M.Goodall, A.Tagg British Aircraft before the Great War (Schiffer)
Deleted by request of (c)Schiffer Publishing
H.King Sopwith Aircraft 1912-1920 (Putnam)
As was noted a few paragraphs earlier immediately prior to our just-concluded appraisal of the rebuilt Burgess-Wright biplane Sopwith left for some motor-boat racing in America during August 1912 and returned in the following month. Early in the previous July he was making the first flights of a yet more drastically revised machine, in the form of a tractor, though using American Wright-type wings ('Wright planes pure and simple’, as one account stated adding, to make things perfectly clear, that they were 'built roughly on the Wright model')!
For this newly created tractor the name 'Sopwith Three-Seater Tractor Biplane' was used at the time of its introduction, though the description 'Hybrid' (with or without initial capital) has now gained currency, and, apart from being descriptive, serves to differentiate it from the much-improved 'Three-Seater Tractor' shown at Olympia in 1913.
These matters being so, it will be well to consider the 1912 'hybrid' as the true precursor of the Sopwith aeroplanes that form the subject-matter of this book, and to regard it not so much as the ending of the present chapter but as the beginning of the next.
'Three-seaters' and Derivatives
The Sopwith-developed 'hybrid' tractor biplane that T. O. M. Sopwith tested in July 1912 had a wing cellule which closely resembled in plan form, section and bracing that of the Burgess-Wright pusher which he had bought in the USA during 1911, but the span was increased from 38 ft 9 in (11.9 m) to 44 ft (13.4 m). This, at least, seems to have been true of the form in which it was first publicised, though by then it had already been repaired after a crash when Gordon Bell and J. Charteris were setting out, on 12 July, 1912, to fly it down to Cowes, where Sopwith was practising in a Saunders-built craft for the motor-boat racing scheduled for his second American trip. As was so often the case, the Brooklands sewage farm had received the fragmented structure after a sideslip. ‘Reconstruction', it was reported, proceeded 'rapidly'.
In any case, the engine was a 70 hp Gnome, driving a Chauviere propeller of 9 ft 6 in (2.9 m) diameter, and the fuselage was set between the wings, in the style of the later Bristol Fighter though with a prominent chordwise 'gap-filler' fairing between it and the bottom wing. Here, it might reasonably be suggested, was C.O.W. influence discernible. At first the fuselage was left uncovered aft of the rear (pilot's) cockpit, though later it was completely fabric-covered. The two passengers sat side by side, well forward, in a separate open cockpit. Silver spruce was largely used for the wing structure, and even for the four-wheeled, twin-skid landing gear, which was subsequently exchanged for a twin-wheel type.
A very noticeable feature of this 'hybrid' was the vertically-divided rudder, of which it was observed at the time: "The rudder constitutes an important variation from Wright practice, being situated above and below the elevator, which can be given a warping angle of 6 in (150 mm) in either direction.'
When Sopwith returned from his American motor-boat races he tested the rebuilt machine, and on 8 October, 1912, flew it to Farnborough. There, with one passenger (in the form that "the military' would be likely to use it) the biplane climbed to 3.000 ft (915 m) in just under 3 min, though the maximum speed about 55 mph (88.5 km/h) was poor enough to evoke the comment from a Brooklands observer: 'The Sopwith tractor biplane made its first flight since its repair, piloted by Sopwith. The machine carried a passenger, and left the ground after a very short run, but it is certainly slow.'
Such slowness (it occurs to the present writer) may be a sensation by this time being experienced by any reader who may have had sufficient of 'antediluvian' Sopwith types and is becoming impatient to get along towards the 'real wartime Sopwiths' (as he may well regard the rightfully dominant subjects of this book). In some degree, at least, such readers may now he given satisfaction: for there existed two tractor biplanes of the general form just described. These Nos.27 and 33, with 80 hp Gnome engine - were living early in the war from Eastchurch, and are said to have been used for armament practice. In this regard, clearly, they might have made better targets than 'gun machines', by reason of their low performance. On reflection, indeed, they might have made perfect 'sitting ducks' as ground targets - easier to hit than the airborne feathered duck that the Eastchurch armament pioneer Lieut (later Air Marshal) R. H. Clark-Hall brought down to the Swale Marshes - if not to the cooking-pot - from a Short pusher some time before the war.
Further concerning the two early Naval Sopwith tractors, it seems worth recording that a demi-official drawing once existed showing just such a machine, though with top-plane extensions, revised engine installation and other alterations. This drawing may well have been a mere pastiche; but the tell-tale tail certainly obtruded.
With a tractor aeroplane that was only a little faster than one of his motor-boats and bearing in mind that the contemporary 43.000-ton Titanic was good for over 24 knots (26.5 mph = 42.6 km h) Sopwith could hardly be content: nor was the just-described crude derivation - for 'conception' or 'innovation' would be terms far too enobling - much to the liking of the tiny but talented team now assembling round him.
P.Lewis British Aircraft 1809-1914 (Putnam)
Sopwith Hybrid Biplane
During 1912 there emerged from the Sopwith workshops a tractor biplane which constituted the first product of the firm 's design staff. The wings of a Wright machine and a Farman's undercarriage were fitted to a new fuselage with uncovered rear portion, the whole being powered by a 70 h.p. Gnome engine which drove a 9 ft. 6 ins. diameter Chauviere propeller. The machine was a three-seater with its pair of passengers sitting side-by-side in front of the pilot.
After a minor crash at Brooklands the machine was rebuilt and given a totally enclosed fuselage and a single pair of wheels in place of the twin pairs at first fitted. On one occasion three passengers were taken up in addition to the pilot. Span, 44 ft. Length, 26 ft. 4 ins. Wing area, 520 sq. ft. Weight empty, 950 lb. Maximum speed, 55 m.p.h.