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Sopwith Camel

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Sopwith 2F.1 Camel
A Sopwith Camel at the Imperial War Museum, London
Type Biplane fighter
Manufacturer Sopwith Aviation Company
Maiden flight December 1916
Primary users RFC (RAF)

The Sopwith Camel Scout is a British First World War single-seat fighter aircraft that was famous for its maneuverability.

Design and development

Intended as a replacement for the Sopwith Pup, the Camel prototype first flew in December 1916, powered by a 110 hp Clerget 9Z. Known as the "Big Pup" early on in its development, the aircraft was armed with two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns mounted in the cowl, firing forward through the propeller disc. A fairing surrounding the gun installation created a hump that led to the name Camel. The top wing was flat - but the bottom wing had dihedral, so that the gap between the wings was less at the tips than at the roots.

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. Approximately 5,500 were ultimately produced.

Operational history

Replica of Camel F.I flown by Lt. George A. Vaughn Jr., 17th Aero Squadron
Sopwith Camel, 1930s magazine illustration with the iconic British WWI fighter in a dogfight with a Fokker triplane

Unlike the preceding Pup and Triplane, the Camel was not considered pleasant to fly. The Camel owed its difficult handling characteristics to the grouping of the engine, pilot, guns, and fuel tank within the first 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 takeoff. Many crashed due to mishandling on takeoff when a full fuel tank affected the center of gravity. In level flight, the Camel was markedly tail-heavy. Unlike the preceding Triplane, the Camel lacked a variable incidence tailplane. The pilot was therefore required to apply constant forward pressure on the control stick to maintain a level attitude at low altitude. However the machine could also be rigged in such a way that at higher altitudes it could be flown "hands off." A stall immediately resulted in a spin and the Camel was particularly noted for its vicious spinning characteristics.

The Camel was nevertheless successful in combat. It offered heavier armament and better performance than the preceding Pup and Triplane. Its controls were light and sensitive. The Camel turned slowly to the left with a nose-up attitude, but turned very sharply to the right with a nose-down attitude. Because it was tail heavy, the plane also looped quickly. Agility in combat made the Camel one of the best remembered Allied aircraft of the First World War. It was said 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 scouts. The Camel was credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied scout.

Major William Barker's Sopwith Camel (serial no. B6313, the aircraft in which all his victories were scored,[1]) became the most successful fighter aircraft in the history of the RAF, shooting down 46 aircraft & 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, although he was asked to return it the following day.

By mid-1918, the Camel was approaching obsolescence as a fighter, limited by its slow speed and comparatively poor performance over 12,000 feet (3650 m). It found a new lease of life as a ground-attack aircraft and infantry support weapon. 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 25lb (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.

In summer 1918, a 2F.1 Camel (N6814) was used in trials as a parasite fighter under Airship R23


The Camel was powered by a variety of rotary engines during the production period.

  • 130 hp Clerget 9B Rotary (standard powerplant)
  • 140 hp Clerget 9Bf Rotary
  • 110 hp Le Rhone 9J Rotary
  • 150 hp Bentley BR1 Rotary (gave best performance - standard for R.N.A.S. machines)
  • 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape 9B-2 Rotary
  • 150 hp Gnome Monosoupape 9N Rotary

Engine variants

  • With the Clerget rotary engine, 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 manoueverability in a dog-fight. The rate of turn to the right was twice that of a turn to the left.
  • The Gnome engines differed from the others in that a selector switch could cut the ignition to all but one of the cylinders to reduce power for landing. (This was because rotary engines did not have throttles and were at full 'throttle' all the while the ignition was on) On the others the engine had to be "blipped" (turned off and on) using a control column-mounted ignition switch, (blip switch) to reduce power sufficiently for a safe landing.

Sopwith Camel F.1

  • Single-seat fighter ("scout") aircraft.
  • The main production version. Armed with twin synchronised Vickers guns.

Sopwith Camel 2F.1

  • Shipboard fighter scout aircraft.
  • Slightly shorter wingspan
  • One Vickers gun replaced by an overwing Lewis
  • Bentley BR1 as standard

Sopwith Camel "Comic" Nightfighter

Pilot seat moved to rear. The twin Vickers guns were replaced with two Lewis guns firing forward over the top wing on Foster mountings. Served with Home Defence Squadrons against German air raids. The "Comic" nickname was of course unofficial, and was shared with the night fighter version of the Sopwith 1½ Strutter.


  • Version with tapered wings.

(Trench Fighter) T.F.1

  • Experimental trench fighter.
  • Downward angled machine guns
  • Armour plating for protection

(See also Sopwith Salamander)


File:Sopwith F1 Camel.jpg
Belgian Camel preserved at the Musée Royal de l'Armée et de l'Histoire Militaire in Brussels


There are only seven authentic Sopwith Camels left in the world, with one in the United States. It can be found at the Aerospace Education Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Another one, beautifully restored to near-flying condition, is at the Brussels Air Museum Restoration Society (BAMRS) in Belgium. An example of a model F.1 can be found at the Polish Aviation Museum. The Camel, which is on display in the Polish Aviation Museum, serial number B 7280, at first flew in Royal Naval Air Service and then in Royal Flying Corps. Two pilots who flew this aircraft shot down 11 German planes in total. N6812, the Sopwith 2F1 Camel flown by Flight Sub Lieutenant Stuart Culley when he shot down Zeppelin L 53, is preserved at the Imperial War Museum in London.

A replica Sopwith Camel can be found at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Another replica is currently under construction by the Northern Aeroplane Workshops for the Shuttleworth Collection.[2].

Specifications (F.1 Camel)

Data from Quest for Performance[3]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18 ft 9 in (5.71 m)
  • Wingspan: 26 ft 11 in (8.53 m)
  • Height: 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m)
  • Wing area: 231 ft² (21.46 m²)
  • Empty weight: 930 lb (420 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 1,455 lb (660 kg)
  • Powerplant:Clerget 9B 9-cylinder Rotary engine, 130 hp (97 kW)
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0378
  • Drag area: 8.73 ft² (0.81 m²)
  • Aspect ratio: 4.11 Performance
  • Lift-to-drag ratio: 7.7Armament

  • Popular culture

    The Camel appears in literature and popular media as:

    • The single-seater scout plane flown by the Royal Flying Corps Squadron in the great First World War, semi-autobiographical, air combat book Winged Victory written by Victor Maslin Yeates.
    • The fighter flown by Biggles in the novels by W.E. Johns during the character's spell in 266 squadron during the First World War. He also wrote a book, The Camels Are Coming.
    • The "plane" of Snoopy in the Peanuts comic strip, when he imagines himself as a First World War flying ace and the nemesis of the Red Baron. The "Sopwith Camel" is actually his doghouse.
    File:Snoopy wwi ace lb.jpg
    Snoopy piloting his "Sopwith Camel"
    • The type of aircraft flown in the First World War by John and Bayard Sartoris in William Faulkner's Flags in the Dust. Under fire from a pupil of Richthofen (the Red Baron), John's Camel caught fire over occupied France. Bayard's last sight of his twin brother was of John jumping out of his fighter feet first.
    • Bartholmew Bandy flies a Camel in the first "Bandy Papers" book by Donald Jack, Three Cheers for Me.



    1. Ralph, Wayne. Barker VC: The Classic Story of a Legendary First World War Hero. London: Grub Street, 1999. ISBN 1-902304-31-4.
    2. Shuttleworth Collection
    3. Loftin, LK, Jr. Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft. NASA SP-468. [1] Access date: 22 April 2006.


    • Sturtivant, Ray and Page, Gordon. The Camel File. London: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1993. ISBN 0-85130-212-2.
    • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Sopwith Camel." Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes (Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-641-3.

    External links

    See also

    Comparable aircraft

    Related lists

    Template:Sopwith Aviation Company aircraft

    cs:Sopwith Camel de:Sopwith F-1 es:Sopwith Camel fr:Sopwith Camel it:Sopwith Camel ms:Sopwith Camel TF.1 nl:Sopwith Camel ja:ソッピース キャメル no:Sopwith Camel nn:Sopwith Camel pl:Sopwith Camel pt:Sopwith Camel ru:Sopwith Camel fi:Sopwith Camel sv:Sopwith Camel

    This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
    It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sopwith Camel".