Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Britain - 1916 Sopwith Triplane

The Beginning of Triplane Madness

Since I have written much on Triplane Madness I thought it was time to cover the airplane which started the whole thing. When it was first flown it seemed to be an unassuming but very pilot friendly aircraft. Nobody knew it would be the spark to set off the race for efficient triplanes which would consume so much time and energy on what turned out to be a dead-end street.

The Sopwith Triplane was used in combat by the Royal Naval Air Service. The stack of three wings reduced wingspan and increased wing area making it handle and climb better than biplanes. Visibility from the cockpit was outstanding but it was slower and less heavily armed than it's German opponents.

The Sopwith Triplane was a British single seat fighter aircraft designed and manufactured by the Sopwith Aviation Company during the First World War. Pilots nicknamed it the Tripehound or simply the Tripe. The Triplane became operational with the Royal Naval Air Service in early 1917 and was immediately successful. The Triplane was nevertheless built in comparatively small numbers and was withdrawn from active service as Sopwith Camels arrived in the latter half of 1917. Surviving aircraft continued to serve as operational trainers until the end of the war.

The Triplane began as a private venture by the Sopwith Aviation Company. The fuselage and empennage closely mirrored those of the earlier Pup, but chief engineer Herbert Smith gave the new aircraft three narrow-chord wings to provide the pilot with an improved field of view. Ailerons were fitted to all three wings. By using the variable incidence tailplane, the aircraft could be trimmed to fly hands-off. The introduction of a smaller 8 ft span tailplane in February 1917 improved elevator response.

The Triplane was initially powered by the Clerget 9Z nine-cylinder rotary engine, but most production examples were fitted with the 130 hp Clerget 9B rotary. At least one Triplane was tested with a Le Rhône rotary engine, but this did not provide a significant improvement in performance.

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