These aircraft models are currently on display at Jet Age Museum, Staverton, Gloucestershire GL2 9QL courtesy of Mr Robin Kilminster. “Little Willie” was kindly contributed by Ron Brooks.
Founded at Brooklands, Surrey in June 1912, the Sopwith Aviation Company was the brainchild of Thomas Octave Murdoch (later Sir Tommy) Sopwith. When this failed to make the transition to peacetime products in 1920, T.O.M. Sopwith and Australian aviation pioneer Harry Hawker set up H.G. Hawker Engineering, later to become Hawker Aviation, the Hawker Siddeley group of companies and eventually part of BAe Systems. The Gloster Aircraft Company became part of Hawker Siddeley in 1934.
Developed from the pre-War Tabloid and Schneider seaplanes, the Clerget rotary engined Sopwith Baby bomber first flew in September 1915 and was also built by Blackburn Aircraft in Leeds as well as Sopwith at Kingston, Surrey.
First flown on 9 February 1916, the Pup’s use of ailerons rather than wing warping made it an agile fighter with an 80 horsepower Le Rhone rotary engine – in this case coupled to a black propeller – offering power for a good rate of climb. Although outclassing many German fighters of the time, by 1917 the Pup had been relegated to training and experimental duties, such as the first ever landing of an aircraft on a moving ship on 2 August 1917.
The agile “Tripehound” offered a good rate of climb and high ceiling after its introduction to the RNAS in December 1916 but was slower to dive than its German rivals. Despite this, and the inaccessibility of fuel and oil tanks for servicing, the Herbert Smith designed machine inspired the Fokker Dr1 flown by the Red Baron.
Another Herbert Smith design – introduced in June 1917 – the twin Vickers gun fitted Camel remains one of the most famous of all Great War aircraft and is credited with shooting down 1 294 enemy machines – more than any other fighter of the conflict. However, its powerful rotary engine made it a difficult aeroplane to learn to fly.
Completed in September 1915, “Little Willie” – or No 1 Lincoln Machine – was the first prototype tracked fighting vehicle and was designed by William Tritton of William Foster and Company to cross a five foot trench. Its wheeled steering tail was continued on early gun armed production tanks although the American made track unit would be replaced by a rhomboid wrap-around system.