U.S. Air Service




The Sopwith F.1

Development and Operation

By mid 1916 it was realized that a heavier-armed replacement for the single-seat Sopwith Pup and Sopwith Triplane was soon going to be needed. On December 22, 1916 the Sopwith Experimental Department passed a prototype aircraft powered by the 110 hp Clerget 9Z engine which had been designed by Herbert Smith and modified by Fred S. Sigrist.

The Camel would become the premier Allied fighter aircraft of the war. Its optimal fighting altitude was at about 12,000 ft. and its maneuverability made it competitive with the Fokker Dr.I. On 31 October 1918 there were over 2500 Camels still on RAF charge.

It was of standard construction for the time period with a wire-braced box girder fuselage with rounded top decking and wings of conventional wire-braced and fabric covered wooden structure. What was unique about the aircraft was that it was the first British aircraft armed with twin 0.303-in Vickers machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller arc. Furthermore, its handling characteristics were a distinct departure from previous British aircraft. It had ailerons on both upper and lower mainplanes. The elevators were powerful, and combining the strong torque from the engine along with the fact that the main mass of the pilot, fuel, and the engine were all within a distance of 7 feet made the machine very tricky to fly. Without appropriate rudder the nose would rise in a left-turn and fall in a right-turn. Either way, without rudder a spin would be generated. At full throttle the machine was noticeably tail heavy. Hence it was a demanding aircraft to fly.

Two prototypes were ordered by the British Admiralty. The second prototype, powered by a 130 hp Clerget 9B engine and a 150 B.R. 1 engine was tested at Martlesham Heath in March 1917. First production batch (N6330-N6379) began on 7 May 1917. Production Camels were equipped with either the mechanical Sopwith-Kauper No. 3 Interrupter gear (for the Clerget powered version) or the Constantinesco hydraulic interrupter (for the 110 hp Le Rhône powered version).

Four American Aero Squadrons used the Camel (the 17th, 41st, 148th, and the 185). In addition, the U.S. Navy's only WWI ace, Lt. David S. Ingalls, achieved five victories flying Camels while assigned to the No. 213 Squadron.


Aircraft and Flight Characteristics
(with the 150 hp B.R. I engine)

Weight [lb.]








   Fuel and oil




Maximum Speed (mph)


At 6.500 ft.


    At 10,000 ft.


    At 15,000 ft.




    To 6,500 ft.

5 min. 30 sec.

    To 10,000 ft.

9 min. 50 sec.

    To 15,000 ft.

20 min.

Service Ceiling

18,000 ft.


2 hours


1. Bruce, J.M. Profile Publication No. 9

2. Bruce, J.M. British Aeroplanes, 1914-1918

3. Sturtivant, Ray and Gordon Page, The Camel File

4. Photo from the Smithsonian website

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