In 1916, the French SPAD aircraft company produced one of the most successful fighters of the First World War, SPAD VIIc1, which established for itself and its well-known ace pilots a supreme place in aviation's hall of fame. On the wave of its success, its designers decided to further improve the aircraft, without changing the basic concept. Thus, in June 1917, the SPAD XIIIc1 appeared - one of history's iconic aircraft, which became a mainstay of the Air Force not only in France but in many other countries, and its operational use continued in the postwar years.
In general, the new fighter resembled its famous predecessor in many ways, but it was larger, the shape of the cowling was changed, and the central cabane struts were modified. The rudder was also restyled, and a different form of windscreen was fitted. The upper and lower wings of early-built aircraft featured characteristic rounded ends.
The first flight of the new type took place on April 4, 1917; the plane was tested by one of the most famous French aces, Rene Dorme. The aircraft demonstrated a speed of 217 km per hour, at a time when speed was considered the main characteristic of a fighter, and this figure was more than satisfactory.
As new fighters, as well as previously successful types, were needed at the Front in large quantities, production was initiated not only at the facilities of SPAD, but also at the plants of Bleriot, Bernard, Kellner, Nieuport and some others. In total, about 17,000 aircraft of this type were ordered, but by the end of the war only about 8,000 had been produced, and all other contracts were canceled immediately after the war.
In addition to the French Air Force, the aircraft was offered to the British Royal Flying Corps, which used its predecessor, but despite the agreements, the supply of these aircraft to Great Britain was significantly delayed, and only a few squadrons of the RFC operated the SPAD XIII.
Another important operator of this aircraft was the newly created US Army Air Service, which at that time had very few aircraft of indigenous design and instead purchased aircraft in large quantities, especially from France. A total of 16 USAAS squadrons were equipped with the SPAD XIII. The fighter was also supplied to the Corpo Aeronautico Militare (the Italian Air Force), and one of them was flown by the top Italian ace Francesco Baracca.
The main problem with the SPAD XIII was the unreliable operation of the new Hispano Suiza 8Ba engine. In addition to an overheating problem, which was overcome, another was added - the vibration of the engine, which interfered with stable flight. It caused production to be suspended from time to time, which negatively affected the image of the aircraft as a whole in comparison with the new developments of other manufacturers, which in the last phase of the war offered more modern, more advanced fighters. Despite this, the SPAD XIII retained its place in the inventories of many countries not only until the end of the war, but also in the early postwar years.