Quick Facts

Sopwith F.1 Camel

Era: Early Flight/WWI

On loan from the Beatty Family 

Located in the Flight Innovation Center Main Exhibit Hall

The British built the Sopwith F.1 Camel in response to the need for a twin-gunned fighter to compete with the era’s newer, heavily armed German aircraft. Camels began to arrive on the Western Front in May 1917. Overall, Sopwith Aviation Company and seven sub-contractors built 5,695 Camels. By the end of the war, Camels shot down 1,543 enemy aircraft, making it the most successful Allied fighter of WWI. 

The Air Zoo’s Sopwith Camel 

Acquired in 1999 and painted in the livery of Canada’s Major William ‘Billy’ Barker of the Royal Flying Corps, our Sopwith F.1 Camel is a full-size “hybrid reproduction” built by Gordon Beatty and the Air Zoo’s Restoration Center. Constructed using period blueprints, the aircraft’s authentic WWI parts include the Clerget 9B engine, Vickers Machine guns, and several instruments. Its framework is left bare to reveal its precision artistry.  

The history

Two Guns 
The need for two guns drove the development of the Camel. Speed was important, too. But Camel design stems from the successful Sopwith Pup and Triplane. Both slower, single gun aircraft, but considered good aircraft for their time. From summer through fall of 1916, Germany built twin machine gun aircraft. To simply add a gun to a Pup, for instance, would have rendered the plane underpowered. Adding a gun and using a larger displacement engine to carry that gun contributed to weight issues. For this reason, Camels were slow, even when they first appeared on the scene. The Clerget 9B-powered Camel offered a top speed of 112 mph, which was not attractive by May of 1917. By late summer and fall of 1918, the Camel’s lack of speed led the aircraft to get shot down in greater numbers by faster German aircraft—most notably, the Fokker DVII.  

More Competitors 
Great Britain’s Sopwith Camel had several bi-winged fighter competitors during WWI. The Albatross D.II debuted from the German manufacturer, Albatros Flugzeugwerke, in 1916 and flew at 112 mph. The Albatross D.III later appeared in December 1916 with a top speed of 117 mph, which was faster than the Sopwith Camel produced five months later in 1917. The Albatross models were the enemy’s aircraft and were equipped with two guns as well. Britain’s Royal Aircraft Factory fighter model SE5/SE5a, proved to be much faster and debuted two months prior to the release of the Camel. However, engine issues caused a slow SE5/SE5a production rollout. The French built, SPAD VII, which entered service in the fall of 1916, while faster than a Sopwith Camel was equipped with only one gun. Therefore, the Sopwith Camels remained desirable during the spring of 1917. 

While the Camel’s engine did impart some gyroscopic effect (more so on takeoff and landings), it is often misunderstood, and its capabilities exaggerated. Camels were inherently unstable in flight. This was common for many rotary-powered WWI pursuit planes. The Fokker DR.1 Triplane is somewhat worse than a Camel. But importantly, it could be argued that it was the pilot who made all the difference. Pilots new and inexperienced with an aircraft like a Camel likely found the aircraft challenging to fly. "Woe to the pilot,” so the saying goes, “who didn't give it a healthy measure of respect!" Many Camel pilots loved how the aircraft handled.  

William “Billy” Barker 

In December 1914, at age 20, William ‘Billy” George Barker enlisted in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles.  After fighting in the trenches, he joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Initially serving as an observer, he earned his pilot’s certificate in January 1917. Flying a single Sopwith Camel, #B6313, he shot down 46 enemy aircraft in 12 months: A remarkable feat!  

On October 27, 1918, while flying a Sopwith Snipe, he shot down four more aircraft, but crash landed behind British lines and was seriously wounded.  

Check out more Launchpad to Learning videos