The prototype Camel featured a Clerget 9Z engine of 110 horsepower. First flight was achieved at Brooklands in February of 1917 paving the way for a pre-production batch of F.1/3-designated models. The Camel entered frontline service in June of 1917 and immediately claimed its first air victories against the stunned German aviators unfortunate enough to square off against a capable pilot behind the Camel's controls. The major production model became the Camel F.1 (the formal Sopwith Biplane F.1 designation was largely disregarded).
In configuration, the Camel featured equal-span, staggered bi-plane wings (the lower with some dihedral) featuring only a single pair of parallel support struts. Construction consisted of an underlying structure made up mostly of wood covered in fabric with some light alloy skinning over the forward fuselage near the engine. The pilot sat to the rear and underneath the upper wing element. In fact, all major systems were purposefully positioned in the front 7 feet of the fuselage, this including the main landing gears, engine, wings, armament and pilot. Armament consisted of 2 x 7.7mm Vickers-type machine guns firing through the propeller via an interrupter gear (i.e. synchronized). The designation of "Camel" came from the hump created by the fairing over the breeches of these gun installations. Power of the F.1 model was derived from a Clerget 9B 9-cylinder rotary engine of 130 horsepower providing speeds of 115 miles per hour, a ceiling of over 20,000 feet and a range of 485 kilometers.
In practice, the Camel proved a handful to fly, particularly with novice pilots, so much so that it earned a nasty reputation of killing off the less-than-capable aviators. The powerful gyroscopic effect of the Clerget engine coupled with the forward-positioned center of gravity seemingly forced Camel pilots to work for the aircraft's respect. Conversely, the same torque and forward placement of all major systems improved maneuverability beyond those as showcased by her contemporaries to the point that a Camel pilot could count on a responsive right-hand turn almost at will. The natural torque generated by her engine allowed the pilot to achieve quicker turns by using this force to his advantage in a close-knit dogfight. The aircraft was, however, noted for having a particularly brutal spin effect in response to any stalls no doubt due to this very same torque effect. As production progressed, a series of engines were found aboard Camels and included the Clerget types along with the Bentley BR1, the Gnome Monosoupape and the Le Rhone 9J series.
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