Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Sopwith 1½ 'Strutter'

Arthur's first operational posting after a interlude instructing at Montrose was to 70 Squadron during 1916. Rapid promotion facilitated by losses found him still flying the Strutter but as a flight commander with 45 Squadron. This 'fill-in' was tacked onto the end of his tour and he returned to the UK exhausted to rejoin the flying training system.

Reflections on the 'Stutter' from that superb organisation, The Memorial Flight Association at La Ferte Alais who restored this magnificent example to the air.

Copyright  ©The Memorial Flight Association

A handsome but frail-looking biplane powered by a 110 (later 130) h.p. Clerget rotary engine, the Sopwith Two-Seater or Type 9400, to give the respective R.F.C. and R.N.A.S. designations, was produced in December 1915. It was soon given the name 1½ 'Strutter', a reference to its oddly shaped centre-section struts.
An unusual features of its design was the provision of air-brakes in the trailing-edges of the lower wing-roots and a tailplane.

"Airbrakes are used to land on exiguous fields. Operate this device only if you are familiar with the aircraft. The Sopwith aircraft float a lot, therefore it is required to train on large airfields.
To land, glide down with engine in idle, and at approximately 50 meters, increase speed by diving, then raise the airbrakes progressively by rotating the wheel drive ( no needs to release the brake on the wheel as it works only to prevent the airbrakes from lowering due to the airflow)
Aircraft vibrates a little at this moment and seems to sink, dive more and pull up when the aircraft is close to the ground, touch tail first. In these conditions, the aircraft should not roll more than 20 meters.
This landing method requires a consequent training, keep in mind that actuating airbrakes reduce aircraft glide in very large proportions."
The 'Strutter' was the first British aeroplane to go into action with a synchronized Vickers gun for the pilot. The observer's gun was initially set to a Scarff pillar mounting, later on a Nieuport ring and finally on the vastly superior Scarff ring. The 'Strutter' did well as a two-seater fighter/reconnaissance type during the late summer and autumn of 1916. It also was also employed as a bomber, particularly by the R.N.A.S. who developed a single-seat, long-range version.

Copyright: Public Domain

The 'Strutter' went to France during 1916 and compared with the Farmans and Breguet-Michelins which formed the main body of the force, they represented a technological advance prompting our French allies to decide to build the type in quantity. Unfortunately production was very slow, by the time the first French Sopwiths reached the front in April 1917 they were  obsolescent.

There were three versions, the SOP. 1 A2 (corps two-seater), the SOP.l B2 (two-seater bomber) and the SOP. Bl (single-seater bomber). Various engines were installed; the 110, 130 and 135 h.p. Clergets, the 80, 110 and 130 h.p. Le Rhones.
Throughout the summer and autumn of 1917 the Sopwiths equipped most of the French day-bombing escadrilles but were hampered by an small available bomb-load and relatively poor performance when matched against newer types.

The Corps d' Armee version was more useful, but as one pilot said wistfully, "the Sopwith is a good tourer, no war-plane!" The type was withdrawn from the Western Front early in 1918 and used as an operational trainer both in the UK and France.

Edited from the original.

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