Sopwith Snark

Sopwith Snark showing off its triplane configuration (flyingmachines.ru)

Sopwith Snark showing off its triplane configuration (flyingmachines.ru)

Sopwith’s Last Fighter

The famed blood-red triplane design of the Red Baron Manfred Von Richthofen’s Fokker Dr.I became the iconic image of the air war over the Western Front of World War I. Richthofen’s Dr.I became an indispensable tool for the German propaganda machine and in an age of countless biplane designs there was a feeling in the general public that this “extra wing” was what made Richthofen so unbeatable in the air.

In reality the triplane design was something of fad in aviation design that was quickly falling out of favour. Triplanes had the advantage of being able to use shorter span wings with the same or even greater levels of agility than an equivalent biplane which made them smaller targets in the air than an equivalent De Havilland DH.4. The trade-off however was that triplanes were often heavier than their biplane counterparts and incurred far more drag. They were also prone to cross wind interference which was especially dangerous on landing. As the air war dragged on over the trenches it became increasingly obvious that speed was going to be the deciding factor and the newer biplanes were able to surpass even the feared the Dr.I in this respect.

1917 Sopwith Triplane (Commons.wikimedia)

1917 Sopwith Triplane (Commons.wikimedia)

Nevertheless some aircraft designers persevered with the configuration believing they could find a balance between the agility a triplane offered and the speed of the latest biplanes. One such company was Sopwith of Great Britain who had produced the near legendary Sopwith Camel, Snipe and Pup fighters. Sopwith had long been a proponent of triplane designs and in early 1917 their appropriately named Sopwith Triplane fighter entered very limited service with the Royal Naval Air Service.

Spurred on by this brief success Sopwith decided to return to the triplane configuration when in early 1918 the Air Ministry requested proposals for a replacement for the Snipe. Sopwith knew that the triplane was falling out of favour and took no chances designing a common fuselage and tail section that could be fitted with either a biplane or triplane configuration. This produced two aircraft the Snapper (biplane) and the Snark (triplane). As designed the Snark had a wooden monocoque fuselage with equal span single-bay wings each fitted with ailerons for a high degree of agility. The wings were unequally spaced and staggered with the gap between the mid and upper wings being less than that between the lower and mid wings.

Included in the specification was the requirement for the aircraft to be powered by the ABC Motors Ltd Dragonfly I 320hp engine then under development. The Dragonfly was an air cooled radial engine which promised very high performance and based on this promise the Air Ministry decided it was to become the main engine for the next series of combat aircraft for the newly formed Royal Air Force. For the aircraft manufacturers this would prove to be a frustrating and costly decision for the aeroengine proved extremely problematic and ABC constantly had to push back its service entry. This delayed numerous aircraft projects such as the promising Avro 533 Manchester bomber and Sopwith’s Snark.

Snark prototype (Aviastar.org)

Snark prototype (Aviastar.org)

Despite the problems with the engine the Air Ministry was sufficiently interested in Sopwith’s Snark to order three prototypes for testing on May 14th 1918. One of the aircraft’s main selling points was that for its day it had an exceptionally heavy armament. Nearly all British aircraft of the period had the proven configuration of two .303 (7.7mm) Lewis machine guns mounted forward of the pilot synchronized with the propeller and indeed the Snark did feature two such weapons. Additionally however the aircraft featured four more Lewis guns under the lower wing firing outside of the propeller arc; a configuration more akin to World War Two fighters. Despite the fact that the pilot couldn’t reach these weapons in-flight to reload them or correct a jam it did mean that the Snark had huge potential as a bomber destroyer although the weapons did add even more weight to the aircraft.

Sopwith’s engineers worked steadily to produce the three prototype airframes by October 1918 but the Dragonfly I engine was nowhere to be seen and so the three prototypes sat grounded until finally the first Dragonfly I aeroengine was delivered in early 1919 well after the armistice ended the war it was designed to fight in. The aircraft finally took flight sometime in July 1919 (exact date is unknown) and the first flying prototype arrived at Martlesham Heath for official trials on the 12th of November 1919. The other two prototypes still had to wait for their engines to be delivered and the second prototype didn’t reach Martlesham until March 17th 1920 while the third prototype, which was fitted with a 360hp Dragonfly la engine, didn’t arrive until much later in the year.

Testing must have been a sullen experience for those involved from Sopwith. The company was in trouble and a lot was riding on the Snark’s success. Testing of the first two prototypes revealed that it had fine handling qualities being quite responsive although not as nimble as previous triplanes. It achieved a top speed of 130mph, 9mph faster than the Snipe it was to replace, but this came at a price. The loathsome Dragonfly engine was not yet finished ruining the Snark’s prospects and proved horribly unreliable being prone to overheating in flight. Testing continued at a relaxed pace in to 1921 but by then the requirement for a Snipe replacement was brought in to question as the RAF found itself watching every single penny almost lecherously. The detection of deterioration in the fuselage structure sounded the death knell for the Snark and all three were written off by the end of the year.

It was a sad end to the great Sopwith Company who had been at the forefront of British fighter technology throughout the war. Even before the Snark project ended the company had gone in to liquidation it being unable to survive in the harsh post war climate where its expertise in fighter design was no longer wanted.


SPECIFICATIONS 

  • ENGINE: 1 x 320hp ABC Dragonfly radial engine
  • MAX SPEED: 130 mph
  • WINGSPAN: 8.08m (27ft 6in)
  • LENGTH: 6.25m (21ft 6in)
  • HEIGHT: 3.30m (11ft 10in)
  • WING AREA: 29.91 m2 (321.95 sq ft)
  • ARMAMENT: 6x .303 (7.7mm) Lewis Mchine guns
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Gloster Meteor F.8

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The penultimate variant of Britain’s first jet fighter the F.8 (sometimes referred to as the Mark 8 or F.mk.8) variant of the Gloster Meteor was intended to keep the aircraft competent while the new generation of swept wing fighters were under development. In reality the Meteor F.8 was not in the same class as the Soviet Union’s MiG-15 swept wing fighter as was proven in combat during the Korean War. Nevertheless the aircraft in the hands of the Royal Australian Air Force still gave a very good account of itself and was still potent when faced with the piston engined fighters still in service around the world or other straight wing jets such as the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and the Yakovlev Yak-15/17.

553229_761905707263236_8605473380426401875_nThe Meteor F.8 was based on the stretched fuselage two-seat Meteor T.7 trainer fitted with a single cockpit and standard fighter armament. It was powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 engines that produced 3500lbs of thrust each, more than double what the Meteor Mk.I with its Welland engines produced demonstrating just how far the aircraft and jet technology had come in just 5 years. Stripped out (i.e. guns and ammunition removed as well as non-essential equipment) and the Meteor F.8 could tear through 640mph with relative ease. Fully loaded however and the airspeed tended to hover around the 600mph mark, still impressive when you consider that just three years earlier the fastest propeller driven aircraft were struggling to get beyond 400mph. The two Derwents allowed the aircraft to achieve a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.45 and this meant it could climb at around 7,000ft a minute to a service ceiling of 43,000ft.

The Meteor’s design benefited from experience gained in the years of World War II in terms of its gun armament. The aircraft was fitted with four Hispano Mk.V cannons, an arrangement that quickly became standard on all British fighters of the period as it offered the best compromise between weight, ammunition capacity and of course hitting power. The weapon could hurl a 20mm shell at 840m/s and achieve a rate of fire of 750rds/min. Mounted close together in the nose meant that the pilot could bring all four guns to bear on a single spot on a target at longer ranges thus increasing their destructive power. The gun did have a somewhat chequered history however and the earlier version of the weapon was prone to jamming. In fact the first two interceptions of V-1 Flying Bombs by earlier versions of the Meteor suffered from jammed guns forcing the pilots to resort to the wingtip method of bringing them down. The Mk.V in the Meteor F.8 had largely resolved the problem but it was still prone to jamming if not properly maintained. During testing of the aircraft it was discovered that when all the ammunition had been expended the aircraft became tail heavy. This resulted in a redesigned tail being fitted to help counteract the problem.

Gloster Meteor F8 rocketsAgain, recent war experience played a part in the air-to-ground configurations with the Meteor often adopting the powerful 60lb Rocket Projectile (RP) that had proven so effective against tanks and ships under the wings of wartime Bristol Beaufighters, De Havilland Mosquitoes and of course the Hawker Typhoon. The Meteor could carry up to sixteen of the weapons under its outboard wings or alternatively eight 5-inch HVAR rockets. Another air-to-ground weapon was the traditional unguided bomb and the Meteor could carry two 1,000lb bombs under its wings.

Initial deliveries of the F.8 to the RAF began in August 1949 and the first frontline squadron converted to the aircraft the following year. Between 1950 and 1955 the aircraft constituted the bulk of RAF Fighter Command’s daytime fighter force but because of its general inferiority to the MiG-15 “Fagot” a number of Canadair built F-86 Sabres were acquired for operations in Germany until newer British fighters appeared such as the Supermarine Swift and Hawker Hunter. The Meteor F.8 was replaced in frontline service in 1957 but the nightfighter and fighter-reconnaissance versions served on until the 1960s.

  • Powerplant: 2x Derwent 8 (3,500lbs thrust each)
  • Max Speed: 592mph
  • Service Ceiling: 43,000ft
  • Length: 44ft 7in (13.59m)
  • Wingspan: 37ft 2in (11.32m)
  • Height: 13 ft 0 in (3.96m)
  • Armament: 4x 20mm Hispano V cannons
    2x1000lb bombs or 16x60lb unguided rockets

See Also

Fairey Fulmar (N1854)

This aircraft was the first production version and also the first true prototype of the FULMAR. It made its initial flight in January 1940 (the first FULMAR to fly) before going to A&AEE Boscombe Down for flight trials (along with two other early FULMAR aircraft N1855 & N1858). It also took part in deck landing trials on board HMS Illustrious in 1940.

After the war it was retained by the Fairey Aviation Company for use as a communications and transport aircraft and registered G-AIBE on the civil register.

In 1972 it returned to its former code N1854 and was presented to the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton where it remains on display as the last surviving example of the 600 Fairey Fulmars built.

The Fairey Fulmar was named after the Fulmar, a gull-like sea bird related to the Albatrosses.  It is known for its graceful gliding flight over the sea.

Fairey Firefly TT1 (Z2033)

Built as a TT1 target tug in 1944 the aircraft carried out a number of testing duties for the Royal Navy and Fairey Aviation among others until 1978 when it was donated to the Imperial War Museum. In 2012 it was painted in the wartime colours of the Far East Squadron and now resides at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton

Gloster Meteor F.8 vs. Dassault Ouragon

Ouragon vs Meteor

The advent of Jet technology in the 1940s offered levels of aircraft performance not previously dreamed of. Britain’s first operational jet fighter was the Gloster Meteor, a twin engine design that was to all intents and purposes an aircraft of the piston engine era but powered by jet engines. Despite this the aircraft went on to have a successful career initially as a day fighter and then later as a fighter bomber, reconnaissance fighter and night fighter.

France’s aviation industry suffered under Nazi occupation. A number of French aircraft were pressed in to Luftwaffe service and the French aviation industry was turned towards supporting the Germans which subsequently made it a target for the RAF and later the USAAF. After the war a new aviation company appeared in France that would come to define French military aviation for the next sixty years – Dassault.

Headed by Marcel Dassault the company needed to break out quickly in to the new post-war military aviation scene if it intended to compete and so it had to embrace jet technology. With little or no experience with jet technology the company turned to the UK and imported a number of Rolls-Royce Nene engines with which to build a new fighter around. The result was the Dassault MD450 Ouragon (Hurricane); France’s first ever jet fighter aircraft.

At the time of the Ouragon’s introduction in 1952 the RAF had re-equipped with the penultimate variant of the Gloster Meteor, the F.8 model which was intended to keep the aircraft competent while the new generation of swept wing fighters was under development. In reality neither the Meteor F.8 nor the Ouragon were in the same class as the Soviet Union’s MiG-15 swept wing fighter but they were both still potent when faced with the remaining piston fighters or other straight wing jets such as the Republic F-84 and the Yakovlev Yak-15.

But which was the better fighter?


LAYOUT

Gloster Metor F-8

The Meteor was a conventional straight wing design with a high mounted tailplane in order to keep it clear from the jetwash of the two engines. The engines themselves were mounted in pods midway along the length of the wings in an arrangement similar to a number of wartime piston engine aircraft. This reflected the play-it-safe philosophy taken in designing Britain’s first operational jet fighter. This arrangement naturally increased the drag factor although this was less than in piston engine aircraft of similar dimensions because the very nature of jet technology requires air to pass through the nacelle rather than over it.

Ouragon

The Ouragon on the other hand adopted what was becoming the standard shape for single engined jet fighters of the late 1940s. Like the Meteor the aircraft was of straight wing design, although they were significantly thinner than the British aircraft’s wings, with a high tailplane while air for the Nene engine was fed through a single gaping intake in the nose. This produced an aerodynamically efficient shape which was somewhat spoiled by the fitting of wingtip tanks to increase range. These also had a negative effect on roll-rate and pilots complained that the aircraft liked to break in to an uncommanded roll when in a tight turn.

POWERPLANT

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Early jet engines were significantly underpowered and this lead to the first operational jet fighters, the Messerschmitt Me.262 and the Gloster Meteor, being fitted with two jet engines to give them the necessary thrust. The Mark.I Meteor was powered by two Welland turbojets each producing just 1700lbs thrust but as the technology matured the engines quickly became more powerful until the Meteor F.8 was developed equipped with Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 engines. These engines produced 3500lbs of thrust each, more than double what the Wellands produced.

Rolls Royce Nene

A little known fact is that it was actually a Frenchman who was the first to patent a gas turbine aero-engine. Maxime Guiliam designed what is now termed an axial flow turbojet and patented the design in 1921, seven years before Frank Whittle submitted his own design. However, as Whittle experienced in the UK, there was very little interest at the time due to the complexities involved in building the engine and a suitable aircraft. France’s capitulation meant that French jet development went out the window while Britain and Germany developed their own programs. This left them trailing behind in the immediate post-war era and so the French decided to use imported British engines while they began development of their own engines. Therefore the Ouragon was designed around a single Rolls-Royce Nene engine which developed 4990lbs thrust.

PERFORMANCE

RAF Meteor F8

Stripped out (i.e. guns and ammunition removed as well as non-essential equipment) and the Meteor F.8 could tear through 640mph with relative ease. Fully loaded however and the airspeed tended to hover around the 600mph mark, still impressive when you consider that just three years earlier the fastest propeller driven aircraft were struggling to get beyond 400mph. The two Derwents allowed the aircraft to achieve a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.45 and this allowed it to climb at around 7,000ft a minute to a service ceiling of 43,000ft.

ouragan

The Ouragon topped out at 584mph in level flight although naturally French pilots tried to get more out of their aircraft by engaging in high speed dives. Doing this did achieve greater speeds, sometimes in excess of 600mph but often this overstressed the airframe. The Nene engine, despite being more powerful than a single Derwent, didn’t leave the Ouragon with a great deal of power having a thrust-to-weight ratio of around 0.31 under combat conditions. The gutsier Nene did however allow the Ouragon to keep pace with the Meteor when in a climb although the Meteor enjoyed a solid one thousand more feet in its service ceiling figures.

Please note; thrust-to-weight figures are determined by taking how much thrust is available compared to the full-up weight of a typical fighter mission. Adding ground attack weapons such as bombs and rockets decrease the thrust-to-weight ratio further however as fuel is expended the ratio becomes higher than it was just after take-off. Either way the Meteor still enjoyed a higher thrust-to-weight ratio than the Ouragon.

GUNS

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The Meteor’s design benefitted from experience gained in the years of World War II in terms of its gun armament. The aircraft was fitted with four Hispano Mk.V cannons, an arrangement that quickly became standard on all British fighters of the period as it offered the best compromise between weight, ammunition capacity and of course hitting power. The weapon could hurl a 20mm shell at 840m/s and achieve a rate of fire of 750rds/min. Mounted close together in the nose meant that the pilot could bring all four guns to bear on a single spot on a target at longer ranges thus increasing their destructive power. The gun did have a somewhat chequered history however and the earlier version of the weapon was prone to jamming. In fact the first two interceptions of V-1 Flying Bombs by earlier versions of the Meteor suffered from jammed guns forcing the pilots to resort to the wingtip method of bringing them down. The Mk.V in the Meteor F.8 had largely resolved the problem but it was still prone to jamming if not properly maintained.

Dassault Ouragon

The Dassault Ouragon was equipped with almost the same gun it being the French equivalent the MS.404. Like the Hispano Mk.V it was a 20mm weapon but featured a longer barrel than the British gun as well as other minor changes. This resulted in a weapon capable of dispensing a round with a velocity of 880m/s with a rate of fire of 700rds/min. This meant that the Ouragon’s guns were marginally harder hitting while the Meteor’s guns could get more rounds on to a target in the same period of time. Like the Meteor the guns were arranged close together in the nose of the aircraft which offered the same advantages.

ADDITIONAL WEAPONS

Gloster Meteor F8 rockets

Both aircraft found themselves quite adept at ground attack when they passed their short primes as fighters. Again, recent war experience played a part in the air-to-ground configurations with the Meteor often adopting the powerful 60lb Rocket Projectile (RP) that had proven so effective against tanks and ships under the wings of wartime Bristol Beaufighters, De Havilland Mosquitoes and of course the Hawker Typhoon. The Meteor could carry up to sixteen of the weapons under its outboard wings or alternatively eight 5-inch HVAR rockets. Another air-to-ground weapon was the traditional unguided bomb and the Meteor could carry two 1,000lb bombs under its wings.

ouragan_france

The Ouragon was designed with the ground attack role more in mind than the Meteor and it shows with the various weaponloads that could be carried on its four underwing pylons. In total the aircraft could carry aloft around 5,000lbs of weaponry, more than twice what the Meteor was carrying. Weapons included up to 16 105mm rockets or two Matra pods containing 18 SNEB 68mm rockets (this weapon’s dimensions prevented other weapons being carried on the other pylons).

CONCLUSION

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In the air-to-air role the Meteor F.8 held a slight speed and altitude advantage over the Ouragon but where the Meteor surpasses the French type is in its more sprightly performance thanks to its greater thrust-to-weight ratio. What this means in combat is that the Meteor could recover any lost energy from a tight turning battle quicker than the Ouragon. Another distinct advantage the Meteor held over the Ouragon was its twin engine arrangement which meant the Meteor could be expected to be able to sustain more damage than the single engined Ouragon. One advantage the Ouragon pilot would enjoy would be that he would be shooting against a bigger target than the Meteor pilot and it would also be somewhat easier to locate the Meteor in the heat of battle.

As always we have to take in to consideration pilot training but from a technical point of view it is safe to say that these aircraft would be closely matched in combat and as long as their pilots played to their respective aircraft’s strengths then both aircraft would give a good account of themselves. In the ground attack role however the Ouragon does hold the edge although again the Meteor’s twin engine arrangement means that it would be less likely to be brought down by small arms fire than the Ouragon.

Defence of the Realm invades YouTube

Defence of the Realm will soon be hitting your screens on YouTube. This morning I activated my YouTube account and began work on my first video. It’s a simple clip show of the pictures I took of Avro Vulcan XM575 at East Midlands Aeropark but it is a start. Once I become more competent with working the editor I will be starting Defence of the Realm’s very own channel with videos and articles.

As I said in the last SITREP ultimately I want to start a defence themed podcast. If you would be interested in taking part please message me below. You will need Skype.

Watch this space.