Sopwith Pup            Sopwith Camel


The Sopwith Triplane was designed by Herbert Smith of the Sopwith Aviation Company.

The Triplane prototype was modelled closely on the Sopwith 'Pup' but had three narrow-chord wings with ailerons on all three wings and fitted with a Clerget 9Z rotary engine producing 110 hp.

The prototype Sopwith Triplane, serial number N500, first flew on the 28th of May 1916 flown by test pilot Harry Hawker. Almost immediately after takeoff Hawker amazed on-lookers by looping the aircraft three times in succession.

'N500' was sent to Dunkirk for trials with 'A' Naval Squadron, 1 Naval Wing, which proved to be highly successful.

A second prototype serial number 'N504', was fitted with a Clerget 9B engine producing 130 hp, which first flew in August 1916 and sent to France in December 1916 serving as a conversion trainer.

After successful trials the Admiralty issued a number of production contracts, two with Sopwith, two with Clayton & Shuttleworth and one with Oakley & Co. Ltd, resulting in a total of 147 Triplanes being produced.

No.1 Naval Squadron was issued with the Sopwith Triplane and became fully operational by December 1916. No 8 Naval Squadron was issued with Triplanes in February 1927 and Nos 9 & 10 Naval Squadrons were equipped between April and May 1917.

The Sopwith Triplanes exceptional rate of climb and high ceiling altitude gave it an advantage over the German Albatros D.III making the aircraft highly successful.

The Triplane was famously flown by No.10 Naval Squadron's B Flight which was better known as "Black Flight", distinguishable by their black painted fins and cowlings.

The aircraft in this all Canadian flight, commanded by Ace Raymond Collishaw, were named 'Black Maria', 'Black Prince', 'Black George', 'Black Death' and 'Black Sheep'.

Black Flight claimed 87 German aircraft shot down in three months with Collishaw scoring 34 of them himself. Raymond Collishaw went on to claim 60 victories altogether in the Triplane which made him the highest scoring Triplane Ace.

Although the Triplane proved extremely effective it was very difficult to repair and maintain. The fuel and oil tanks were inaccessible without major dissassembly and even relativle minor repairs had to be made at repair depots.

Also, due to the fact that the Triplane was vulnerable to structural weakness, with the wings known to collapse in a steep dive and it only had one machine gun, it was phased out in favour of the new Sopwith Camel.

Naval Squadrons No.8 & No.9 changed over to Sopwith Camels between July and early August and No.10 Naval Squadron by late August. No.1 Naval Squadron operated with the Triplane until December and suffered heavy casualities as a result.

By the end of 1917 all surviving Triplanes were sent to No.12 Naval Squadron to be used as advanced trainers.

Specifications: -
Wing Type:Tri-plane
Length:18ft 10in (5.74m)
Wingspan:26ft 6in (8.08m)
Height:10ft 6in (3.20m)
Empty Weight:993lb (450kg)
Max. Weight:1,415lb (642kg)
Engine:Clerget 9B engine producing 130 hp.
Max. Speed:116mph (187km/h)
Range:280 miles (451km)
Armament: -
Machine Guns:1 x 0.303" Vickers (sync.)
Variants: -

Prototype Triplane
Fitted with a Clerget 9Z engine producing 110 hp.

Production Triplane
Fitted with a Clerget 9B engine producing 130 hp.

Experimental Triplanes
Fitted with twin 0.303" Vickers machine guns.

Sopwith Pup            Sopwith Camel
Sopwith Triplane
©Nigel Key Sopwith Triplane (Old Warden 2007)

'G-BOCK', referred to as 'Dixie' replicates aircraft 'N6290' which flew with No.8 Squadron Royal Navy Air Service.

It was installed with an original Clerget engine, producing 130 hp, upon its delivery to the Shuttleworth Collection in 1990.

Dixie has been flying as part of the Shuttleworth Collection, based at Old Warden, since the 10th of April 1992 where it can still be seen to this day.
Photographs © Nigel Key, Click thumbnail to enlarge.
Sopwith Triplane 'Dixie' (Old Warden 2010) Sopwith Triplane 'Dixie' (Old Warden 2010) Sopwith Triplane 'Dixie' (Old Warden 2007)
Old Warden 2010
Old Warden 2010
Old Warden 2007
Sopwith Triplane 'Dixie' (Old Warden 2007) Sopwith Triplane 'Dixie' (Old Warden 2007) Sopwith Triplane 'Dixie' (Old Warden 2007)
Old Warden 2007
Old Warden 2007
Old Warden 2007
Sopwith Triplane 'Dixie' (Old Warden 2007) Sopwith Triplane 'Dixie' (Old Warden 2007) Sopwith Triplane 'Dixie' (Old Warden 2007)
Old Warden 2007
Old Warden 2007
Old Warden 2007

Related Links: -
Shuttleworth Page -
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Official Shuttleworth Website -
2011 Airshow Calendar -
Military Airshows in the UK -
Shuttleworth Collection