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Sopwith Tabloid

United Kingdom (1914)

Detailing the development and operational history of the Sopwith Tabloid Racing Biplane-Seaplane / Military Scout / Light Bomber Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 12/6/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©

  Sopwith Tabloid  
Picture of Sopwith Tabloid Racing Biplane-Seaplane / Military Scout / Light Bomber Aircraft

The Sopwith Tabloid began the Sopwith branding of aircraft that found huge success in World War 1.

Long before the Sopwith name became associated with the war-winning Sopwith "Camel" biplane fighter of World War 1 (1914-1918), the company entered the aero-business by developing racing aircraft. This was embodied by the Sopwith "Tabloid", an early biplane-winged form which first-flew in November of 1913 and was formally introduced in 1914. Though not intended as a combat warplane from the outset, it type was impressive enough by 1914-standard that it was pressed into such service when Britain declared war on the German Empire.

As designed, the aircraft seated its crew of two in a side-by-side, open-air cockpit. The cockpit was located behind the upper wing assembly which ran over the lower span. These elements were braced by the usual combination of cabling and parallel struts (warping was used for lateral controlling). The engine was fitted to the forward section of the aircraft in the usual way and nearly all of the powerplant was covered over in a metal, aerodynamically-refined cowl. The fuselage was given a slab-sided appearance consistent with aircraft of the period and the undercarriage was fixed during flight (a floatplane/seaplane derivative - the "Schneider" racer - sported large pontoons under center mass and carried a smaller pontoon under the tail). The aircraft utilized basic wood-and-canvas construction though some aluminum was present near the engine section.

In its original form, the Tabloid flew with a French Gnome "Lambda" rotary-piston engine of 80 horsepower output turning a two-bladed wooden propeller at the nose. Trials over Farnborough saw the type reach speeds in the lower 90mph range and endurance could surpass two hours. Interested in such astounding capabilities for the time, the British government contracted for forty of the aircraft to be built for military service.

The Schneider racer form of 1914, with its pontoon equipment and all, was entered into the Schneider air races and flew with a Gnome Monosoupape 9-cylidner engine of 100 horsepower. During the speed trials that followed, the Tabloid showcased its performance well above that of the participating competitors and a star in aerial racing was born. During the action, pilot Howard Pixton claimed a new air record (regarding seaplanes) as he hit speeds of 92 miles-per-hour toward the end of the circuit.
With Total War having gripped Europe in the summer of 1914, the Tabloid was a welcomed sight for the British air service and a first-batch of the airplanes covered twelve flying machines. These, like the racer model before them, were delivered with 100 horsepower Gnome engines. Though initially unarmed, the line was soon modified to fit a single 7.7mm Lewis Gun through an oblique-angled arrangement. The upper wing section had a portion cut-out to accommodate the weapon and the intended action of moving in under a potential aerial target and firing. Later models were also delivered with conventional ailerons to replace the awkward wing-warping technique.

Some navy models installed a Lewis Gun in a more typical fashion at the upper wing assembly to help clear the propeller arc. Still another example mounted a Lewis Gun over the nose, set to fire through the spinning propeller blades. Since the British lacked interrupter gear at this point in the war, "deflector" wedges were installed on the blades to deflect bullets away from the aircraft (and pilot).

Approximately forty-two biplanes were completed to the Tabloid standard and a further 136 units were built to follow the form of the racing Schneider model. The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) both relied on the type in the early-going and the fast biplanes were typically used as unarmed scouts to oversee battlefield situations, as light bombers to keep the enemy in check or as "balloon busters" to keep the German Zeppelin fleet honest.

The aircraft was illegally copied and built in Russia by Lebed and used in the reconnaissance role as the Lebed VII. The related Lebed VIII sported a modified landing gear arrangement. The Empire of Japan observed enough of the aircraft during a trip to Britain that it adopted the design in a one-off seaplane model form as the Yokosuka "Navy Ha-Go Small Seaplane" for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) service.

Despite proving too fragile for long term military service (it was abandoned as soon as the spring of 1915), the Tabloid formed the starting point of a lineage that ultimately begat the stellar Sopwith Camel fighting biplane. Beyond the Schneider racer, the lineage included the Sopwith "Baby" and the Sopwith "Half-Strutter", the company's first true fighter warplane - both owed their existence to the original Tabloid.

Sopwith Tabloids / Schneiders served with RFC No.3 Squadron as well as the Royal Air Force's No.201 Squadron.
Sopwith Tabloid Specifications
National Flag Graphic
United Kingdom
Year: 1914
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Type: Racing Biplane-Seaplane / Military Scout / Light Bomber Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Sopwith Aviation Company - UK
Production: 42
Supported Mission Types
Ground Attack
Close-Air Support
Airborne Early Warning
Electronic Warfare
Aerial Tanker
Passenger Industry
VIP Travel
Business Travel
Special Forces
Crew: 2
Length: 22.83 ft (6.96 m)
Width: 25.69 ft (7.83 m)
Height: 10.01 ft (3.05 m)
Empty Weight: 1,224 lb (555 kg)
MTOW: 1,698 lb (770 kg)

Installed Power
1 x Gnome Monosoupape 9-cylinder rotary engine developing 100 horsepower and driving a two-bladed wooden propeller at the nose.

Standard Day Performance
Maximum Speed: 87 mph (140 kph; 76 kts)
Maximum Range: 317 mi (510 km; 275 nm)
Service Ceiling: 6,890 ft (2,100 m; 1.30 mi)
Rate-of-Climb: 430 ft/min (131 m/min)

1 x 7.7mm Lewis machine gun (obliquely-angled, over-wing or over-nose mountings noted).

1 x 65lb bomb OR 5 x 20lb bombs for light bombing service.

Operators List
Imperial Japan; Imperial Russia; United Kingdom

Series Model Variants
• Sopwith Tabloid - Base Series Designation
• Sopwith Schneider - Tabloid floatplane variant; 136 examples produced.