Sopwith Camel F.1

Sopwith Camel F.1

by Kennedy Hickman

Updated May 02, 2018

The iconic Allied aircraft of World War I (1914-1918), the Sopwith Camel entered service in mid-1917 and helped the reclaim the skies over the Western Front from the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (Imperial German Air Service). An evolution of an earlier Sopwith fighter, the Camel mounted twin .30 cal. Vickers machine guns and was capable of around 113 mph in level flight. A difficult aircraft for novices to fly, its idiosyncrasies made it one of the most maneuverable aircraft on either side in the hands of an experienced pilot. These characteristics helped make it the most lethal Allied fighter of the war. 

Design & Development:

Designed by Herbert Smith, the Sopwith Camel was a follow-on aircraft to the Sopwith Pup. A largely successful aircraft, the Pup had become outclassed by new German fighters, such as the Albatros D.III in early 1917. The result was a period known as “Bloody April” which saw Allied squadrons sustain heavy losses as their Pups, Nieuport 17s, and older aircraft were downed in large numbers by the Germans. Initially known as the “Big Pup” the Camel was initially powered by a 110 hp Clerget 9Z engine and featured a visually heavier fuselage than its predecessor.

This was largely composed of fabric over a wooden frame with plywood panels around the cockpit and an aluminum engine cowling. Structurally, the aircraft featured a straight upper wing with a very pronounced dihedral on the lower wing. The new Camel was the first British fighter to utilize twin .30 cal. Vickers machine guns firing through the propeller. The metal fairing over the guns’ breeches, which was intended to keep the weapons from freezing at higher altitudes, formed a “hump” which led to the aircraft’s name. A nickname, the term “Camel” was never officially adopted by the Royal Flying Corps.


Within in the fuselage, the engine, pilot, guns, and fuel were grouped within the first seven feet of the aircraft. This forward center of gravity, coupled with the significant gyroscopic effect of the rotary engine, made the aircraft difficult to fly particularly for novice aviators. This was a significant change from earlier Sopwith aircraft which had been considered fairly easy to fly. To facilitate the transition to the aircraft, two-seat trainer variants of the Camel were produced.

The Sopwith Camel was known to climb in a left turn and dive in a right turn. Mishandling the aircraft often could lead to a dangerous spin. Also, the aircraft was known to be consistently tail heavy in level flight at low altitudes and required steady forward pressure on the control stick to maintain a steady altitude. While these handling characteristics challenged pilots, they also made the Camel extremely maneuverable and lethal in combat when flown by a skilled pilot such as Canadian ace William George Barker.



General characteristics









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