Sopwith F1 Camel (Windsock Datafiles 26 )
By J. M. Bruce
Publisher: Albatros 2004 40 Pages
PDF 33 MB
So much has been written about the Sopwith Camel that it would be superfluous, if not indeed tedious, again to traverse its distinguished operational history in these pages. Recorded opinions of its qualities are those left by pilots who survived the experience of flying and fighting in it: we shall never know the views of the many who did not.
There can be little doubt that the design of the Camel owed at least some inspiration to an official RNAS order of August 1916 for a version of the agile but mild-mannered Sopwith Pup for which the 110-hp Clerget 9Z engine was specified, and to which the serial number N503 was allocated. Late in 1916 it was already clear that the Pup's single Vickers gun was inadequate for combat over the Western Front; and there may have been doubts as to the advisability of putting a 110-hp Clerget into the lightly-built Pup airframe.
As far as is known, the Pup N503 was not built: it was recorded only up to December 4 1916, and the January 1917 list of HM Naval aircraft designated N503 as 'blank number'. A new single-seat fighter prototype had emerged from the Sopwith works on December 22 1916, but it was an entirely new design, armed with twin fixed Vickers guns and powered by the 110-hp Clerget engine specified for the N503-type Pup. With the Sopwith type number F.l, this was the first prototype Camel.
The precise number and sequence of Camel prototypes has yet to be conclusively determined. By January 1917 the allocations of serial numbers in the RNAS experimental N500-plus group had only reached N514; when serial numbers for Camel prototypes were taken up, only N517 and N518 were allocated for RNAS Camels; in the case of the prototype identified by Martlesham Heath as the F.l/3, the serial number B381 was allocated in February 1917, at which time it was noted that the aircraft was 'Off Admiralty Contract'.
Whether a formal contract existed at that time is uncertain, for apparently it was not until August 17 1917, that Contract No.AS233 for four 'Sopwith Camel Experimental' aircraft requisitioned 'Prior to March' was formalized. Service details of N517, N518 and B381 are known; the fourth aircraft might have been the unnumbered prototype that was given (or more probably lent) to the French authorities for evaluation. The career of this last was brief, for it was damaged, seemingly irreparably, in a crash in May 1917.