Scout / Bomber Floatplane Aircraft
The Sopwith Baby was born of the Sopwith Schneider design and saw service in the early years of World War 1.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Sopwith Aviation was founded in 1912 by Thomas Sopwith (1888-1989) at Kingston upon Thames in London. At its peak, it employed 5,000 persons which saw it through to the end of World War 1 (1914-1918). By this time, the Sopwith name was a well-known and established brand, representing such products as the famous Sopwith Camel, the One-and-One-Half-Strutter, Snipe and Dolphin. Prior to the war, the concern developed several biplanes, seaplanes and racing planes including the award-winning 1914 "Schneider Racer" (based on the Tabloid of 1913). On June 28th, 1914, Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and plunged the world into war due to long-held alliances preceding the conflict. Austria-Hungary committed to war against Serbia, forcing the Russian Empire to mobilize. Germany then invaded Belgium which prompted Britain and France to enter. Within time, Europe was a bloodbath of trench warfare with naval and air battles contributing to the tens of thousands of casualties. As many empires still maintained colonies worldwide, the war quickly included the globe and many people groups.
With Britain already committed to war, Sopwith Aviation developed a single-seat biplane floatplane which achieved first flight in September of 1915. The type was then adopted by the Royal Naval Air Service, the air arm of the mighty British fleet. Floatplanes held tremendous value in this period, able to provide over-the-horizon reconnoitering while presenting higher endurance than conventional land-based mounts. Some were launched from warships and recovered by cranes, their floats allowed for at-sea landings (and take-offs). Such aircraft could therefore be used in all sorts of maritime duties including scouting, assault and bombing. The Baby were fielded in all of these manners before her operational service life was to end.
The Baby actually held its origins in the Sopwith Schneider (itself born of the Tabloid). As such, it was a racing aircraft at heart with strong performance specifications and good handling qualities. Of the Tabloid line, 42 were the original model and 136 became Schneider variants. It proved common for the war to feature aircraft that had been born in peacetime and for competition purposes, ultimately pressed into military service where every piece of war-making instrument could be utilized to their full effect. While the Schneider racing version was originally a two-seat mount, the Baby was reduced to a crew of one. Ironically, the Royal Navy held little interest in the racing design prior to the war and adopted the type only when the war situation dictated requirements (much to the benefit of Sopwith).
The Royal Navy ordered a production batch in January if 1915 and these appeared little changed from the competition types. The fuselage was conventional with slab sides, a front-mounted engine in puller configuration and a single vertical tail fin. Parallel struts were used to join an upper and lower wing section (creating its biplane appearance) and provide the proper handling. Cabling was used for both reinforcement and control of the various wing surfaces. The single-bay wings were set well-ahead in the design with the open-air cockpit under the upper wing assembly. The engine powered a two-bladed wooden propeller. Horizontal planes were installed at the tail in the usual way. As a floatplane, the Baby was given an undercarriage consisting of two large main floats and a third, smaller, float under the empennage.
The Sopwith Baby was put to good use in The Great War, charged with interception of German Zeppelin airships intending to bomb targets in Britain. Additionally, the type was fielded as an anti-ship measure and general scout, appropriately armed with 2 x 65lb conventional drop bombs to complement its single .303 Lewis machine gun - mainly added as improvised armament early on. Power was served through 1 x Clerget rotary engine developing 110 horsepower and allowing the aircraft to reach speeds of 100 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 10,000 at a rate of climb of 285 feet per minute. Endurance time was approximately two hours.
With the war expanding and eventually requiring all manner of products, production of the Baby was equally expanded to include facilities operated by Blackburn Aircraft. Fairey Aviation Company (Hamble Works) and Parnall also contributed a Baby offshoot known as the Fairey Hamble Baby which began appearing in 1917 with the Royal Air Force and Navy. Local license production was also granted to Italy, who had ultimately joined on the side of the Allies, and Babys were "born" at the Ansaldo plant in Turin.
In all, 286 of the type would be produced by the various manufacturers - Sopwith managed 100 of this total alone. The Sopwith Baby eventually stocked the inventories of Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States (Navy). The Royal Air Force also stocked the type and this across eight individual squadrons (Nos 219, 229, 246, 248, 249, 263, 269 and 270).
The Sopwith concern eventually struggled in the post-war years as their civil market entries could not compete with the glut of wartime aircraft being offered for public flying. Sopwith attempted to remain relevant and purchased ABC Motors though this endeavor failed. The Sopwith firm, and name, eventually ended in 1920 as its doors closed for the last time. Its assets were then liquidated and the Sopwith name fell to history. Thomas Sopwith then joined with Harry Hawker and others to form the new H.G. Hawker Engineering company which preceded Hawker Aircraft. Mr. Sopwith then lived until January 27th, 1989.