Sunday, June 12, 2011

France - 1917 Nieuport 28

A Reject in American Service

Sometimes you are forced to fight a war with what you have and not what you want. When Americans began fighting in Europe their choices in airplanes were limited to second string planes from France and Britain.

Rejected by the French and British air services, the Nieuport 28 was the first biplane fighter received in large numbers by squadrons of the United States Air Service. A favorite with aces like Harold Hartney, it was fast and maneuverable but had a tendency to shed its upper wing fabric if its pilot pulled out of a steep dive too quickly. The Nieuport 28 was replaced by the less maneuverable SPAD S.XIII.

The Nieuport 28 design was an attempt to adapt the concept of the lightly built, highly maneuverable rotary engined fighter typified by the Nieuport 17 to the more demanding conditions of the times. It was designed to carry an up-to-date armament of twin synchronized machine guns, had a more powerful engine, and a new wing structure — for the first time a Nieuport biplane was fitted with conventional two spar wings, top and bottom, in place of the sesquiplane "v-strut" layout of earlier Nieuport types. Ailerons were fitted to the lower wings only. The tail unit’s design closely followed that of the Nieuport 27, but the fuselage was much slimmer, in fact it was so narrow that the machine guns had to be offset to the left.

By early 1918, when the first production Nieuport 28s became available, the type was already "surplus" from the French point of view. The SPAD S.XIII was a superior aircraft in most respects, and was in any case firmly established as the standard French fighter.

On the other hand, the United States Army Air Service was desperately short of fighters to equip its projected "pursuit" (fighter) squadrons. The SPAD was initially unavailable due to a shortage of Hispano-Suiza engines — and the Nieuport was offered to, and perforce accepted by, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), as an interim alternative. A total of 297 Nieuport 28s were purchased by the Americans, and they were used to equip the very first American fighter squadrons, starting in March 1918. All together, four AEF "pursuit" squadrons flew 28s operationally, the 27th, 94th, 95th and 103rd Aero Squadrons.

On 14 April 1918, the second armed patrol of an AEF fighter unit resulted in two victories when Lieutenants Alan Winslow and Douglas Campbell (the first American-trained ace) of the 94th Aero Squadron each downed an enemy aircraft. Several well known WWI American fighter pilots, including Quentin Roosevelt, the son of US president Theodore Roosevelt, as well as American aces like the 26-victory ace, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, began their operational careers on the Nieuport 28.

On the whole the type was not a success, however. Although very maneuverable and easy to fly, its performance turned out to be mediocre and its engine unreliable. More seriously, the mixed plywood/fabric skinning of the wings proved problematic — the fabric which covered the rear portion of the wings tending to "balloon" and become detached from the plywood leading section. Although a solution to this problem was speedily found, the operational Nieuports in American service were replaced with SPADs as soon as sufficient of the latter became available. This process was complete by the end of July 1918.


  1. From Wikipedia Nieuport 28, ""
  2. Cheesman E.F. (ed.) "Fighter Aircraft of the 1914-1918 War". Letchworth, UK: Harleyford Publications, 1960, p. 94, pp. 98-99, p. 106.
  3. Cooksley, Peter. "Nieuport Fighters in Action" (Aircraft No. 167). Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-89747-377-9.
  4. Dorr, Robert F. and David Donald. "Fighters of the United States Air Force". London: Aerospace Publishing, 1990. ISBN 0-60055-094-X.
  5. Treadwell, Terry C. "America's First Air War". London: Airlife Publishing, 2000, pp. 16-17. ISBN 1-84037-113-7.


The Angry Lurker said...

"but had a tendency to shed its upper wing fabric if its pilot pulled out of a steep dive too quickly", definitely not a good tendency, good work and info sir.

W. I. Boucher said...

@Fran, thanks and welcome back. MaNy aircraft had a similar problem, including several Albatros D types and the Fokker Dr.I.At least they did fix the problem. It was a comfort to pilots to get assigned more sturdy SPAD fighters.

kingsleypark said...

Good info again Will. Did the US get any of it's own designs of aircraft into the War or did they have to rely wholly on British and French designs?

Really like the cowling on the 95th Sqd Nieuport. And is that a mule or a jackass??

W. I. Boucher said...

@kp The arrival of American produced aircraft for the AEF was to begin in late 1918 to 1919. However when the Armistice arrived most of the contracts were canceled.

When Americans began fighting in WWI the pilots were there unofficially as volunteers. After the U.S. entered the war most of them were integrated into AEF units. They used the aircraft they were assigned by the countries they served with with before US declaration of war.

Some American designs, notably the Curtiss flying boats and JN-4 "Jenny" trainer were used by a few countries, however they were not flown by American units as far as I have seen.