Sopwith Three-seater

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Sopwith Three-seater
Role General purpose aircraft
National origin United Kingdom
Manufacturer Sopwith Aviation Company
Designer Thomas Sopwith
First flight 4 July 1912
Introduction 1912
Retired 1915
Primary users Royal Flying Corps
Royal Naval Air Service
Number built 13

The Sopwith Three-seater was a British aircraft designed and built prior to the start of the First World War. One of the first aircraft built by the Sopwith Aviation Company, it was operated by both the Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps, being used briefly over Belgium by the RNAS following the start of the First World War.

Development and design[edit]

In 1912, Thomas Sopwith, who had learned to fly during 1910 and had set up a flying school at Brooklands, built a tractor configuration biplane using the wings from a Wright Biplane and the fuselage and tail of a Coventry Ordnance Works biplane.[1] and powered by a 70 hp (52 kW) Gnome Gamma rotary engine.[2] The resulting aircraft, known as the Hybrid, first flew on 4 July 1912.[3]

The Hybrid was rebuilt in October 1912 and sold to the British Admiralty, being delivered in November 1912.[1][4] Further orders for an improved tractor biplane from the Admiralty lead to Sopwith setting up the Sopwith Aviation Company with a factory at a disused roller skating rink at Kingston upon Thames. The new aircraft, known variously as the Three-Seat Tractor Biplane,[5] the Sopwith 80 hp Biplane[6] or the Sopwith D1[7] was flown on 7 February 1913 before being displayed at the International Aero Show at Olympia, London opening on 14 February.[1] It had two-bay wings, with lateral control by Wing warping, and was powered by an 80 hp (60 kW) Gnome Lambda rotary engine. It had two cockpits, with the pilot sitting in the aft one and two passengers sitting side by side in the forward one. Three transparent Celluloid windows were placed in each side of the fuselage to give a good downwards view.[6][8]

A second aircraft was retained by Sopwith as a demonstrator, being used to set a number of British altitude records between June and July 1913. A further two tractor biplanes were built for the RNAS, being delivered in August and September 1913, with the original hybrid being rebuilt to a similar standard. Following tests of a Tractor Biplanes fitted with ailerons instead of wing warping for lateral control,[6][9] a further nine aircraft were ordered for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in September 1913.[10]

Operational history[edit]

The RFC received its Three-seaters between November 1913 and March 1914, with the first example being tested to destruction in the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, it being found that structural strength was inadequate. Despite this, the remaining eight aircraft were issued to No. 5 Squadron as two-seaters. Two were destroyed in a fatal mid-air collision on 12 May 1914, while several more were wrecked in accidents before the outbreak of the First World War. 5 Squadron left its remaining Tractor Biplanes in England when it deployed to France in August 1914, these being briefly used as trainers at the Central Flying School.[11][12]

The RNAS aircraft were issued to seaplane stations to allow flying to continue when sea conditions were unsuitable for seaplane operation. On the outbreak of war, the RNAS acquired Sopwith's demonstrator. Three Sopwith Tractor biplanes went with the Eastchurch wing of the RNAS when it deployed to Belgium under the command of Wing Commander Charles Rumney Samson. These were used for reconnaissance and bombing missions, attempting to bomb Zeppelin sheds at Düsseldorf on 23 September and railway lines on 24 September, being withdrawn in October.[13] The RNAS also used Sopwith Tractor Biplanes for patrol duties from Great Yarmouth,[14] one remaining in use until November 1915.[11]


 United Kingdom

Specifications (80 hp Gnome)[edit]

Data from Sopwith-The Man and his Aircraft [16]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 3
  • Length: 29 ft 6 in (8.99 m)
  • Wingspan: 40 ft 0 in (12.20 m)
  • Wing area: 397 ft2 (36.9 m2)
  • Empty weight: 1,060 lb (482 kg)
  • Gross weight: 1,810 lb (823 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome rotary engine, 80 hp (60 kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 73.6 mph (118 km/h)
  • Endurance: 2½ hours
  • Service ceiling: 12,900[17] ft ( m)
  • Rate of climb: 400[18] ft/min (5.1 m/s)

See also[edit]

Related lists


  1. ^ a b c Mason 1982, p.78.
  2. ^ Bruce 1982, pp. 491, 628.
  3. ^ Robertson 1970, p.31.
  4. ^ Robertson 1970, p.32.
  5. ^ Robertson 1970, p.210.
  6. ^ a b c Bruce 1982, p.491.
  7. ^ Davis 1999, pp. 12–13.
  8. ^ Bruce 1957, p.517.
  9. ^ Robertson 1970, p.35.
  10. ^ Mason 1982, pp. 78—79.
  11. ^ a b Mason 1982, p.79.
  12. ^ Bruce 1982, pp. 492—493.
  13. ^ Robertson 1970, pp. 48—51.
  14. ^ Thetford 1978, p.424.
  15. ^ Bruce 1982, p.493.
  16. ^ Robertson 1970, pp. 234—235, 238—239.
  17. ^ Bruce 1957, p.518.
  18. ^ Climb to 1000 ft (305 m): 2½ min


  • Bruce, J.M. British Aeroplanes 1914-18. London:Putnam, 1957.
  • Bruce, J.M. The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps (Military Wing). London:Putnam, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-X.
  • Davis, Mick. Sopwith Aircraft. Ramsbury, UK: The Crowood Press, 1999. ISBN 1-86126-217-5.
  • Mason, Tim. "Tom Sopwith...and his Aeroplanes 1912-14". Air Enthusiast, Number Twenty, December 1982-March 1983. Bromley, UK:Pilot Press. ISSN 0143-540. pp. 74–80.
  • Robertson, Bruce. Sopwith-The Man and his Aircraft. Letchworth, UK:Air Review, 1970. ISBN 0-900435-15-1.
  • Thetford, Owen. British Naval Aircraft since 1912. London:Putnam, Fourth edition 1978. ISBN 0-370-30021-1.

External links[edit]

"The 80-h.p. Sopwith Tractor Biplane" Flight 15 February 1913