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World War One: Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a

The British RAF S.E.5 (Scout Experimental 5) was developed in 1916 by Henry Folland and J. Kenworthy of the Royal Aircraft Factory in Farnborough, who designed the aircraft around the new 150-hp Hispano-Suiza 8a V8 engine.

The first three prototypes flew in November that year, with the first two being lost in crashes due to a weak wing. The third aircraft underwent significant modification, and the type ultimately became known as a very strong machine that could be dived at high speed.

Brooding CamelThe first examples of the aircraft were delivered to the Western Front before the Sopwith Camel. However, despite the fact that it had a better overall performance (than the Camel), problems with the Hispano-Suiza engine meant that there were relatively few S.E.5s were delivered until well into 1918. The introduction of the 200-hp Hispano-Suiza or Wolseley Viper (a high-compression version of the Hispano-Suiza made under license) resolved the engine problems and added nearly 45 km/h to the aircraft's top speed.

The type had a single synchronised .303-in Vickers machine gun firing through the propellor arc (compared to the Camel's two) which was mounted on the left side of the fuselage. It also had a wing-mounted Lewis gun, which enabled the pilot to fire at an enemy aircraft from below. Along with the Camel, the S.E.5a was instrumental in regaining allied air superiority in the summer of 1917 - and maintaining this for the rest of the war.

From BehindThe greatest advantage of the S.E.5a over the Camel was its superior performance at altitude -- this meant that the Allies had an aircraft to counter the threat of the Fokker D.VII when that exceptional German fighter arrived at the front in late 1918.

A total of 5205 S.E.5s were built by six manufacturers (including Austin Motors and Vickers), of which all but 77 were the improved 5a version. Several were converted to be two-seat trainers, and Curtiss in the USA were going to build an additional 1000 aircraft but only one of these was completed before the war ended.


Three S.E.5a's dogfight wth three Fokker Dr.1 triplanes.


R.A.F. S.E.5a 'Wanganui as seen from a chase aircraft.'


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