Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Sopwith Camel F.1
A classic old kit which holds up well even to this day.
The Sopwith Camel was a British First World War single-seat biplane fighter introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Manufactured by Sopwith Aviation Company, it had a short-coupled fuselage, heavy, powerful rotary engine, and concentrated fire from twin synchronized machine guns. Though difficult to handle, to an experienced pilot it provided unmatched manoeuvrability. A superlative fighter, the Camel was credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied fighter of the war. It also served as a ground-attack aircraft, especially near the end of the conflict, when it was outclassed in the air-to-air role by newer fighters.
Intended as a replacement for the Sopwith Pup, the Camel prototype was first flown by Harry Hawker at Brooklands on 22 December 1916, powered by a 110 hp Clerget 9Z. Known as the "Big Pup" early on in its development, the biplane design was structurally conventional for its time, featuring a box-like fuselage structure, an aluminium engine cowling, plywood-covered panels around the cockpit, and fabric-covered fuselage, wings and tail. For the first time on an operational British-designed fighter, two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns were mounted directly in front of the cockpit, firing forward through the propeller disc with synchronisation gear. A metal fairing over the gun breeches, intended to protect the guns from freezing at altitude, created a "hump" that led to the name Camel. The bottom wing was rigged with 3° dihedral but the top wing had no dihedral, so that the gap between the wings was less at the tips than at the roots. This was done at the suggestion of Fred Sigrist, the Sopwith works manager, in order to simplify construction. Approximately 5,490 Camels were built.
Unlike the preceding Pup and Triplane, the Camel was generally considered difficult to fly. The type owed its extreme manoeuvrability and its difficult handling to the close placement of the engine, pilot, guns and fuel tank (some 90% of the weight of the aircraft) within the front seven feet of the aircraft, coupled with the strong gyroscopic effect of the rotary engine. The Camel soon gained an unfortunate reputation with student pilots. The Clerget engine was particularly sensitive to fuel mixture control and incorrect settings often caused the engine to choke and cut out during take-off. Many crashed due to mishandling on take-off when a full fuel tank affected the centre of gravity. 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 also be rigged so that at higher altitudes it was able to be flown "hands off." A stall immediately resulted in a particularly dangerous spin.
The type entered squadron service in June 1917 with No. 4 Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service, near Dunkirk. The following month, it became operational with No. 70 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. By February 1918, 13 squadrons were fully equipped with the Camel.
The Camel proved to have a good margin of superiority over the Albatros D.III and D.V and offered heavier armament and better performance than the Pup and Triplane. In the hands of an experienced pilot, its manoeuvrability was unmatched by any contemporary type. Its controls were light and sensitive. The Camel turned rather slowly to the left, which resulted in a nose up attitude due to the torque of the rotary engine. But the engine torque also resulted in the ability to turn to the right in half the time of other fighters, although that resulted in more of a tendency towards a nose down attitude from the turn. Because of the faster turning capability to the right, to change heading 90° to the left, many pilots preferred to do it by turning 270° to the right.
Agility in combat made the Camel one of the best-remembered Allied aircraft of the First World War. RFC crew used to joke that it offered the choice between "a wooden cross, the Red Cross, or a Victoria Cross" Together with the S.E.5a and the SPAD S.XIII, the Camel helped to establish the Allied aerial superiority that lasted well into 1918.
Major William Barker's Sopwith Camel (serial no. B6313, the aircraft in which he scored the majority of his victories) became the most successful fighter aircraft in the history of the RAF, shooting down 46 aircraft and balloons from September 1917 to September 1918 in 404 operational hours flying. It was dismantled in October 1918. Barker kept the dashboard watch as a memento, but was asked to return it the following day.
An important role for the Camel was home defence. The RNAS flew a number of Camels from Eastchurch and Manston airfields against daylight raids by German Gotha bombers from July 1917. The public outcry against these raids and the poor response of London's defences resulted in the RFC diverting Camel deliveries from France to home defence, with 44 Squadron RFC reforming on the Camel in the home defence role in July 1917. When the Germans switched to night attacks, the Camel proved capable of being safely flown at night, and the home defence aircraft were modified with navigation lights to serve as night fighters. A number of Camels were more extensively modified as night fighters, with the Vickers machine guns being replaced by overwing Lewis guns, with the cockpit being moved rearwards so the pilot could easily reload the guns. This modification, which became known as the "Sopwith Comic" allowed the guns to be fired without affecting the night vision of the pilots, and allowed the use of new and more effective incendiary ammunition that was considered unsafe to fire from synchronised Vickers guns. By March 1918, the home defence squadrons were equipped with the Camel, with seven home defence squadrons flying Camels by August 1918. Camels were also used as night fighters over the Western Front, with 151 Squadron intercepting German night raids over the front, and carrying out night intruder missions against German airstrips, claiming 26 German aircraft shot down in five months of operations.
By mid-1918, the Camel was becoming limited, especially as a day fighter, by its slow speed and comparatively poor performance at altitudes over 12,000 ft (3,650 m). However, it remained useful as a ground-attack and infantry support aircraft. During the German offensive of March 1918, flights of Camels harassed the advancing German Army, inflicting high losses (and suffering high losses in turn) through the dropping of 25 lb (11 kg) Cooper bombs and ultra-low-level strafing. The protracted development of the Camel's replacement, the Sopwith Snipe, meant that the Camel remained in service until the Armistice.
In summer 1918, a 2F.1 Camel (N6814) was used in trials as a parasite fighter under Airship R23