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Sopwith F.1 Camel

World War One Pilot Killer

The Sopwith Camel fighter was one of the deadliest aircraft of World War One -- for both the British pilots flying the type, and for the German adversaries that faced the Camel in combat.

This replica Sopwith Camel is painted in the colours of New Zealand-born pilot, Capt Clive Collett. Credited with being the first ace to achieve a victory while flying a Camel, Collett went on to achieve a score of 12 downed enemy aircraft before he was killed in Scotland during 1917 while test flying a captured German aircraft.  Photo: © Alex Mitchell, Historical Aviation Film Unit

An agile and highly maneuverable aircraft, this type accounted for more aerial victories than any other Allied aircraft during World War One. A total of almost 1300 enemy aircraft were downed by Camels, compared with the 413 pilots who died in combat while flying the type. Unfortunately, the Camel also had a tendency to kill inexperienced pilots, and a further 385 were killed in non-combat related incidents while flying the type. Arther Cobby, an Australian who flew Camels with the Australian Flying Corps, and achieved a score of 29 victories while flying the type, had this to say:

"A great number of trainee pilots had been killed learning to fly this machine, as its tricks took some learning, although they were simple to overcome. Owing to its very small wingspan, its purposely unstable characteristics, and the gyroscopic effect of a rotating engine, it flipped into a spin very easily at low speeds. Consequently, in landing and taking off, a tremendous number of fatal accidents occurred, and a general feeling of dislike for the machine was prevalent. It really had people frightened."

This video shows the Sopwith Camel in flight at low level, and then performing an impressive side-slip landing.

The Camel first entered service on the Western Front in June 1917, and by February 1918 a total of thirteen Royal Flying Corps squadrons were equipped with the type. The agility of the aircraft in combat (due in part to the torque produced by its rotary engine) meant that many RFC aircrew believed that the type would offer its operaters one of three crosses:

"... a wooden cross, the Red Cross, or a Victoria Cross..."

Only a handful of original Sopwith Camels now remain in existence, though there are a number of replicas that have been built over the past several decades.

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