Sopwith 2b2 Rhino

 

Few aircraft companies in Britain could claim to embrace the triplane arrangement as enthusiastically as Sopwith. While it would be building legendary biplane fighters such as the great Sopwith Camel that the company would be remembered for, it had enjoyed some moderate success with its aptly named Sopwith Triplane fighter which served with the Royal Naval Air Service’s “Black Flight”. Within three months of entering combat the flight had downed 87 German aircraft and the performance of the Triplane was such that it sparked off 1917’s triplane craze in Germany that ultimately led to the famed Fokker Dr.I.

Sopwith Triplane

The Sopwith Triplane didn’t catch on as well as hoped with British forces however and only 147 airframes were built, a comparatively small number for the time. Neither did it attract the hoped-for foreign interest although French, Greek and even Russian forces trialled the aircraft; in the latter case at least one example made its way in to the ranks of the embryonic Red Air Force post-revolution.

While Sopwith would primarily focus on biplanes, they continued to push for research in to triplanes to meet Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service requirements. In 1916, after the RFC issued a requirement for a long-range escort fighter and airship-destroyer, the company began work on another relatively large triplane in response. The resulting aircraft, the rather mechanically-named Sopwith Long Range Tractor Triplane (LRTTr), was a three-bay, narrow chord wing design that featured a streamlined nacelle in the middle of the top wing for a gunner to be positioned. The Sopwith LRTTr was an extremely clumsy aircraft in the sky and by the time of its first flight was already rendered obsolete by the introduction of more capable biplane designs featuring synchronised machine guns that negated the need for the upper wing nacelle.

Sopwith Long Range Tractor Triplane LRTTr

Only the prototype Sopwith LRTTr (right) was built but Sopwith were not dissuaded by this lack of success. On the contrary, they were still so enamoured with the triplane layout that they actually began drawing up a new triplane without there being an actual requirement having been issued by the RFC or RNAS. This time however the aircraft was to be wholly different beast being tailored for the bombing role rather than as a fighter. Experience gained on their previous efforts were put to good use in this new design and the aircraft featured only a single bay within its triplane wings which gave the aircraft a more advanced look to it.

It was intended for the aircraft to carry its offensive armament internally in an effort to streamline the design and so the fuselage was deepened to feature a small bomb bay under the pilot’s seat. It was intended that the aircraft would be armed with 450lbs of bombs that would be first fitted on to a self-contained pack which would then be loaded in to the aircraft. The pilot would be given a forward-firing .303 Vickers machine gun synchronised with the propeller while a defensive gunner had a .303 Lewis machine gun in the rear cockpit.

Sopwith approached the British authorities with their new proposal but were met with opposition since they were working on an aircraft that hadn’t been requested. Nevertheless, the design sufficiently impressed them to grant Sopwith a license to build two prototypes for testing as a private venture. There was in fact reason for Sopwith to be optimistic. After German Gotha bombers began attacking London, the British War Office recommended doubling the size of the RFC with the great majority of new squadrons being equipped with bombers. Airco’s DH.9 looked set to swallow up most of the orders but if Sopwith could prove their new aircraft superior then they might be able to tender it as a replacement in the following year.

Construction of the prototypes began in mid-1917 and the first Sopwith 2B2 Rhino was completed in October before being test flown from Brooklands. Driving the Rhino’s two-bladed propeller was a 230hp Beardmore Halford Pullinger in-line, water-cooled engine; an aeroengine that was widely available at the time and that had powered the prototype DH.9. The engine was mounted ahead and above of the weapon bay with the fuselage curving up toward it the look of which helped inspire the Rhino name. Unfortunately, this engine and its installation would lead to criticism from observers since it was proving unsatisfactory in the DH.9 with poor performance at altitude while its position on the Rhino made the aircraft very nose heavy making it something of a handful to land safely.

Sopwith 2b2 Rhino bomber

The first prototype (above) was nevertheless submitted for official testing in February 1918 which was undertaken at Martlesham Heath. It was joined by the second prototype the following month which was nearly identical except that the simple pillar mounting for the rear gunner was replaced by a more modern scarff ring. Unfortunately, the aircraft proved disappointing. Compared to the similarly powered DH.9, the Rhino was 10mph slower and had a significantly lower rate of climb both of which was of great concern to the RFC who were already unhappy with the speed of the early DH.9s they were receiving. Official figures showed that the Rhino had less endurance than the DH.9 and had a marginally smaller bombload.

Sopwith 2b2 Rhino bomber prototype martlesham heathSopwith knew any effort to develop the design would be fruitless since 1917’s triplane craze which it had largely helped create was now well and truly over. While it was true that triplanes had the advantage of being able to use shorter span wings than an equivalent biplane which made them smaller targets in the air than an equivalent DH.9, the trade-off however was that they were often heavier than their biplane counterparts and they 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 leaving triplanes behind. Sopwith would continue to dabble in triplane designs up until the end with their last aircraft, the Sopwith Snark, being developed in both biplane and triplane forms.

The two Rhino prototypes would be returned to Sopwith where they would have a short career testing new propeller designs before they were disposed of to join the list of British aviation oddities of World War I.

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Gloster Goral

Born in war, the immediate post-war period was both a time of optimism and frustration for the new born Royal Air Force. On the one hand, military aviation had been firmly established as an indispensable tool of war but the concept of an air arm independent of both army and navy was seen as an unnecessary expense in peacetime. Coupled with the tightening of the national purse, it meant that after 1918 the RAF had to fight for every penny from the government and make the most of everything they had not only keep the service viable but alive.

Airco DH.9AThroughout 1918, numerous companies were developing new and more advanced aircraft ready for the front in 1919 but the armistice on November 11th 1918 saw many of these projects curtailed. The RAF were thus left to operate the best picks of their wartime inventory from 1918 among them of which was the Airco DH.9A. The DH.9A was an excellent light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft and when its performance is compared to the Avro 504s and Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2s that the Royal Flying Corps went to war with in 1914 it becomes strikingly clear how quickly military aviation advanced in just four years of fighting.

Peace in Europe however did not translate in to world peace and the RAF went back to war almost immediately supporting the anti-Bolshevik “White” Russians in the Russian Civil War. The RAF also flew intensive operations policing the British Empire which now included former Ottoman Empire territories that were resentful of their new British masters. The DH.9A proved adept in these theatres being rugged and reliable but over time it became clear that they needed replacing and in the mid-1920s the RAF began to seriously look at its options. Under Air Specification 26/27, the RAF told Britain’s aircraft manufacturers that in order to reduce costs the winning design would have to make the maximum use of DH.9A parts that were readily available. Emphasis would also have to be placed on suitability for policing the Empire with all the harsh and primitive operational environments that entailed. With the relative drying up of government orders in the 1920s, the aircraft manufacturers were quick to respond to the specification. Eight companies drew up plans for an aircraft to meet the RAF’s requirements including Bristol, de Havilland, Fairey Aviation, Gloster, Vickers and Westland.

The Gloster submission was headed up by two well respected aircraft designers namely Captain S. J. Waters who had previously worked for Fairey and H. P. Folland who had worked for the Sopwith company during the war. The resulting design was essentially the mating of a new oval-shaped, all-metal frame, fabric-covered fuselage with the wings from a DH.9A. Careful consideration was given to the need to make repairs in the field and so the aircraft was designed to allow key metal components to be replaced with wooden ones should the need arise. In theory, the aircraft could have been manufactured with an all-wooden frame and this was offered as an option to potential export customers. The fuselage was essentially built in three whole main sections that could be quickly separated if the aircraft needed to be transported by sea or rail and then reassembled relatively quickly. With humidity being a constant problem in parts of the Empire such as India a great deal of rust proofing was incorporated in to the frame.

Gloster Goral J8673 Bristol Jupiter

The aircraft had a crew of two with the pilot sat under the wing trailing edge with a cutout above his head for vertical visibility. The gunner/observer sat behind him in a position raised several inches higher and had a single 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis machine gun mounted on a ring to provide defensive firepower and to complement the pilot’s own 0.303 Vickers machine that was synchronised to fire through the propeller arc. The aircraft had provision for carrying a variety of light bomb configurations up to 460lbs total.

The Air Ministry specification had originally highlighted the Napier Lion 12-cylinder ‘broad arrow’ W12 engine as the preferred choice to power the winning design because it was readily available. Developed for military purposes in 1917, it was the most powerful Allied aeroengine when it entered service and had seen considerable use in civilian and racing circles. However, Gloster defied this requirement and went with the newer and more advanced Bristol Jupiter series of radial engines. They had briefly considered the even more complex Siddeley Jaguar 14-cylinder, two-row radial engine but this was seen as too risky to propose to the conservative RAF. The Jupiter was a nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled radial engine that despite having a lengthy development period that even saw its original manufacturer, Cosmos Engineering, go bankrupt had developed in to a fine powerplant that was seeing increasing use in both military and civilian aircraft. Gloster was not alone in this choice with Bristol themselves and more notably Westland selecting this engine for their own similar aircraft.

As construction of the first prototype was nearing completion it was fitted with the Jupiter VIA which developed 425hp and drove a two-bladed propeller 12ft in diameter. The prototype was given the serial J-8673 and was christened the Goral after a type of mountain goat found in northern India which reflected its planned use to police the Empire. The prototype took to the air for the first time on February 8th 1927 and once it was proven airworthy it was handed over to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Martlesham Heath for evaluation. Over the coming months, it was joined by other contenders for Air Specification 26/27 including Westland’s design which had been christened the Wapiti. The prototype was returned to Gloster at least twice to have the design tweaked and the engine replaced with the more powerful Jupiter VIIIF that churned out 480hp but it was to no avail and the Wapiti was declared the winner.

Gloster Goral J8673 Bristol Jupiter A&AEE

Compared to the Wapiti the Goral was faster, had a greater service ceiling and a longer range while the Wapiti had a marginally higher bomb load. However, where the Wapiti won was that it shared a much higher degree of commonality with the DH.9A which was one of the key points of the Air Ministry’s specification in the first place. Westland had a distinct advantage over the competition in that they had produced DH.9As under license and were far more familiar with it. In October 1927, the Air Ministry placed an initial order for 25 Wapitis confirming that the Goral had no future with the RAF but Gloster kept the aircraft on the books hoping to attract foreign interest.

Despite some passing enquiries, nothing really materialised until 1931 when an Argentinian purchasing commission which had set up an office in Brussels sent a request for information on the aircraft to Gloster. The commission confirmed their interest but expressed concerns that the aircraft was unsafe and believed this was why the Air Ministry had rejected it. The Air Ministry responded by sending the Argentinians a detailed letter outlining that the aircraft was not only safe but well suited to the Argentinian requirements. Unfortunately, the Argentinians didn’t resply to the letter and a short while later they placed an order with France for the Breguet Br.19; an aircraft of similar performance and configuration.

Thus the Goral was lost to history.

SPECIFICATION

Gloster Goral

  • Role: Two seat light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft
  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 31ft 6in (9.4m)
  • Wingspan: 46ft 7in (14.19m)
  • Height: 11ft 4in (3.3m)
  • Empty weight: 2,796lbs (1,268kg)
  • Gross weight: 4,441lbs (2,014 kg)
  • Powerplant(s):
    (i) 1 × Bristol Jupiter VIA 9-cylinder radial (425hp)
    (ii) 1 x Bristol Jupiter VIIIF 9-cylinder radial (480hp)
  • Maximum speed: at 5,000ft (1,524 m) 136mph (218km/h)
  • Maximum Range: 750 miles (1,207 km)
  • Service ceiling: 21,500ft (6,552m)
  • Armament:
    1× synchronised forward firing 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun
    1× 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun mounted on ring in gunner’s cockpit
    Up to 460lbs of bombs

Typhoon a step closer to replacing Tornado GR.4 as RAF’s primary strike platform

royal-air-force-raf-typhoon-fgr-4-eurofighter-panavia-tornado-gr-4British Aerospace (BAE) and Eurofighter have announced that the next phase of upgrades and enhancements to the RAF’s fleet of Typhoons has entered the operational evaluation stage. The improvements are aimed at allowing the Typhoon fleet to adopt not only the full range of strike and reconnaissance capabilities the Tornado GR.4 is capable of but also improve upon them. The enhancements will also see the initial integration of the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air to Air missile (BVRAAM) and the Storm Shadow stand-off Air to Surface weapon.

Operating under the guise of Project Centurion, the MoD and the RAF are confident that the Typhoon will be ready to fully replace the venerable Tornado GR.4 by 2018. The Eurofighter consortium issued a press release earlier this week outlining the next phase of the project.

Phase 1 Enhancements Further Work (P1Eb FW) is an evolution of the current Tranche 2 Typhoon aircraft in service with the UK. The P1Eb standard Typhoons entered service last year.

P1Eb FW is the first part of the UK’s Project CENTURION, the package of enhancements which aims to deliver a seamless transition of capability from Tornado to Typhoon by the end of 2018.

The upgrades will bring numerous new capabilities, including additional Human-Machine Interface technologies and additions to the aircraft’s Air to Surface targeting capability.

P1Eb FW has successfully undergone trial installation and Operational Evaluation with 41 Squadron, the Royal Air Force’s Test and Evaluation Squadron at RAF Coningsby, is now underway.

The Panavia Tornado has performed the all-weather day/night interdiction role for the RAF admirably since its introduction in its original GR.1 form in the early 1980s. Like the Eurofighter Typhoon, the aircraft was built by a multi-national consortium established in the 1970s (its origins can be traced back to the aborted Anglo-French Variable Geometry aircraft project in the early 1960s). The Typhoon replaced the Air Defence Variant (ADV) of the Tornado in RAF service in 2011 and will fly alongside the RAF’s Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs once the Tornado GR.4 is withdrawn.

Sopwith Camel B7270 at Brooklands Museum

A collection of pictures of Sopwith F.1 Camel B7270 (G-BFCZ) on display at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey.

All photos were taken on April 5th 2016
Photos: Tony Wilkins


 

This replica aircraft is representative of Sopwith Camel B7270 of No.209 Squadron, RAF, the machine which Captain Roy Brown flew when he was officially credited with downing Baron Manfred von Richthofen known more famously as the “Red Baron”. These days however it is generally accepted that Richtofen was killed by ground fire. The aircraft was built in 1977 and carried the civil registry G-BFCZ during its flying life. The museum occasionally ground runs the aircraft which is fitted with a Clerget rotary engine.

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If you have photographs or articles you wish to contribute to Defence of the Realm than you can email them to defencerealmyt@gmail.com. If successful you will of course be given full credit for your contribution and can even promote your own website/blog/social media account.

NEWS: Army and Royal Navy training squadrons to temporarily relocate to RAF Cranwell

Grob Tutor Cranwell

Grob Tutor trainer over RAF Cranwell (raf.mod.uk)

No.674 Squadron Army Air Corps and No.703 Naval Air Squadron both of which provide elementary flying training to the pilots of the British Army and Royal Navy respectively at Royal Air Force Barkston Heath have temporarily relocated to RAF College Cranwell. The two squadrons which utilise the Grob Tutor 115E aircraft are undertaking the relocation while the facilities at RAF Barkston Heath are renovated by civilian contractors. Both services claim that the temporary relocation of the two squadrons will not impact on their training programs.

The work being carried out at RAF Barkston Heath is to make the site ready for the new Military Flying Training System which is set to be operational there by 2017. The new training system will provide elementary flying training to all three services with the new Grob 120TP aircraft. Elementary flight training teaches the very basics of powered flight to prospective military pilots and must be carried out even by those earmarked to fly helicopters. Typically the current training syllabus allows for around 60 flying hours on the Grob Tutor before the trainee proceeds to whichever branch of military flying their career is heading – fast jet, multi-engine or rotary (helicopters).

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

Gloster Gamecock J7904 at the Jet Age Museum

The Gloster Gamecock first flew in 1925 and was the RAF’s last wooden fighter. No complete Gamecock survives but the Jet Age Museum’s reproduction Gamecock I is nearing completion. Work has been carried out on the reproduction at the Tithe Barn Centre in Brockworth, not far from the site of the former Gloster Aircraft Company’s factory-airfield. Rear fuselage sections of two Finnish-built Gamecocks survive in museums in Finland, but apart from a handful of components that is all.

A few compromises have been made – the rigging wires are circular rather than streamline section due to cost, and plywood is used instead of asbestos for the firewall – but otherwise it is pretty much spot on. The engine is on loan from the RAF Museum and was reconditioned by Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust. The propeller is original, as are one interplane strut and two inter-aileron struts, one of them restored after it had been sharpened as a fence post.

The Gamecock reproduction is being finished as J7904 of 43 Squadron as flown by the squadron commander, complete with black and white chequers on the rear fuselage spine.

History: The Jet Age Museum
Photos: Tony Wilkins