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Sopwith Camel Item Number: 801
Wingspan: Blown 84"

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 [IMAGE 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.

[IMAGE 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 evolutionary more than revolutionary, featuring a box-like fuselage structure, an aluminium engine cowling, plywood-covered panels around the cockpit, and fabric-covered fuselage, wings and tail. 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 created a "hump" that led to the name Camel. The bottom wing had dihedral but not the top, so that the gap between the wings was less at the tips than at the roots. Approximately 5,490 units were ultimately produced.

The First World War saw the advent of the airplane as a viable military weapon. In a period of only a few years, military aircraft advanced from rudimentary flying craft to killing machines. During this time, aerial superiority over the front changed hands as often as new designs were introduced. In 1916, the Germans controlled the skies over the trenches, and the English developed three fighters to regain control of the air war. The best and most famous of these three designs was the Sopwith Camel. Small and lightweight, the Camel represented the state-of the-art in fighter design at the time. The Sopwith Camel shot down 1,294 enemy aircraft during World War I, more than any other Allied fighter. However, it was so difficult to fly that more men lost their lives while learning to fly it than using it in combat.

The Sopwith company rolled out the first Camel in December 1916. Although it owed much of its design to earlier Sopwith aircraft like the Tabloid, Pup and Triplane, the Camel was a revolutionary machine in a number of respects. The plane's Twin Vickers machine guns were mounted side by side in front of the cockpit -- a first for British fighters and a design feature that became standard on British fighters for nearly 20 years. Second, the pilot, engine, armament and controls were all crammed into a seven foot space at the front of the airplane. This helped give the plane its phenomenal performance, but it also made the plane very tricky to fly. Additionally, the plane's wood and fabric construction and lack of protection for the fuel tank made the Camel (like most WWI aircraft) very susceptible to fire. Moreover, the poor state of pilot training during 1916-1917 meant that the average life expectancy of an English pilot was little more than two weeks.

[IMAGE Unlike the preceding Pup and Triplane, the Camel was not considered pleasant to fly. The Camel owed both its extreme manoeuvrability and its difficult handling characteristics to the placement of the engine, pilot, guns and fuel tank (some 90% of the weight of the craft) 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.

[IMAGE 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. However the aircraft could also be rigged in such a way that at higher altitudes it was able to be flown "hands off." A stall immediately resulted in a spin, and the Camel soon became particularly noted for its vicious spinning characteristics.

This temperamental British World War 1 fighter was flown by such distinguished pilots as Lt. Col R. Collishaw, Major D. R. MacLaren and the most famous of all, Capt. Roy Brown. Capt. Roy Brown engaged in the dogfight that resulted in the death of Germany's ace of aces, Manfred Von Richthofen popularly known as the "Red Baron". The Camel had great ability in combat due to the fantastic torque of its rotary engine and the fact that engine, pilot and guns were all located on the first seven feet of the wooden airframe.

[IMAGE 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.

[IMAGE The Camel proved to be a superlative fighter, 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 degrees to the left, many pilots preferred to do it by turning 270 degrees to the right.

[IMAGE Agility in combat made the Camel one of the best-remembered Allied aircraft of the First World War. It was said in jest to offer a choice between a "wooden cross, red cross, and Victoria Cross." Together with the S.E.5a, the Camel helped to wrest aerial superiority away from the German Albatros fighters.

[IMAGE 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 clock as a memento, but was asked to return it the following day.

[IMAGE 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 sychronised Vickers guns.[N 1] By March 1918, the home defence squadons 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. [IMAGE 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.

[IMAGE With rotary engines, the crankshaft remained fixed while the cylinders and attached propeller rotated around it. The result of this torque was a significant "pull" to the right. In the hands of an experienced pilot, this characteristic could be exploited to give exceptional manoeuvrability in a dogfight. A 3/4 turn to the right could be done in the same time as a 1/4 turn to the left.

[IMAGE The Gnome "mono" engines did not have throttles and were at full "throttle" while the ignition was on - they could be "throttled" with a selector switch which cut the ignition to some of the cylinders to reduce power for landing. The Clerget, Le Rhone and BR1 had throttles, although reducing power involved simultaneously adjusting the mixture and was not straightforward, so it became common during landing to "blip" the engine (turn the ignition off and on) using a control column-mounted ignition switch, the blip switch, to reduce power.

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 stabiliser 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.

[IMAGE The doghouse also serves as a prop for Snoopy, often imagined as a World War I "Sopwith Camel" fighter plane in Snoopy's battles with the Red Baron. During these aerial fights, Snoopy's house often suffers from bullet holes and occasionally crashes. However, this seems to take place solely in Snoopy's imagination, as the house is in perfect shape later. Once, the doghouse serves as a commercial airline, with Snoopy as the pilot. Marcie serves as a stewardess when Schroeder goes to piano camp.

In service, the Camel proved to be a huge success, despite its high accident rate. Camels fought all along the Western Front as well as being employed as night fighters and balloon busters. Some the earliest fighters used by the Royal Navy were Camels which were deployed from cruisers, battleships and even towed platforms. Additionally, Camels fitted with eight Le Prieur air-to-air rockets proved to be very effective against German Zeppelins and long-range bombers.

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.

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.

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