Sopwith 'Triplane'

General Information
Type 'Triplane'
Function Fighter
Year 1916
Crew 1
Type Clerget 9B
Power 130hp
Length 5.74m
Height 3.20m
Wingspan 8.08m
Wing area 21.46m2
Weights and loads
Empty 499kg
Takeoff 708kg
Wing Load (kg/m2) 33
Power load (kg/hp) 5.45
at 0m 185km/h
at 1,500m 188km/h
at 1,981m 182km/h
at 3,048m 173km/h
at 4,572m 158km/h
Turn time ?sec
Landing ?m
Takeoff ?m
Normal 400-450km
Flight endurance 2.75h
Service ceiling 6,248m
1,500m 4min 21sec
3,048m 11min 50sec
4,572m 22min 20sec
Fuel/Oil 81.6kg
Gun type 1*7.7mm Vickers
Position in front of cockpit
Ammo 500rounds
Salvo (kg/sec) 0.094
(31k b/w photo from Windsock Datafile No.22, p.19, by J.M.Bruce). 'Triplane' N5486 on skis in Russia, but still wearing British roundels. After the October Revolution it bore Red Star insignia. Today it is preserved at the Monino Air Force Museum.

The Sopwith 'Triplane' was designed in early 1916 by Sopwith's chief designer Herbert Smith. Its fuselage and tail assembly were structurally similar to that of the Sopwith Pup, but were merged with a new triplane wing arrangement. This led to the first single-seat triplane fighter to be produced and to go into action. The idea was to produce a fighter with the exceptional maneuverability of the Pup, but with much better view from the cockpit. The triplane layout made possible narrow-chord wings with relatively short span, which only marginally impaired the pilot's view and simultaneously had aerodynamic advantages enhancing the aircraft's maneuverability.

The first prototype (which later received the serial N500) began its tests at the end of May 1916. It demonstrated exceptional maneuverability and a phenomenal rate of climb (for its day). So the Admiralty and the War Office immediately placed production contracts for the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) respectively. In fact the RFC did not receive the 'Triplane', for this service exchanged all these aircraft for all of the 120 SPAD S.VII fighters then on order for the RNAS. But one example (N5430) was later transferred to the RFC for test purposes. Total production of the 'Triplane' was only 148 aircraft (including prototypes) from three different contractors. Some sources state 152 machines, but it seems that this figure contains four double-counted aircraft (due to a change of their serial numbers) loaned to the French.

26k color drawing of a 'Triplane' on skis with Red Star insignia from "Sowjetische Jagdflugzeuge" by W. Kopenhagen, also used as background.

Most 'Triplanes' were powered by the 130hp Clerget 9B air-cooled 9-cylinder rotary engine. A few early machines had the 110hp Clerget 9Z and at least one was tested with a 110hp Le Rh˘ne 9J. Two test aircraft were flown with Hispano-Suiza liquid-cooled vee-type engines of 150 and 200hp respectively. Standard armament was one 7.7mm Vickers gun in front of the cockpit, firing synchronized (Scarff-Dybovskij interrupter gear) through the propeller arc. Six aircraft of one of the last production batches were completed with two Vickers guns. Otherwise relatively little changes were made to the 'Triplane' during its production run - one of the most significant being the adoption of a shorter-span tailplane.

In service with the RNAS the 'Triplane' proved highly successful, ending the predominance of the German Albatros fighters. Indeed such were its exploits that this inspired a real triplane 'boom' among the aircraft designers in Germany and Austria-Hungary, finally leading to the famous Fokker Dr.I. Besides the RNAS, where the type served until March 1918, the only other service using the 'Triplane' in numbers was the French Navy which received about 17-18 aircraft of this type (and had at least seven of them still on strength in January 1918). It seems that with one exception (N5431 in the Aegean) all 'Triplanes' were used on the Western Front. One example was sent to the USA for an exhibition in December 1917.

48k b/w photo of the 'Triplane' at the Monino collection from "Sowjetische Jagdflugzeuge" by W. Kopenhagen.

There was only few examples of the 'Triplane' which was delivered to Russia. Aircraft N5486 is known to have been dispatched from the RNAS depot at White City to Russia on May 4, 1917. It is known to have been used by the Imperial Russian Air Service and was still in use in the winter of 1917/ 1918, fitted with skis. Another source states that in 1919 an Aircraft Group specially established to combat the White Guards Cavalry Corps of Mamontov was led by Yu.A.Bratolubov, flying a Sopwith 'Triplane' until the early 1920s. It is most likely that this was the same aircraft (which is on exhibition today at the Air Force Museum at Monino). The same source also states that there was more than one 'Triplane' which reached Russia (delivered in May 1917 or captured from the Allied Forces intervening in Russia after the Revolution).

Russian sources mention about 'few' Sopwith fighters. One small photo depicts 'Triplane' with factory number 5492 and drawing of 5493, light digits on dark background.



  • "Sowjetische Jagdflugzeuge" by W.Kopenhagen; pp.9, 73, 92-93 (in German)
  • "Die Flugzeuge des Ersten Weltkrieges 1914-1918" ("Aircraft of WWI 1914-1918") by K.Kens and H.MŘller; pp.59-60 (in German)
  • "Technik und Einsatz der Kampfflugzeuge vom 1. Weltkrieg bis heute" ("Technology and Use of Combat Aircraft from WWI until Today") by Bill Gunston; p.201 (in German)
  • "Aero" Magazine, Vol.143; pp.3997-3998 (in German)
  • "Jagdflugzeuge der Welt" ("The Complete Book of Fighters") by W. Green and G.Swanborough; p.534 (German edition)
  • Profile Publications No.73 "The Sopwith Triplane" by J.M.Bruce
  • Windsock Datafile No.22 "Sopwith Triplane" by J.M.Bruce
  • Squadron Signal Publications, Aircraft No. 110 "Sopwith Fighters in Action" by P.Cooksley; pp.23-29
  • "Aircraft Archive - Aircraft of WWI", Vol.1; pp.36-38 (from Argus Books)
  • "British Military Aircraft Serials 1878-1987" by B.Robertson
  • 'Fighter for the Aces' MK 5-1982 by V.Kondratiev, pp.29-32
  • "History of aircraft construction in the USSR", Vol.1 p.314
  • Links
  • Sopwith 'Triplane' at The Aerodrome
  • Short description of the Sopwith 'Triplane'
  • More extensive description of the Sopwith 'Triplane'
  • Eduard's 1/48th kit with skis and Russian markings (in German)
  • Sopwith 'Triplane' at Watson
  • Two more pictures of the 'Triplane' at Monino: [1]; [2]
  • Sopwith Triplane at Aviation A to Z
  • the Virtual Aircraft Museum
  • ...and at Emmanuel Gustin
  • Red Sopwith-Triplane for FSim
  • Some pictures...
  • Triplane
  • Fighters of Russia (1914-1924)
  • Yu.Bratolubov
  • Aviation in WWI (Russian)

  • Created for RAM December 10, 2000
    by Thomas Heinz
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