|RAF S.E.5a (w/Hispano Suiza)
One of the most successful British fighters of WWI, the S.E.5a
was built in 1917 under the direction of the Royal Aircraft Factory's
leading designer, H.P. Folland. The predecessor of the S.E.5a
was the S.E.5 the first attempt to adapt Hispano Suiza's promising
new engine to the British airplane.
The S.E.5 was built in relatively small numbers because the new
engine was too unreliable due to various shortcomings. It caused
numerous problems in service but in spite of that, the Royal Flying
Corps' 56 Squadron gained many impressive successes with the type
and one famous British ace of the time, Albert Ball, considered
the S.E.5 the best of the best.
The appearance of an improved and more powerful 200 h.p. Hispano
Suiza engine allowed designers to revise and develop the design
of the aircraft and release its potential. In comparison with
its predecessor the outline of the edges of the wings was changed
slightly, and the huge glass 'greenhouse' canopy gave way to a
standard windscreen. The nose portion of the fuselage was reshaped
to suit the new radiator. Additionally, a new four blade screw
was fitted to the S.E.5a.
In comparison with other designs of the time, the S.E.5a was not
a masterpiece of elegance, but the outstanding features of the
airplane lay elsewhere. The unusual strength of the construction,
its high speed, reasonable maneuverability and excellent view
from the cockpit very quickly made the S.E.5a a favorite of fighter
pilots. Being on the front line until the last days of the war,
the S.E.5a was a serious opponent for 'Germany's last chance'
- the celebrated Fokker D.VII, and only the famous Fokker Dr.I
surpassed the S.E.5a for combat maneuverability.
The success of the type and operational needs resulted in its
production under license at other plants - Austin Motors, Martinsyde,
Vickers, and Wolseley Motors. More and more squadrons of the Royal
Flying Corps re-equipped with the S.E.5a, and later it became
the principal machine in the sky of the Western Front. The victory
march of the S.E.5a was hindered by one aggravating factor the
Hispano Suiza engines, despite all attempts at improvement, quite
often failed during flight, which led to tragic accidents and
losses due to these particular technical problems.
And on top of that, another severe problem was simple wear and
tear to the engines - to a sufficient degree that France's Military
Air Corps required most of the Hispano Suizas for its own SPAD
fighters, leaving little possibility of satisfying the requirements
Only afterwards, once British engineers had perfected the Hispano
Suiza and initiated its production on the territory of the mother
country, was the problem solved, and the new model S.E.5a joined
another famous fighter, the Sopwith Camel; only then did His Majesty's
Flying Corps acquire an aura of real invincibility.
The most famous aces of the Royal Flying Corps Edward 'Mick' Mannock,
Billy Bishop, Roderick Dallas, James McCudden, Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor
and others - flew the S.E.5a. It was more than just an airplane
in their hands: it was a highly dangerous lethal weapon, which
time after time proved the inevitability of allied victory in
After the end of the war a very small number went to the USA and
Australia. Some S.E.5a's appeared by chance even in Russia. However,
the principal fame of this machine is connected with its heroic
fights in the sky of the Western Front.
- RAF S.E.5a D3540, No.40 Sqn RAF, Captain Gwilym Hugh Lewis,
Lille, France, May 1918.
- RAF S.E.5a D3511 (Vickers-built), No.40 Sqn RAF, Major R S
Dallas, Sqn CO, DSO, DSC, Lille, France, May 1918.
- RAF S.E.5a D5995/1 (Vickers-built), No.143(HD)
Sqn RFC/RAF, Lt. L Lucas, London Air Defence, April/May 1918.
- RAF S.E.5a D'351/ 4(Vickers-built), No.6(Training)
Sqn, Australian Flying Corps, pilot unknown, Minchinhampton,
|Wing area, m2
|Speed max, km/h
|Climb 3000m, min.sec
|Take-off weight, kg
|Time in fly, h
|1x200h.p. Hispano Suiza V8
|1x0,303 Vickers; 1x0,303 Lewis