Sopwith Rhino Prototype Triplane Bomber
Developmental problems aside, the Sopwith Rhino Triplane Bomber did not impress UK officials enough to warrant serial production by the end of World War 1.
Entry last updated on 5/3/2016; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
Lost in the discussions concerning Sopwith aircraft of World War 1 was the Sopwith "Rhino", an interesting triplane bomber given life in 1917. World War 1 had raged since the summer of 1914 and its end was consistently in doubt. The Sopwith Aviation Company had made a household name for itself with its earlier Sopwith Triplane of 1916 followed by its war-winning Sopwith Camel of 1917. With these and several other designs in tow, the firm concentrated on bringing about the Rhino as a private venture beginning in the middle of 1917. The design intended to successfully mate a triplane wing arrangement to a streamlined airframe to present a capable two-seat, single-engine bomber. Triplane wings had generally fallen out of favor by this time but it offered exceptional lift and maneuverability qualities at the expense of drag.
Outwardly, the fuselage of the Rhino was given a unique fuselage shape with its rather deep side profile. A most conventional design, the Rhino fitted a single powerplant at the forward end of the fuselage with a traditional tail unit at the rear. The engine powered a two-bladed propeller assembly and was housed in a metal compartment. The fuselage tapered at the rear in the usual way and sported slap sides. The main wing section consisted of three planes - a central plane running through the fuselage, an upper wing assembly running over the fuselage and a lower wing assembly across the fuselage belly. The undercarriage was fixed in place and showcased a two-wheeled, strutted assembly with a simplistic tail skid at the rear. The aircraft was crewed by two personnel in separate, open-air cockpits - the pilot in front and his observer/gunner at in the rear. Power was served through a Beardmore Halford Pullinger (BHP) 6-cylinder, water-cooled inline piston engine outputting at 230 horsepower. This supplied the mount with a listed maximum speed of 103 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 12,000 feet. Endurance was listed at 3.75 hours.
For its designated bomber role, the Rhino could carry up to 450lbs of ordnance in an internal bomb bay. Unique to the design was that the ordnance was preloaded into an awaiting "pack" and then that pack was subsequently loaded up into the aircraft. The operation was intended to allow for quick resupply of bomb stores as required by the stresses of war. To counter the threat of enemy aircraft, the pilot managed a fixed, forward-firing 7.7mm Vickers machine gun over the engine cowling. This weapon was synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades. The rear gunner defended the critical "six" of the aircraft by managing a single 7.7mm Lewis machine gun on a flexible mounting.
Since the Rhino was never developed to any formal British military requirement, its very existence and subsequent future were always in doubt. An initial prototype was completed and flown in October of 1917. While generally a capable aircraft, the prototype exhibited persistent engine overheating issues and temperamental handling, the latter due to a pronounced "nose-heavy" arrangement. A second prototype followed though this only incorporated subtle changes to the rear cockpit and testing continuing into 1918. Doomed by its pedestrian performance showing, engine issues and general lack of interest from British authorities, the type was given up for good. The Rhino would, therefore, fall into military aviation obscurity in only its two completed prototype forms. Sopwith continued utilizing these airframes for various testing programs thereafter but nothing more came of the Rhino.