Wills’s Aviation Card #75 – Mr. Tom Sopwith.

75f 001History Behind The Card: Mr. Tom Sopwith.

Card #75 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue

  • Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith on January 18, 1888 in Kensington, London, England, Great Britain – January 27, 1989 in Hampshire, England, Great Britain.

Sadly, I admit that it took nearly 40 more years for me to learn about Tom Sopwith and his famous flying machines… but that’s what this blog is all about… learning.

To be perfectly frank (and earnest… another old comic strip reference), I am kind of glad that my last blog entry on the 75-card series is on Tom Sopwith, as I have quite fond memories of Snoopy et al… having played him in Grade 4 for a rendition of a Charlie Brown Christmas. Snoopy, of course was ever hunting down the Red Baron while flying around in his doghouse/Sopwith Camel aircraft.

Good grief, that actually occurred at Our Lady of Airways school. When it was still open, it was located a hop, skip and a jump from the Canadian AVRO facilities in what was then Malton, Ontario, Canada, but since absorbed into Mississauga, one of the largest cities in Canada most people out side the country have never heard of. It’s immediately west of Toronto, and is the home of Pearson International Airport… the aviation gateway to Toronto.

My dad, as one of the early computer programmers, was involved in creating the computer program for the previously named Malton Airport (later Toronto Airport, Toronto International and now Pearson International Airport), that provided the take-off and arrival times for the whole place.

Anyhow… Sopwith, and Card No. 75. Don’t worry… there’s also an 85-card set, with 10 different cards taking off from where the 75-card set ended. Both the 75-card and 85-card sets were published in 1911.

By the way… I’m missing one of the 76-85 cards… so hopefully I’ll resolve that issue before too long. Ka-ching.

Not just an aeroplane manufacturer, Tom Sopwith was first an aviator of some renown long before Snoopy came into the picture, and was 23-years-old at the time this Wills’s Aviation card was published… and only about three months after he first flew an aeroplane.

While the first thing that you should know about Sopwith is that he lived to be 101-years old, long before that, however, Sopwith had a tragic childhood.

Born in Kensington, London on January 18, 1888, he was the only son of eight children of Thomas Sopwith and Lydia Gertrude nee Messiter. Eight children… he was number eight – which is probably a nod to one of his middle names: Octave. Ha!

Dad was a a civil engineer and managing director of the Spanish Lead Mines Company in Spain.

Sopwith had excellent schooling and eventually studied the Seafield Park engineering college in Hill Head.

And now you are wondering just what my definition of “tragic childhood” I could possibly have…

When Sopwith was just 10-years-old, on July 30, 1898, the family was a holiday on the Isle of Lismore off Scotland, when a gun that was lying on young Tom’s lap went off, with the bullet striking and killing his father.

This accident haunted Sopwith for the rest of his life.

Of course, he was now heir to a decent enough fortune…

At the age of 16, in 1904, Sopwith took part in the 100-mile Tricar motorcycle trial, being one of four medal winners.

In 1906 as an 18-year-old, Sopwith began being interested in hot air ballooning, and because there’s nothing this blog loves doing more than perform name-dropping, Sopwith’s first ascent in a hot-air balloon was in one owned by C.S. Rolls.

C.S. Rolls is Charles Stewart Rolls (August 27, 1877 – July 12, 1910), a Welshman born in England, who was, believe it or not, an aviation pioneer as well as the automation pioneers you supposed him to be.

Rolls, along with Henry Royce, they formed Rolls-Royce.

Rolls, unfortunately, achieved less fame but more infamy for being the first Brit to be killed in an aviation accident featuring a powered aircraft when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying demonstration in the Southbourne district of Bournemouth, England.

Whatever. The experience with Rolls in his hot air balloon must have been something spectacular, because Sopwith soon joined up with mate Phil Paddon to purchase a balloon of their own from the Short Brothers plc of London.

The Short Brothers consisted of brothers Eustace, Oswald, and to a zero extent, Horace.

The business started when Eustace Short bought a used coal gas filled balloon to fly and study in 1897. Joined by Oswald, they tried their hand at designing and manufacturing their own similar balloons.

In 1900 the two Short brothers attended the 1900 Paris Exposition and checked out the exhibit space of Édouard Surcouf working for Société Astra des Constructions Aeronatiques, who had developed a method of constructing truly spherical balloons, which inspired them to do the same, eventually coming up with a proper design by 1902.

At that time, the Short Brothers worked at manufacturing their balloons at Hove Sussex, in the space above an acoustic lab operated by their brother Horace.

Horace had invented an acoustic amplifier, and was working to perfect it with an European agent for Thomas Edison.But when Horace left in 1903 to try and better develop a steam turbine with Charles Parson, Eustace and Oswald Short moved their business to London before eventually settling in a spot in Battersea next to the Battersea gas works.

As for Sopwith, he and Phil Paddon were selling cars as Paddon & Sopwith in London before going whole hog in to the balloon manufacturing business. The balloon business was okay, but not spectacular.

Sopwith, for example, still sought thrills and played hockey – yes… ice hockey. He was actually considered a pretty good player with great skating ability and played in net as the goalie in 1908-1910 for the Princes Ice Hockey Club.

He also was part of the Great Britain national team that won the first ever European championship in 1910.


Tom Sopwith circa 1910, wearing the clothes the Wills’s card captured.

The Story Takes Flight – Finally
When that was all done, he saw pilot John Moisant on August 17, 1910 fly the first ever flight across the English Channel with a passenger–mechanic Albert Fileux, and Moisant’s cat Mademoiselle Fifi. You can read my write up on Moisant HERE.

That fueled Sopwith’s desire to now fly an aeroplane.

Now 22-years-old, Sopwith took a flight as a passenger with pilot Gustave Blondeau in a Farman aircraft at Brooklands.

Gustav Jules Eugene Blondeau formed Hewlett & Blondeau Limited, an aircraft manufacturer in Great Britain.After working at Farman Aircraft and the Gnome motor company, he started up his own flying school at Brooklands where he met Hilda Hewlett.

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett was an early aviator and aviation entrepreneur, and once married to a chauvinist.

After separating from his wife Hilda, ex-husband Maurice had this to say: “Women will never be as successful in aviation as men. They have not the right kind of nerve.”

Well… no wonder they separated.

Nonplussed, Hewlett became the first British woman to earn a pilot’s license, founded and ran the first flying school in Great Britain, and with Blondeau formed the Hewlett & Blondeau Limited aircraft company producing over 800 aeroplanes and employing up to 700 people building Farman, Caudron, Avro and Hanriot aircraft under license.

Curses, Foiled Again
Back to Sopwith…

Sopwith then taught himself to fly, and by October 22, 1910 Sopwith lifted his Howard Wright Avis monoplane into the air for the first time… and after flying for about 300 yards (275 meters), he crash landed.

Because you can’t keep a good pilot down, Sopwith got the hang of things and earned the British Royal Aero Club Aviation Certificate No. 31 on November 22, 1910 (one month later), while flying a Howard Wright 1910 biplane.

75r 001.jpg

Glancing at the cigarette card’s reverse (above), you’ll notice that a mere four days after getting licensed, he set a British distance record traveling 10.75 miles – in what I assume was his Howard Wright aircraft.

On December 18, 1910, Sopwith won a £4000 prize for the longest flight from England to the Continent in a British-built aeroplane, flying 169 miles (272 km) in three hours and 40 minutes. He used the winnings to set up the Sopwith School of Flying at Brooklands.

In June 1912 Sopwith with Fred Sigrist and others set up the Sopwith Aviation Company, initially at Brooklands.

Initially, the aircraft designs took what Sopwith considered to be the best parts of other planes and recombined them into his own vision.

For example, in July of 1912, the company took the wings from a Wright Model B biplane, the tail and fuselage from a COW (Coventry Ordnance Works) biplane (it was a plane unsuccessfully designed for the 1912 British Military Aeroplane Competition) and then added a 70 horsepower Gnome Gamma rotary motor.

Not surprisingly, the Sopwith Aviation company called the plane the Hybrid, first flying it on July 4, 1912.

Using the rebuilt plane, primary test pilot at Sopwith Harry Hawker took the British Michelin Endurance prize with a flight of 8 hours and 23 minutes.

The Australian Hawker, (22 January 1889 – 12 July 1921) after WWI, co-founded Hawker Aircraft which built some of Britain’s most famous aircraft.

Using the Hybrid, but replacing it with an an ABC Motors Limited (All British (Engine) Company) of Hersham, England 40 horsepower engine, the repackaged aeroplane was first tested on October 24, 1912, and sold delivered to the British Navy in November of that year – its first military aircraft order.

Because of that sale–and the hope of greater things to come, the Sopwith Aviation Company moved to a larger premises in December of 1912 to a recently closed roller skating rink in Canbury Park Road near Kingston Railway Station in South West London.

The British Admiralty then placed an order for a better tractor biplane based on the Hybrid design for the just-formed British Royal Flying Corp.

Sopwith Three-Seater
The plane was known as the Sopwith Three-Seat Tractor Biplane, aka the Sopwith 80 hp Biplane, aka the Sopwith D1, aka the Sopwith Tractor Biplane.

They really needed to work on their branding.

Sopwith Aviation Company 1912 Three-Seater.jpg

The Sopwith Three-Seater (another name) was first flown on February 7, 1913… and then put on display at the 1914 International Aero Show at Olympia, London, starting February 14, 1913.

Wikipedia describes it as: It had two-bay wings, with lateral control by wing warping, and was powered by an 80 hp (60 kW) Gnome Lambda rotary engine. It had two cockpits, the pilot sitting aft one and passengers sitting side by side in the forward one. Three transparent celluloid windows were placed in each side of the fuselage to give a good downwards view.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 pilot;
  • Capacity: 3 people;
  • Length: 29 feet 6 inches (8.99 meter);
  • Wingspan: 40 feet 0 inches (12.19 meter);
  • Wing area: 397 square feet (36.9 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,060 pounds (482 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 1,810 pounds (823 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome rotary engine, 80 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 73.6 miles per hour (118 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 2½ hours;
  • Service ceiling: 12,900 feet ( 3,932 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 400 feet/minute (5.1 meters/second).

The Sopwith Aviation Company built a second such aeroplane, but kept it for demonstration purposes – flown by test pilot Harry Hawker, the Sopwith Three-Seater set plenty of British altitude records during tests in June and July of 193.

Next two more Sopwith Three-Seaters were built for the Navy, delivered in August and September of 1913.

They also built their original Hybrid to the same specs.

The company then field-tested a plane using ailerons instead of wing warping, which made the Royal Flying Corps. happy enough to order nine more in September of 1913.

A collaboration with the S. E. Saunders boatyard of East Cowes on the Isle of Wight, in 1913, produced the Sopwith Bat Boat–a flying boat with a Consuta laminated hull which could operate on sea or land. Consuta was a type of construction that used four veneers of mahogany planking interleaved with waterproof calico that was then stitched together with copper wire to make it watertight.


The Sopwith Bat Boat at the ice rink premises in 1913.

Success allowed Sopwith to open an additional-but smaller-manufacturing facility in  Woolston, Hampshire in 1914.

And then The Great War happened… which was later amended to World War I.

The Sopwith Aviation Company – which lasted from 1912-1920 – may simply be the most recognizable name from WWI after Herr Red Baron.

The company produced more than 18,000 British World War I aircraft for the allied forces, including 1,770 of the Sopwith Pup, and  5,747 Sopwith Camel single-seat fighter (designed by Herbery Smith) and first flown in WWI in 1917.

Sopwith 1½ Strutter aka Sopwith LCT

In December of 1914, the Sopwith Aviation Company designed a small, two-seat biplane powered by an 80 horsepower Gnome rotary engine, which became known as the “Sigrist Bus” after company’s manager Fred Sigrist. The Sigrist Bus first flew on June 5, 1915, and although it set a new British altitude record on the day of its first flight, only one was ever built, and ended up as the company’s own “taxi” or “bus”, transporting personnel as required.

However, the Sigrist Bus formed the basis for a larger fighter plane dubbed the Sopwith LCT (Land Clerget Tractor). It was designed by Herbert Smith and was powered by a 110 horsepower Clerget engine.

Like the Sigrist Bus, the upper wings of the Sopwith LCT was joined to the fuselage by a pair of short (half) struts and a pair of longer struts, forming a “W” when viewed from the front.

This is what gave the Sopwith LCT its nickname of the Sopwith 1½ Strutter. The first prototype was ready in mid-December 1915, with further tests done through January of 1916.

The 1½ Strutter was built with a wire-braced, wood and fabric construction–pretty standard fare for the era.

The pilot and machine gunner sat in separated tandem cockpits (one behind each other), with the pilot sitting in front, giving the Vickers gunner a view for his targeting. I should mention that the pilot was also given a machine gun…. a Lewis

Special design features of the 1½ Strutter include: the addition of a variable-incidence tailplane that could be adjusted by the pilot during the flight; and airbrakes under the lower wings to helped reduce the required landing distance.

There were, however, different landing gears put into the aircraft, wholly-dependent on the customer.

The Royal Flying Corps. preferred the Vickers-Challenger synchronization gear for the Vickers machine gun, while the RNAS (Royal Navy) wanted the Scarff-Dibovski gear for the Lewis machine gun.

The Vickers-Challenger synchronization gear was designed by George Challenger, then with Vickers. This gear when fitted to planes like the Bristol Scout and the Sopwith 1½ Strutter–both of which used rotary engines–because each had a forward firing machine gun in front of the cockpit, the long push rod linking the gear to the gun had to be mounted at an awkward angle… which meant it could be bent or deform in flight or even be subject to temperature changes. The end result was a gun that might or might not work when needed. D’oh.

As for the Scarff-Dibovski gear, it used a standard push rod and levers, and was geared slow enough that while the rate of fire was reduced, it was more reliable.

After the initial order, aeroplane customers received either  Ross gears or the Sopwith-Kauper gears for the machine guns.

While these synchronized gears helped a shooter NOT to accidentally take out their own propellers, more often than was preferred, they would accidentally take out their own props.

The aeroplane was powerful enough to carry four 25 lb (11 kg) bombs underwing, which could be replaced by two 65 lb (30 kg) bombs for anti-submarine patrols.

Specifications (1½ Strutter – two seater, 130 hp Clerget)

General characteristics

  • Crew: two – one pilot and one observer;
  • Length: 25 feet 3 inches (7.70 meters);
  • Wingspan: 33 feet 6 inches (10.21 meters);
  • Height: 10 feet 3 inches (3.12 meters);
  • Wing area: 346 square feet (32.16 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,305 pounds (593 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 2,149 pounds (975 kilograms);
  • Max. takeoff weight: 2,150 pounds (977 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9B rotary engine, 130 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour) at 6,500 feet (1,980 meters);
  • Endurance: 3¾ hours;
  • Service ceiling: 15,500 feet (4,730 meters);
  • Climb to 6,500 ft (1,980 m): 9 minutes and 10 seconds.


  • Guns:
    • 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) forward-firing synchronized Vickers machine gun;
    • 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun in observer’s cockpit;Bombs: 130 pounds (60 kilograms) of bombs.

Sopwith Pup aka Sopwith Scout


Sopwith Pup. Image is public domain, but Wikipedia indicated it was from www.earlyaviator.com – a very, very good resource!

Although known as the Sopwith Pup, this bird’s official name was the Sopwith Scout.

In 1915, the Sopwith company built an aeroplane just for test pilot Harry Hawker… a single-seat biplane that used a 50 horsepower Gnome engine, which everyone simply called Hawker’s Runabout because that’s what he used it for – runabouts.

They built another four planes using the same plan, calling these the Sopwith Sparrows.

Using the same plan, Sopwith built a larger fighter plane that was more powerful and used the progressive ailerons rather than wing-warping for lateral control.

This was the Sopwith Pup, a single seat biplane with fabric covering the frame, and with staggered, equal-span wings.

Wikipedia notes that the Sopwith Pup used a: cross-axle type main landing gear (that) was supported by V-struts attached to the lower fuselage longerons.

Most of the Sopwith Pups used a Le Rhône 9C rotary engine pushing out 80 horsepower. This engine was built on the design of the French company Société des Moteurs Le Rhône.

It featured a single 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun that was synchronized via a Sopwith-Kauper synchronizer – to better avoid shooting off the propeller blades.

The Sopwith Pup first began flying with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service in the autumn of 1916, and was considered to be a very good plane all around with good maneuverability.

Although the Germans eventually developed planes better than it, the Pup remained in service during WWI through 1917, after which they were used for training and for the Home Defense.

A total of 1,770 Pups were built by and for Sopwith, with 96 built by the Sopwith Aviation Company, and the remainder by sub-contractors: Standard Motor Company – 850; Whitehead Aircraft – 820; and William Beardmore & Co. building 30.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one
  • Length: 19 feet 3¾ inches (5.89 meters);
  • Wingspan: 26 feet 6 inches (8.08 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet 5 inches (2.87 meters);
  • Wing area: 254 square feet (23.6 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 787 pounds (358 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,225 lb (557 kg);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône air-cooled rotary engine, 80 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 111.5 miles per hour, 180 kilometers per hour;
  • Service ceiling: 17,500 feet (5,600 meters);
  • Endurance: 3 hours;
  • Climb to 10,000 feet (3,050 meters): 14 minutes;
  • Climb to 16,100 feet (4,910 meters): 35 minutes.


  • Guns: 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine with a Sopwith-Kauper synchronizer.

Sopwith Triplane


An official British Government photograph of Sopwith Triplanes from No. 1 (Naval) Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service, in Bailleul, France. The aircraft nearest the camera (N5454) was primarily flown by ace Richard Minifie.

While not the first triplane ever designed and flown successfully, the Sopwith Triplane was a British single seat military aeroplane, and was the first military triplane to see operational service – even before the Germans.

Only 147 such Sopwith Triplanes were ever built – used by the Royal Naval Air Services in the beginning of 1917, and was taken out of service when the famous Sopwith Camels arrived on the scene at the end of 1917. After service, they were used to help train pilots until the end of WWI.

While the fuselage and empennage were similar to the Sopwith Pup, Sopwith chief engineer Herbert Smith provided three narrow-chord wings in an effort to give the pilot a better range of sight.

The plane used ailerons, and with a variable incidence tailplane, the aeroplane could be trimmed to fly hands-off. The Sopwith Triplane also used a smaller eight-foot wide tailplane in February 1917, which gave it improved elevator response.

When it first debuted, the Sopwith Triplane used a Société Clerget-Blin et Cie 9Z nine-cylinder 110 horsepower rotary engine, However, most of the planes built used a Clerget 9B rotary engine pushing 100 horsepower. One was even built with 110 horsepower Le Rhône rotary engine, but this did not provide a significant improvement in performance.

How good was the Sopwith Triplane? Well, it first flew on May 28, 1916 under the control of Hawker who, only a few minutes after take-off, performed a loop – three times in a row.


Sopwith N500 prototype – image from www.earlyaviators.com via Wikipedia

The prototype N500 was sent to Dunkirk for further testing in July of 1916, though the second prototype N504 used a 130 horsepower Clerget 9B motor – serving as a trainer for pilots.

Germany also liked the triplane, and built the Fokker Dr.I (Dreidecker, aka triplane) … oh yeah, which was what the Red Baron enjoyed flying.

Triplanes, despite how well Germany’s pilots like the Red Baron flew them, all the aircraft had a design flaw.

While the aeroplane had a very fast climb rate–the Red Baron von Richtofen once said his plane could “climb like a monkey and maneuver like a devil”–but that had nothing to do with having three wings.

While you might think that more wing area means more lift, climb rate is from weight, power and wingspan. The Fokker was just a well-built plane… for a triplane.

 General characteristics
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18 feet 10 inches (5.73 meters);
  • Wingspan: 26 feet 6 inches (8 meters);
  • Height: 10 feet 6 inches (3.2 meters);
  • Wing area: 231 square feet (21.46 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,101 pounds (500 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,541 pounds (700 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9B rotary engine, 130 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 117 miles per hour (187 kilometers per hour;
  • Service ceiling: 20,500 feet (6,250 meters);
  • Climb rate to 6,000 feet (1,830 meters): 5 minutes – 50 seconds;
  • Time to 16,400 feet (5,000 meters): 26 minutes 30 seconds


  • Guns: 1× .303 in Vickers machine gun

And now… the most famous WWI aircraft – arguably – of WWI, the :

Sopwith Camel aka Sopwith F.1


The legendary Sopwith Camel. Image from www.warbirdsnews.com.

The Sopwith Camel was a single-seat biplane fighter aircraft introduced on the Western Front in 1917, designed to take the place of the Sopwith Pup and the Nieuport 17s that had been purchased from the French to take the place of the Pup after it was no longer effective against German fighters like the Albatross D.III.

In order to be competitive against the superior German aircraft, the Sopwith Camel needed to a much faster plane than the Pup and have much stronger armament.

Originally called the Sopwith F.1, with the nickname of Big Pup while in the design stage, it is the brainchild of Herbert Smith, the chief designer at Sopwith.

Actually…. the Sopwith Camel is not the Sopwith Camel.

It’s a nickname. It really IS called the Sopwith F.1.

It was called a Camel by pilots who flew it after seeing a casing over the gun breeches looked like a hump – thus… Camel.

On December 22, 1916, the prototype F.1 (okay, let’s just call it the Camel) was first flown at Brooklands. It was piloted by Harry Hawker, and was powered by a Clerget 9Z powerplant with 110 horsepower.

Five months later in May of 1917, a contract for 250 Sopwith Camels was issued by Great Britain’s War Office.

In just 1917 alone, a total of 1,325 Camels were manufactured, almost all based on the F.1 variant.

By the time that production of the type came to an end, approximately 5,490 Camels of all types had been built, including the Camel 2F.1, a Navy version that was first built in November of 1918.

Snoopy vs the Red Baron.jpg

Here’s a description of the Camel via Wikipedia:

The Camel had a mostly conventional design for its era, featuring a wooden box-like fuselage structure, an aluminum engine cowling, plywood panels around the cockpit, and fabric-covered fuselage, wings and tail. While possessing some clear similarities with the Pup, it was furnished with a noticeably bulkier fuselage. For the first time on an operational British-designed fighter, two 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns were mounted directly in front of the cockpit, synchronized to fire forwards through the propeller disc. In addition to the machine guns, a total of four Cooper bombs could be carried for ground attack purposes.

The bottom wing was rigged with 3° dihedral while the top wing lacked any dihedral; this meant that the gap between the wings was less at the tips than at the roots; this change had been made at the suggestion of Fred Sigrist, the Sopwith works manager, as a measure to simplify the aircraft’s construction. The upper wing featured a central cutout section for the purpose of providing improved upwards visibility for the pilot.

Production Camels were powered by various rotary engines, most commonly either the Clerget 9B (a nine-cylinder rotary aircraft engine ) or the Bentley BR1 (it was developed from the Clerget 9B, and is also a rotary engine) In order to evade a potential manufacturing bottleneck being imposed upon the overall aircraft in the event of an engine shortage, several other engines were also adopted to power the type as well.

The Camel was considered to be difficult to fly. The type owed both its extreme maneuverability and its difficult handling to the close placement of the engine, pilot, guns and fuel tank (some 90% of the aircraft’s weight) within the front seven feet of the aircraft, and to the strong gyroscopic effect of the rotating mass of the cylinders common to rotary engines. Aviation author Robert Jackson notes that: “in the hands of a novice it displayed vicious characteristics that could make it a killer; but under the firm touch of a skilled pilot, who knew how to turn its vices to his own advantage, it was one of the most superb fighting machines ever built”.

The Camel soon gained an unfortunate reputation with pilots.[13] Some inexperienced pilots crashed on take-off when the full fuel load pushed the aircraft’s centre of gravity beyond the rearmost safe limits. When in level flight, the Camel was markedly tail-heavy. Unlike the Sopwith Triplane, the Camel lacked a variable incidence tailplane, so that the pilot had to apply constant forward pressure on the control stick to maintain a level attitude at low altitude. The aircraft could be rigged so that at higher altitudes it could be flown “hands off”. A stall immediately resulted in a dangerous spin.

A two-seat trainer version of the Camel was later built to ease the transition process:[14] in his Recollections of an Airman Lt Col L.A. Strange, who served with the central flying school, wrote: “In spite of the care we took, Camels continually spun down out of control when flew [sic?] by pupils on their first solos. At length, with the assistance of Lieut Morgan, who managed our workshops, I took the main tank out of several Camels and replaced [them] with a smaller one, which enabled us to fit in dual control.” Such conversions, and dual instruction, went some way to alleviating the previously unacceptable casualties incurred during the critical type-specific solo training stage.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18 feet 9 inches (5.72 meters);
  • Wingspan: 28 feet 0 inches (8.53 meters);
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters);
  • Wing area: 231 square feet (21.46 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 930 pounds (420 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,453 pounds (659 kilograms);
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0378;
  • Drag area: 8.73 square feet (0.811 square meters);
  • Aspect ratio: 4.11;
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9B 9-cylinder Rotary engine, 130 horsepower or a Bentley BR1, also capable of 130 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 113 miles per hour (182 kilometers per hour)
  • Stall speed: 48 miles per hour (77 kilometers per hour)
  • Range: 300 miles  (485 kilometers)
  • Service ceiling: 19,000 feet (5,791 meters)
  • Rate of climb: 1,085 feet/minute (5.5 meters/second)


  • Guns: 2× 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns.

Perhaps most famously, while flying a Sopwith Camel on April 21, 1918, Captain Roy Brown of Canada is believed to have shot down and killed 25-year-old Baron Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron.

Or maybe it’s still so well known because of that goofy 1966 rock and roll song by The Royal Guardsmen called Snoopy versus The Red Baron, or better yet because of Charles Schultz and his Peanuts strip. I know that both are where I first came across the might of Red Baron and of Snoopy flying his Sopwith Camel.

Despite Sopwith himself being awarded the CBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1918, he was bankrupt after the war ended thanks to being hit with anti-profiteering taxes.

Broke, but no broken, Sir Thomas Sopwith re-entered the aviation business in 1920 when he joined Harry Hawker’s new firm Hawker Aircraft as its chairman.

Still fighting the Germans, but this time in WWII, Sopwith’s Hawker Hurricane aircraft continued to take out enemy aircraft.

Sir Thomas, a restless, energetic man, made a large fortune and was able to finance two attempts to win the America’s Cup in yachting, although neither succeeded. The Last of Eight Children

Reminiscing in 1988 about his early flying, he said, ”We had a lot of crashes in those days, but, bless you, it was fun.”


About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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  1. Pingback: Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911 – 85-Card Series | Pioneers Of Aviation

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  3. Pingback: Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911 – 75-Card Series | Pioneers Of Aviation

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