Three prototypes were made and tested. The next Sopwith Special torpedo seaplane Type C succeed in successfully launch a torpedo, but was never ordered. The next race plane, called the 1914 Schneider Racer was a winner, also a production model. 136 were built. The land-based variant was called the Tabloid. The Gunbus was an interesting export model aimed at the Greek Navy. These were Pusher Seaplanes with a front .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun and underwing bombs. 12 Seaplanes and 23 land Gunbuses were built, the latter retained as trainers until 1915 by the RNAS. The next Sopwith Admiralty Type 137 was an experimental two-seat naval biplane floatplane which answered British Admiralty specifications. They were used for torpedo dropping experiments in 1914. The Sopwith Admiralty Type 807 was derived from a Cicruit of Britain floatplane, produced to 12 machines and three would later participate in the Dardanelles campaign onboard seaplane carrier HMS Ark Royal.

Sopith Baby Floatplane

Sopwith Baby Floatplane (1915)

Sopwith Pup

The Sopwith Pup was the first tremendous success as a fighter, compared to the Nieuport 11, Bristol Scout and Fokker Dr.I, later developed into the Camel.

The heavy Sopwith Type 860 was a seaplane torpedo bomber ordered by the admiralty for the RNAS to 22 units. The Sopwith Two-Seat Scout was a RNAS Anti-Zeppelin scout biplane which met little success, 24 were delivered. It had a fixed tailskid landing gear, with a cross-axle type main gear and twin wheels. The next Baby was a light and nimble model declined in floatplane and land-based versions. It was Sopwith first major success with more than 380 delivered in 1915. The next fighter arrived in 1916 as an incremental success with 1,770 built. It was the Sopwith Pup, which definitely placed the Sopwith company on the map. Designed by Herbert Smith, it was produced and used up to the end of the war. When replaced in 1917, the Pups served also as advanced trainers. They were used by many air forces. The Belgian ace Willy Coppens learned his trade and earned its victories on a Pup. Many also dubbed it the “British Nieuport” as they had many common points, using the same Le Rhône air-cooled rotary engine and a single synchronized machine gun. The Sopwith 1½ Strutter was a very famous model, the proverbial “jack of all trades” of both the RNAS, RAS, with about 1500 planes for UK, and no less than 4500 for France. It was slow but dependable but in France was replaced by the Breguet 14 and Salmson 2 when available. In between Sopwith also worked on a three-seat general purpose aircraft, named aptly the Sopwith Long Range Tractor Triplane (L.R.T.Tr), which first flew in 1916 but failed to impress. Another prototype, the Sopwith Bee was a late 1916 small personal plane used by Harry Hawker, Sopwith’s chief test pilot, propelled by a 50 hp (37 kW) Gnome Omega rotary engine and used for aerobatics.

Sopwith 1-1/2 Strutter

The Sopwith 1-1/2 Strutter was a brilliant reconnaissance and multipurpose two seater, used until 1918 in large quantities.

Sopwith Triplane

A pinprick in global Sopwith production, but considered a success, the Sopwith Triplane was one of the most influential design of the war, copied by Fokker which created the legendary Fokker Dr.I

The Sopwith Triplane was an experiment, first military triplane to see operational service. About 147 joined the Royal Naval Air Service squadrons in early 1917 and flew with success but as the Camel arrived it was ultimately preferred as a standard and no further orders came. Only 147 were delivered in all. This model was also tested with a Hispano-Suiza engine. What followed was one of the most amazing fighters of WW1, the mythical Sopwith Camel. Named after its bulged over the Vickers machine guns partially enclosed in the engine hood, it was a development from the Pup with two machine-guns and a more powerful engines, ranging from Le Rhône, Clerget, Gnome-Rhône, or bentley roraty engines from 100 to 150 hp. The Camel was agile, sturdy, well armed, and fast. But it was considered was considered to be difficult to fly, to the point of being feared by beginners. But once its instability was known and mastered, these defaults were turned into the qualities of a true fighter. This extreme manoeuvrability was due to the placement of 90% of the weight at the front, combined to the strong gyroscopic effect of the rotary engine. It was also tail-heavy and lacked a variable incidence tailplane, so pilots had to be constantly on the watch for the next move. hands off indeed, the Camel would have immediately stalled and enter a dangerous spin. Unforgiving, it left a trail of accidents and crashes that generated many reports. However a palliative measure was later found, as a two-seat trainer version with dual control was gradually adopted. As such, the Camel was mass-produced by many factories until the end of the war. It was also used by the American Expeditionary Force, United States Army Air Service, the US Navy, France, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Russia and many other aviations, for some until the end of the 1920s.

Sopwith Camel

The Sopwith Camel was the most produced Fighter of the war, and reputed difficult to fly.

From then on, all other models made by Sopwith were over shadowed by the Camel, which was the preferred mount of many aces and veteran pilots. Most planes that followed were prototypes, with a few exceptions, Sopwith trying the Sopwith B.1 light bomber, the Hippo two-seat fighter, Sopwith Cobham two-seats bomber (3 tested), Sopwith AT “Aerial Target”, a very advanced radio controlled guided missile,
but also production fighters like the Sopwith Dragon (200 built). It was in fact a Snipe prototype fitted with a radical engine, the 320 hp (239 kW) ABC Dragonfly I radial. 200 airframes were stockpiled waiting the delivery of these engines. Only a few were completed, and declared obsolete in 1923. The Snipe was the last large-production fighter of the company. This was to be the successor of the Camel, but it came too late to see full replacement. At first it was designed as slightly smaller than the Camel, intended to be powered by similar engines and sturdier, with a better view from the cockpit. No official order came, it was a private venture started in September 1917. The second tested the Bentley BR.2, a 230 horsepower engine. Tests soon turned into an official order for more. Mass production started as 4,500 were ordered but ended in early 1919 with just a fraction delivered. Some saw action long after the war, in the Russian civil war in particular.

Sopwith Snipe

The Sopwith Snipe was basically a smaller, sturdier, more powerful Camel, a “little brute” cut short by the end of the war.

Sopwith Dragon

The Sopwith Dragon was one of the last Sopwith fighter.

Another interesting model, which first flew in May 1917 but was only introduced by February 1918 was the Sopwith Dolphin. Herbert Smith focused on visibility on this fighter, with a distinctive negative wing stagger which preserved the pilot’s vision. It was coupled with a 200 hp Hispano-Suiza 8B and was much more stable than the Camel. It was also particularly well armed with two fixed, synchronized Vickers machine guns, and two Lewis guns mounted on the forward cabane crossbar at an angle, firing over the propeller disc. But this last feature proved unpopular and was often discarded in the field by pilots. Some 2,072 were manufactured and provided to the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force. Since it used the same engine as the SPADs, the French also planned to produce it under licence in France. In fact it has been already manufactured by Darracq Motor Engineering Company and the SACA (Société Anonyme des Constructions Aéronautiques) facility was setup for mass-production as well. After problems with the engine drive, the Dolphin Mk III was created, using a direct-drive version of the engine. The model was also used by the American, Canadian, Polish and Ukrainian air forces.

Sopwith Dolphin

The Sopwith Dolphin in flight was well armed and preserved the pilot’s vision, and was the most produced of these 1918 fighters.

Another interesting model was a fighter tailored for strafing attacks; the Sopwith Salamander, which first flew on 27 April 1918. Basically it was an armoured Snipe. Indeed, the sturdy structure was fit for these life-saving additions when flying low. It flew at 200 kph thanks to its Bentley BR2 rotary engine, 230 hp and could carry 4 × 25 lb (10 kg) bombs. A mass-production 1400 was ordered, but only 497 iof the first batch were completed before it was canceled. It was to be delivered by Wolseley Motors, the Air Navigation Co., Glendower Aircraft, Palladium Motors and the National Aircraft Factory No. 1. Sopwith was not all fighters, due to its strong ties with the RNAS, a torpedo-bomber model named T.1 was also the first landplane specifically designed for carrier operations. Completed too late for service, the many produced took the name of Cuckoo. This was an idea of Commodore Murray Sueter, the Air Department’s Superintendent of Aircraft Construction. 200 hp (149 kW) Sunbeam Arab engine, and later 275 hp (205 kW) Rolls-Royce Falcon III engine. The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service also operated six mark II. A massive assault on north German ports was planned by Beatty involving the HMS Courageous and HMS Glorious, HMS Argus, HMS Furious, and HMS Campania was planned.

Sopwith Rhino

Sopwith Rhino.

In the end, the very last planes: The experimental Sopwith Bulldog, to replace the Bristol F2B Fighter as a two-seat fighter reconnaissance aircraft. The first prototype was given a 200 hp (149 kW) Hispano-Suiza 8 water-cooled V-8 engine, the second a 360 hp (267 kW) ABC Dragonfly radial engine. The name resurfaced after the war on a brand new model. The Sopwith Buffalo was a development of the previous model, armoured two-seat aircraft for fast low-altitude reconnaissance flights. Powerful, fast and stable it was deemed to be an excellent contact patrol aircraft, that armistice cut short. The Rhino, one the other hand was a triplane single-engine bomber aircraft propelled by a Beardmore Halford Pullinger (BHP) six-cylinder, water-cooled inline engine, 230 hp (170 kW), that can carry 450 lb (205 kg) bombs in an innovative, removable “bomb pack” in the internal bomb-bay. The Sopwith Swallow/Scooter was a 1918 British parasol wing fighter, and the Sopwith 8F.1 Snail as an improved Camel while the Snapper was a official replacement for its successor, the Snipe which was not even in service yet; It was canceled because of the failure of its ABC Dragonfly air-cooled radial engine. The Snark was yet another replacement for the Snipe, this time a triplane, but propelled by the same ABC Dragonfly. Three were built, that flew after the war. They were very heavily armed with two synchronised Vickers guns inside the fuselage and four Lewis guns under the wings. They showed good performances but like the Snails, their engine proved their undoing, being prone to overheating and severe vibration. So no serie was undertook after the war; The company turned to civilian aircraft, for transport, touring or competition, but eventually without large orders, the company ended operation.

Sopwith Snark

Sopwith Snark 1918

Sopwith Cuckoo

Sopwith Cuckoo, RNAS torpedo bomber, world’s first aircraft carrier-based type in 1918

Thomas Sopwith Documentary 1984

Detailed Models list

Military and production models are in bold. Production figures are in brackets.

  • Sopwith-Wright Biplane (1912)
  • Sopwith Hybrid Biplane (1912)
  • Sopwith Three-seater(1912) (16)
  • Sopwith Bat Boat (1913) (6)
  • Sopwith Sociable (1913) Prototype
  • Sopwith 1913 Circuit of Britain floatplane
  • Sopwith Admiralty Type C (1914) (3)
  • Sopwith Special torpedo seaplane Type C
  • Sopwith 1914 Schneider Racer
  • Sopwith Type SPGN or “Gunbus” (1914)(12+23))
  • Sopwith Admiralty Type 137 1914 (2)
  • Sopwith Type 806 1914 (1)
  • Sopwith Type 807 1914 (12)
  • Sopwith Type 860 1914 (22)
  • Sopwith Two-Seat Scout 1914 (24)
  • Sopwith Tabloid (1914) (42)
  • Sopwith Baby 1915 (386)
  • Sopwith 1½ Strutter 1916 (1439+4500)
  • Sopwith Pup 1916 (1,770)
  • Sopwith L.R.T.Tr. 1916
  • Sopwith Bee 1916
  • Sopwith Hispano-Suiza Triplane 1916
  • Sopwith Triplane 1917 (147)
  • Sopwith Camel 1917 (5,490)
  • Sopwith B.1
  • Sopwith Hippo
  • Sopwith Cobham Twin Engine Bomber
  • Sopwith AT “Aerial Target”
  • Sopwith Dragon 1918 (200)
  • Sopwith Snipe 1918 (497)
  • Sopwith Dolphin 1918 (2072)
  • Sopwith Salamander 1918 (497)
  • Sopwith Cuckoo 1918 (232)
  • Sopwith Bulldog 1918
  • Sopwith Buffalo 1918
  • Sopwith Rhino 1918
  • Sopwith Scooter 1918
  • Sopwith Swallow 1918
  • Sopwith Snail 1918
  • Sopwith Snapper 1918
  • Sopwith Snark 1918

British flag Vickers

The Aerial side of the Military-Industrial Complex

Vickers FB 19 fighter For almost two centuries, Vickers-Armstrong embodied the image of the super-giant industrial conglomerate, with ramifications and stratifications both horizontal and vertical from the industrial age to the end of the cold war. Building everything from battleships to machine-guns, the Company was for a long time, the British arsenal, and by extension through exports, the world’s arsenal, at least before the Unites States took over this duty after WW2. Today part of Rolls-Royce plc, Vickers was funded in 1828, as a Sheffield-based steel foundry by the miller Edward Vickers and his father-in-law George Naylor. It started with church bells and after the railway industry, the company evolved into the military area and shipbuilding (Vickers, Sons & Maxim) by purchasing the Barrow-in-Furness shipbuilder and its subsidiary Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company. It also acquired in 1905 The Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company and later Whitehead and Company, well-known torpedo manufacturers. In 1911 as Vickers Ltd the company took interest on the aviation business. In 1912 Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department) and the Vickers School of Flying were opened at Brooklands, and reinforced by the acquisition of the British Westinghouse electrical company. Later in parallel to its activity in armament, it logically moved during the Great war to the realm of Tanks, carrying out the bulk of the British production from 1917 to the 1970s.

Vickers Aircraft lineage

Vickers FB 19 fighter Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department) of 1911 produced the FB5 (fighting biplane) Gun Bus, specifically tailored to carry a machine gun, a logical product extension of the company’s catalogue. It was also one of the first. One of its most spectacular success during the war was the Vimy heavy bomber. Postwar modifications made these first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop and led to the Virginia, a mainstay bomber in the interwar years. In 1965 the company was integrated into BAC. Daughter companies were Canadian Vickers Limited (which ceased operations in 1944) and Canadair was founded shortly afterward by the team (Now Bombardier Aerospace).
During WW2 the company will produced models such as the Wellington bomber, …and under supervision of Barnes Wallis a gigantic “city-leveller” of a bomber called the Vickers “Victory Bomber” which stayed at paper stage; It was based on the already large Vickers Windsor. During the cold war, the company produced one of the three famous “V” atomic Bombers, the Valiant (1951).

Vickers Airship construction

Vickers R23 and Sopwith Camel

Vickers R23 and Sopwith Camel “parasite” fighter underwing, in 1918 (Imperial War Museum archives).

Mid-way between shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing, the company was well-placed to try airships as well. It began work on the first British rigid airship for the Admiralty in mid-1909 already in Cavendish Dock, Cumbria. HMA No. 1, was the largest airship in service when completed, but broke up on her second trip on 23 September 1911. A team was formed with H B Pratt, working for J. Samuel White at Cowes and was persuaded to return to Vickers, bringing with him Barnes Wallis. They were given the latest intelligence on the LZ.216 and designed models featuring floating cars slung beneath them while mooring techniques and swivelling motors were refined during the war.
The experimental No. 9r was built in 27 November 1916 for the RNAS (more in a dedicated post). They also delivered the 23 class, counting four airships like the No. 23r and R26, but also the SS class blimps (158 all variants) which played a great role for the RNAS in ASW warfare and sea reconnaissance from 1915 to 1918. The R80 was a large military airship from November 1917, but it was only achieved in 1920 after many modifications as an airliner and ended as being used for training the United States personnel.
Their last airship was in fact a small non-rigid blimp for the Japanese government in 1921. But by 29 November 1923 a subsidiary called the Airship Guarantee Company Limited was created to work on a massive six-engined experimental airship called R100 as part of the Imperial Airship Scheme.

The Famous Vickers Gunbus

Vickers Gunbus, first commercial success for the company (1914).

Vickers WW1 Planes in detail

The Vickers ES.1 fighter was a very fast and advanced design, but a disaster to fly (1915) The story started when the company decided to burn the steps and leap forward to an already proven design. Vickers purchased a French-built R.E.P. monoplane as a demonstrator with its rear fuselage for future production. REP stands for Robert Esnault-Pelterie, the designer. Apart its service with the Vickers Flying School, Brooklands, Surrey from 1912, it was also the first to fly over Antarctica, part of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911. The next Experimental Fighting Biplane No. 1 was designed as the first offensive aircraft for the RNAS in 1913. It was a unequal-span staggered wing, pusher powered biplane which stayed at the prototype stage. The next FB.5 was the first plane to carry a machine-gun, therefore nicknamed “gunbus”, which stuck. It was of the “Farman” pusher layout, which freed the front part of the nacelle, helping to fit a Vickers standard liquid-cooled 0.303 cal. (8 mm) machine gun. This made it an early two-seat fighter, introduced in numbers from March 1915. It was later declined into the FB.6 and FB.9 in 1915-16. They used the British-built Monosoupapes (Gnome) rotary engines, apparently less reliable than the French models. Next, the ES.1 was a late 1914 project of test pilot Harold Barnwell, which designed a fighter around a Clerget 9-cylinder rotary engine, 110 hp (82 kW). Three prototypes were built. Although a very sound, even forward-thinking design for its time, extremely fast with 118 mph (190 km/h), and fitted with the Vickers-Challenger gun synchroniser, it was also reputed extremely difficult to fly (tiring even), heavy on commands, not very agile, and difficult to land, but most of the expertise was passed onto the FB.19 later.

The Vickers Vimy blueprint

Vickers Vimy Blueprint – 3 views


Here are Vickers WW1 (or prewar) aircraft designs. Production models are in bold, production figures in brackets.

  • Vickers monoplane 1911 (8)
  • Vickers EFB N°1 1913 (1)
  • Vickers FB N°5 1914 (224)
  • Vickers ES.1 1915 (3)
  • Vickers E.F.B.7 1915 (1)
  • Vickers E.F.B.8 1915 (1)
  • Vickers FB.11 1916 (1)
  • Vickers FB.12 1916 (c22)
  • Vickers FB.14 1916 (c100)
  • Vickers FB.16 fighter 1916 (5?)
  • Vickers FB.19 fighter 1916 (62)
  • Vickers F.B.24 fighter 1916 (3?)
  • Vickers F.B.25 night fighter 1917 (1)
  • Vickers Vampire fighter 1917 (4)
  • Vickers Vimy 1917 (c2000)

Read more

RFC models

On military factory
Airco on wikipedia
Airco on theaerorome.com
Anout the DH5 scout
on historyofwar.org
List of RFC planes
Armstrong Whitworth on wikipedia
On britishaviation-ptp.com
AW on historyofwar.org
Beardmore on wikipedia
On Britishaviation-ptp.com
Wikipedia – Blackburn aircraft
On military factory
Black Kangaroo
Blackbrun Kangaroo
Bristol Aeroplane Co on Wikipedia
Fairey Aviation
On willhiggs.co.uk
HP on wikipedia
HP Type O
On militaryfactory.com
On aresgames.eu
On avionslegendaires.net
On rafmuseum.org.uk
On aviastar.org
on Flying Machines.ru
Short Brothers
The company on wikipedia
Vickers Limited on wikipedia

See also: British airships