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Sopwith Camel "old style" Gallery

Sopwith Camel
Cockpit Views
Wings and Empennage
Tampier Throttle Assembly
Kauper Interrupter Gear

The Sopwith Camel's construction was based on the construction of its predecessor, the Sopwith Pup. Taking into account that a new larger and heavier engine would have to be mounted, Sopwith's chief designer Herbert Smith decided to make alterations to the previous design. Some changes were made to the landing gear struts, the spacing of the wings and stabilizer were increased, and the fuselage acquired an extension to the cockpit's trailing edge which looked rather like a camel's hump. That 'hump' gave the plane its name - the Sopwith Camel. A remarkable detail of the plane's construction was its compactness: the pilot's seat, fuel tanks, machine guns and engine were all very compactly installed.

In parallel with the work of the central factory, the plane was also assembled by a number of other companies such as Ruston Proctor Co, Portholme Aerodrome Ltd, Boulton & Paul Ltd, British Caudron Co. Ltd, Clayton & Shuttleworth Ltd, Hooper & Co. Ltd and others.

In total, about 5490 Camels were built.

Construction of the Camel was of staggered wire braced wing bays with a straight upper wing and a very pronounced dihedral on the lower wing. The prototype upper wing panel was designed to be a single unit in order to simplify construction.

However, the production wing was three panels with an aft cutout between the spars and a center window for increased upper visibility, but the upper wing remained without dihedral-to compensate, the lower wing dihedral was doubled. Ailerons were fitted on both the upper and lower wings with the ailerons of a slightly greater span on the production models.

The fuselage had a rounded top conventional wire braced wooden frame, typical of the period. Aluminum panels covered the first bay behind the engine, and plywood was installed to the end of the cockpit, with the remainder of the fuselage covered in fabric.

With the engine, guns, pilot, cockpit and fuel all concentrated in a length of seven feet, this became one of the main contributing factors of the Camel's excellent maneuverability. For the pilot, a small windscreen was fitted behind the guns. The landing gear had short steel tube vees with a split axle, with rather large wheels.

Operational Camels were finished in P.C.10, a pigmented coloring, sometimes described as Dark Khaki, that was basically mud-brown. This was normally applied to all upper and side surfaces; fabric under surfaces were clear doped. In Great Britain, the story began in 1913 with a series of experiments performed by the Royal Aircraft Factory, to discover the ideal pigmentation needed to protect aeroplane fabric from the damaging effects of the sun's ultraviolet rays.

The generic name used to describe the compounds was protective covering, or PC. A mixture offering the best compromise between protection and camouflage was adopted in April 1916; this was the so-called PC-10.

The first aircraft trials were performed by the British No.60 squadron in March of 1917, followed by a series of minor improvements to the plane's construction. The Sopwith Camel was delivered to fighter squadrons in May 1917.

It was primarily used for destroying enemy aircraft and balloons, while from time to time it was also engaged in ground attack operations. English journalists also called this plane a "Small bird of prey". Camel pilots mentioned the well-balanced plane controls, the good pilot's upward view and the high cruising speed. Due to the aircraft's unique balance, the plane could almost instantly change its heading: which made the Sopwith a dangerous opponent.

The typical combat scenario for the Camel pilot was a dogfight at low and mid altitudes, where the Camel had the advantage in steep turns. Veterans used to say "Once you become a Camel pilot, you will fly it forever".
Besides British pilots, this plane was also piloted by four American squadrons of the US Air Service, and by some Belgian pilots.

The Sopwith Camel took part in battles over both the Western and the Eastern fronts; in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine, Macedonia and Italy.

An agile, highly maneuverable biplane. The Sopwith F.1 Camel accounted for more aerial victories than any other Allied aircraft during World War I. Credited with destroying 1,294 enemy aircraft, it was called the Camel due to the humped fairing over its twin machine guns. Much like a real camel, this aircraft could turn and bite you.

Noted for its tendency to kill inexperienced flyers, many pilots feared its vicious spin characteristics. Until sufficient speed was developed during takeoff, Camel pilots maintained full right rudder to counteract the torque the rotary engine. Failure to do so often resulted in a ground loop with the Camel crashing on its starboard wingtip. During World War I, 413 pilots died in combat and 385 pilots died from non-combat related causes while flying the Sopwith Camel.

"A great number of trainee pilots had been killed learning to fly this machine, as its tricks took some learning, although they were really simple to overcome. Its main trouble was that owing to its very small wingspan, and its purposely unstable characteristics, coupled with the gyroscopic effect of a rotating engine and propeller, it flipped into a spin very easily at low speeds. Consequently, in landing and taking off, a tremendous number of fatal accidents occurred, and a general felling of dislike for the machine was prevalent. It really had people frightened."


Arthur Cobby

The Sopwith F1 Camel F6314

AID stamps found on the airframe fuselage and original woodwork during restoration in 1960 suggest this or October 1918 as the date of manufacture, the latter being more likely, based on probable contract date. The original log book, now lost, gave the manufacturer as Boulton and Paul Ltd of Norwich. This company built 1,575 of the 5,490 Camels constructed. The original serial number is unclear.

In 1935 the then owner D C Mason wrote to 'Popular Flying' stating that on the lower wings the painted-over traces of roundels and the serial `F6314' could be discerned.

The F6314 was one of a batch of 200 Camels, F6301-F6500, built by Boulton and Paul to contract 35a/1302/c.1293, ordered 18 June 1918, and delivered week ending 7 September 1918 - week ending 16 November 1918.

However, restoration by R G J Nash c.1936 discovered traces of the serial H?508 on the rudder. This does not match with any known Camel serial number, leaving F6314 as the most likely contender. There is however a further complication. Two different Camels carried the same serial number! This is explained in the Air-Britain Camel File (1993).

Guns and Ammunition

It was the first British type to carry twin Vickers guns as standard equipment. The guns were synchronized to fire through the prop arc and the gun breeches were enclosed in a cowling which gave it the appearance of a hump and thereby gave the Camel its name.

The feed-block of the standard Vickers gun was on the right hand side, but towards the end of 1917, the Camel's guns featured both left and right feed-blocks to improve ammunition feeding and ejection.

The F.1. Camel

In appearance and design, the plane was not revolutionary. A biplane combining a distinct dihedral in the lower wing with a flat upper wing, it did have a distinctive “tapered gap”.

The fuselage was a wooden, box-like structure, covered with aluminum up front, plywood-covered around the cockpit, and then fabric-covered back to the tail.

During its first flight on December 22, 1916, the prototype Camel impressed and the design was further developed and accepted into service by the Royal Flying Corps as the Sopwith Camel F.1.

The majority of the production Camels were powered by 130 hp Clerget 9B engine. During its production run of around 5,490 aircraft, the Camel was fitted with a variety of engines including the 140 hp Clerget 9Bf, 110 hp Le Rhone 9J, 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape 9B-2, and later the 150 hp Bentley BR1.

With its center of gravity very far forward (the engine, fuel tank, guns, and pilot were all in the front third of the plane), the aircraft was tricky to fly, but very maneuverable for a skilled pilot.

While 413 Camel pilots were shot down in combat, 385 were lost in non-combat related situations, many due to the Camel's difficult handling. When the fore-aft center of gravity is out of range, the aircraft may pitch uncontrollably down or up, and this tendency may exceed the control authority available to the pilot, causing a loss of control. Because the burning of fuel gradually produces a loss of weight and possibly a shift in the center of gravity, it is possible for an aircraft to take off with the center of gravity in a position that allows full control, and yet later develop an imbalance that exceeds control authority.

The Le Rhone Camels were fitted with a hydraulic Constantinesco interrupter gear, while the Clerget Camels had the less efficient Sopwith-Kauper No. 3 mechanical synchronizing gear.

The Vickers gun was belt fed and had a higher rate of fire compared to the magazine fed Lewis gun, which required a magazine change every 97 rounds. The Camel's guns featured both left and right feed-blocks to improve ammunition feeding and ejection.

There are only seven authentic Sopwith Camels preserved.

F1 Camels :
B5747 Brussels Air Museum (Belgium) -- B6291 Al Letcher, Mojave, California (USA) -- B7280 Polish Aviation Museum, Krakow (Poland),
F6314 Imperial War Museum, Hendon (UK) -- N6254 Aerospace Education Center in Little Rock, Arkansas (USA).
2F1 Camels:
N6812 Imperial War Museum, Lambeth (UK) -- N8156 Canadian Aviation Museum, Rockcliffe (CAN).
Fortunately there are many replicas......

There are only seven authentic Sopwith Camels preserved ....


Don't forget to watch the video of The Last Flying Sopwith Camel

Europe's only remaining (flying) Sopwith Camel which came to Stow Maries.