Monday, May 16, 2011

Britain - 1917 RAF SE.5a

Britain's Other Great Fighter of 1917

Time for a change of pace today's topic is one of the best fighters used by Great Britain. It may have been a bit boxy but it was a forgiving aircraft that had a good service record.

Shortly after the development of the Scout Experimental 5, the improved S.E.5a was introduced. When it entered the war in 1917, it was superior to all its German opponents. Many pilots preferred it to the Sopwith Camel. It was easier to fly, it performed better at high altitude and its in-line engine produced less noise. It was also faster than the Sopwith Camel, allowing a pilot to break off combat at will. Disdained by Albert Ball, in the hands of airmen like William Bishop and Edward Mannock, the S.E.5a developed a reputation as a formidable fighter. With 54 victories, South African Anthony Beauchamp Proctor downed more enemy aircraft with this plane than any other ace.

The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 was a British biplane fighter aircraft of the First World War. Although the first examples reached the Western Front before the Sopwith Camel and it had a much better overall performance, problems with its Hispano-Suiza engine meant that there was a chronic shortage of S.E.5s until well into 1918 and fewer squadrons were equipped with the type than with the Sopwith fighter. Together with the Camel, the S.E.5 was instrumental in regaining allied air superiority in mid-1917 and maintaining this for the rest of the war, ensuring there was no repetition of "Bloody April" 1917 when losses in the Royal Flying Corps were much heavier than in the Luftstreitkräfte.

The S.E.5 (Scout Experimental 5) was designed by Henry P. Folland, J. Kenworthy and Major Frank W. Goodden of the Royal Aircraft Factory in Farnborough. It was built around the new 150 hp (112 kW) Hispano-Suiza 8a V8 engine which while it provided excellent performance, was initially under-developed and unreliable. The first of three prototypes flew on 22 November 1916. The first two prototypes were lost in crashes (the first killing one of its designers, Major F. W. Goodden on 28 January 1917) due to a weakness in their wing design. The third prototype underwent modification before production commenced; the S.E.5 was known in service as an exceptionally strong aircraft which could be dived at very high speed so these changes were certainly effective.

Like the other significant Royal Aircraft Factory aircraft of the war (B.E.2, F.E.2 and R.E.8) the S.E.5 was inherently stable, making it an excellent gunnery platform but it was also quite manoeverable. It was one of the fastest aircraft of the war at 138 mph (222 km/h), equal at least in speed to the SPAD S.XIII and faster than any standard German type of the period. The S.E.5 was not as effective in a dog fight as the Camel as it was less agile but it was easier and safer to fly, particularly for novice pilots.

The S.E.5 had one synchronized .303-in Vickers machine gun to the Camel's two. It also had a wing-mounted Lewis gun on a Foster mounting, which enabled the pilot to fire at an enemy aircraft from below as well as forward. This was much appreciated by the pilots of the first S.E.5 squadrons as the new "C.C." synchronizing gear for the Vickers was unreliable at first. The Vickers gun was mounted on the left side of the fuselage with the breech inside the cockpit. The cockpit was set amidships, making it difficult to see over the long front fuselage, but otherwise visibility was good. Perhaps its greatest advantage over the Camel was its superior performance at altitude - so that (unlike most Allied fighters) it was not outclassed by the Fokker D.VII when that fighter arrived at the front.


  1. From Wikipedia Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5, ""
  2. Bruce, J.M. "The S.E.5: Historic Military Aircraft No. 5". Flight, 17 July 1953. pp. 85–89, 93.
  3. Bruce, J.M. "The S.E.5A". Aircraft in Profile", Volume 1/Part1. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1965 (Revised 4th edition 1975). ISBN 0-85383-410-5.
  4. Franks, Norman L.R. "SE 5/5a Aces of World War 1". Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publications, 2007. ISBN 1-846031-80-X.
  5. Kopan'ski, Tomasz Jan. "Samoloty brytyjskie w lotnictwie polskim 1918-1930" (British Aircraft in the Polish Air Force 1918-1930)(in Polish). Warsaw: Bellona, 2001. ISBN 83-11-09315-6.
  6. Sturtivant, Ray ISO and Gordon Page. "The SE5 File". Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1996. ISBN 0-85130-246-7.


The Angry Lurker said...

It's a good looking and functional plane, good work.

W. I. Boucher said...

Thanks, It was always one of my favorite British planes when I was gaming. I would leave the Sopwith Camels to the hotshots. I preferred to run high altitude air cover using the SE-5a's fast dive speed to engage when I had the advantage.