Aeroplane Aviation Archive — Issue 33 The World’s Fastest Aircraft

(Jacob Rumans) #1



egarded by many as the best British
fighter of World War 1, the Royal
Aircraft Factory SE5a was less nimble
than its frontline contemporary, the Sopwith
Camel, but could out-dive and out-climb its
‘rival’, sustain more combat damage and yet
remain intact despite performing high-g
manoeuvres. As the fastest British aircraft
of its time, it soon became a firm favourite
amongst the leading British and Empire
aces of World War 1. Indeed, men such as
James McCudden, Mick Mannock, Anthony
Beauchamp Proctor and George McElroy
would all claim more then 40 aerial victories
with the SE5/5a.
The development of the RAF SE5/5a and the
Sopwith Camel paralleled each other to the
point where the prototypes of each machine
flew within five weeks of each other. Unlike
the squat, light and agile Camel, the SE5 was
rakish, angular and heavy in comparison. Yet
the latter machine’s tractability meant that it

Royal Aircraft Factory SE5/5a

was much easier to fly than the Camel, dived
and climbed faster and could withstand severe
battle damage.
Royal Aircraft Factory engineers John
Kenworthy, Henry P. Folland and Maj Frank
W. Goodden designed the SE5 around the
promising new Hispano-Suiza 8A V8 engine,
the Royal Flying Corps requesting that the
scout be robustly built and capable of being
flown safely by pilots of limited experience.
When the first 21 French-made Hispano-
Suiza 8A engines were delivered to the RFC
on 20 September 1916, two were used to
power the first and second SE5 prototypes,
A4561 and A4562. On 28 November the RAF
received its first example of the new geared
200hp Hispano-Suiza 8B, which it subsequently

installed in the third prototype, A4563, thereby
creating the first SE5a.
Tragically SE5 A4562 broke up during
a test flight on 28 January 1917, killing its
pilot Maj Goodden. Simple modifications
corrected the aeroplane’s structural problems,
however, and the first production SE5, A4845,
cleared its final inspection on 2 March 1917.
The first production batch of SE5s did not
make a promising impression on their pilots,
who complained of poor lateral control – a
shortcoming that was alleviated somewhat,
but never entirely, by shortening the wingspan
and reducing the rake of the wingtips in later
production SE5s and SE5as. Engine reduction
and gun synchronisation problems also
afflicted early SE5s.

Below: For ease of manufacture, the SE5/5a featured a box-girder fuselage made up from ash
longerons and spruce spacers, the whole structure being wire-braced, fabric-covered and surmounted
by curved decking formed by stringers. A headrest fairing was soon fitted to the fuselage decking
immediately aft of the cockpit, although some pilots chose to have this removed in the field.
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