|Royal Aircraft Factory S.E. 5a|
The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5/5a, rival of the Sopwith Camel for the title of the most successful British fighter of the First World War, was designed by H. P. Folland, J. Kenworthy and Major F. W. Goodden. The prototype S.E.5, A4561, appeared in December of 1916 and was powered with the new 150 hp Hispano-Suiza engine with a car-type radiator and short exhaust manifolds. The wings had wire-braced spruce spars; in place of compression struts, some ribs were of solid construction. The tail-plane incidence could be changed in flight. A wire-braced wooden box girder, the fuselage was fabric-covered except for plywood sides from the nose to the front spar of the lower wing, with plywood round the cockpit. The main fuel tank was behind the engine, and there was a gravity tank to port of the center section.
|In January 1917, the wings of the prototype collapsed in flight and Major Goodden was killed. The main planes of subsequent machines were strengthened, their span was reduced and blunter tips were fitted. A few of the early production aircraft, however, retained the wing plan of the first two prototypes.|
A Vickers gun
fixed on the port side of the fuselage with its breech inside the cockpit, fired
through the air screw by means of the Constantinesco synchronizing gear. A Lewis gun on a
Foster mounting could be fired ahead over the top wing or directly upwards.
The type first went to France on April 7th, 1917, with No. 56 Squadron. The early machines had celluloid 'greenhouses' over the cockpits; these were liable to be dangerous in a crash, so Major Bloomfield, the CO, had them replaced by flat Triplex windscreens. The gravity tank was soon moved from the top of the wing to a position inside the center section. A few S.E.5s had faired head-rests.
An early installation of a Wolseley Viper engine. In this particular photo
the top of the radiator is not the standard shape. Also the under wing
fairing is shallower than on production Viper-powered aircraft.
A modified version, the S.E.5a, powered by the 200 hp geared Hispano-Suiza engine, was
introduced in June 1917. It had a rather deeper nose than that of the S.E.5, radiator shutters and
long exhaust pipes. The standard faired head-rest was frequently removed to improve the
rearward view. From December 1917, the front struts of the undercarriage vees were
The geared 200 hp engine suffered from manufacturing faults, and there were frequent failures; in addition, engine construction lagged behind airframe manufacture, and the S.E.5a was not available in quantity until well into 1918. Eventually the Wolseley W.4a Viper 200 hp engine, based on the Hispano-Suiza, became standard and there were no more engine difficulties. The Viper's radiator was square and bulky, with short horizontal shutters.
Both friend and foe recognized the S.E.5 as a formidable fighting machine; it was fast, extremely strong and easy to fly. Superior to the Albatross D-III and D-V, the Pfalz D-III and the Fokker Dr.I, it was still not outclassed even when the Fokker D-VII appeared in May 1918. It is significant that the S.E.5a was the aircraft of Mannock (seventy-three victories), Bishop (seventy-two), McCudden (fifty-seven) and Beauchamp-Proctor (fifty-four).
Some machines of No: 24 Squadron were rigged with reduced dihedral to improve their maneuverability.
A total of 5,205 S.E.5s and 5as were constructed.
This photo shows the standard Viper installation.
It has a fixed-pitch wood propeller, short exhaust pipes and a wooden
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Created November 29, 2001. Updated November 10, 2013.