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Biplane Fighter / Reconnaissance Aircraft

Just over 100 of the French-made SPAD S.A series biplane fighters were produced for action in World War 1 - most went on to see action with Russia.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 6/4/2018
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Year: 1915
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Manufacturer(s): Societe Pour l'Aviation et ses Derives (SPAD) - France
Production: 107
Capabilities: Fighter; Reconnaissance (RECCE);
Crew: 2
Length: 23.95 ft (7.3 m)
Width: 31.33 ft (9.55 m)
Height: 8.69 ft (2.65 m)
Weight (Empty): 959 lb (435 kg)
Power: 1 x Le Rhone 9C rotary engine developing 80 horsepower.
Speed: 96 mph (155 kph; 84 kts)
Ceiling: 14,108 feet (4,300 m; 2.67 miles)
Range: 186 miles (300 km; 162 nm)
Rate-of-Climb: 525 ft/min (160 m/min)
Operators: France; Imperial Russia; Soviet Union
Developed in the mold of a "fighting scout", the French-originated SPAD S.A served in the armed reconnaissance role for a short time during World War 1 (1914-1918). The series was introduced during 1915 at a time when viable synchronization/interrupter gear (allowing a machine gun to fire through spinning propeller blades) was still a way off for the Allies. Societe Pour L'Aviation et ses Derives (S.P.A.D.) delivered the A-series scout as a hasty solution with adequate frontal firepower previous attempts lacked. It sat its observer/gunner in an open-air nacelle ahead of the nose and propeller blade/engine - the pilot maintained control of the airplane from a traditional placement aft and under the upper wing assembly.

The SPAD S.A marked the first military aircraft entry for the company which would go on to make some of the more classic biplane fighters of the entire conflict.

Initial production models were the A.1s and eleven examples followed to this standard, outfitted with the Le Rhone 9C of 80 horsepower driving a two-bladed wooden propeller unit. The propeller turned behind the gunner's position and his nacelle was made detachable/foldable (down) to allow clearance for starting or maintaining the engine. A wire mesh mounted aft of the gunner was used to screen him from the dangerous blades directly behind him and to also protect the blades from foreign debris incoming. To aspirate the engine, intakes were built into and around the nacelle. The base crew numbered two and armament was a sole 0.303 inch Lewis machine gun fitted to a trainable mounting at the nose. This weapon was fed from the conventional Lewis Machine Gun ammunition drum.

Next came the A.2 variant which introduced the Le Rhone 9J air-cooled 9-cylinder rotary engine developing 110 horsepower. Performance indicated a maximum speed of 112 kilometers per hour with a service ceiling up to 3,000 meters.

The A.3 was a dual-control trainer carrying the 9J engine as well and armament was increased to 2 x 0.303 Lewis guns - one per crewman. Two were built in this form. The A.4, based on the A.2 standard, carried the 9C engine of the A.1 and production totaled 59 examples. The S.D was a "one-off" entry that was dimensionally larger than previous iterations and a second machine gunner added to a new open-air tub behind the pilot. The engine was a Renault 98Fg series of 220 horsepower output.

At least two aircraft made up the S.G variant which replaced the gunner with nacelle-mounted machine guns. One was a new-build aircraft while the other modified from the existing stock. The S.H was a proposed form which fell to naught as a production fighter - however it lay the groundwork for future SPAD biplane fighters to an extent.

As a biplane design, the S.A series maintained several traditional qualities. Its biplane wing arrangement utilized an upper and lower wing section joined by parallel strutwork and applicable cabling. The wheeled undercarriage was fixed, also by strong struts and cabling while the tail was support by a simple skid. The body of the aircraft was well-rounded at front, slab-sided along its length and capped by a small, long vertical tail fin at rear. The horizontal tailplanes were affixed to the frontal area of the rudder and mounting along its midway point. Dimensions included a length of 7.29 meters and a wingspan of 9.55 meters.

In practice there proved many limitations in the A.2 design. Communication for the two-man crew - both in open-air cockpits - was hampered by engine and wind noise not to mention confusion encountered during an aerial firefight. The pilot's vision was limited by the upper and lower wing mainplanes as well as the extended nose section which did not help in landing, take-off and fighting endeavors. Additionally, the placement of the gunner at the nose - and within a flimsy nacelle structure to boot - made landing actions quite perilous for this crewman. With that said, the A.2 saw little combat action - if any - during the early phases of the air war for France.

Many A.2s were quickly shipped off to ally Russia as newer, better mounts were arriving in France. Production spanned from 1915 until 1916 though just 107 examples were delivered. In Russian hands, the A.2 saw a somewhat more useful, extended service life as the nation ran short of viable fighting aircraft to pit against the heart of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires. However, it bears noting that even Russian airmen held little regard for this French creation. The A.2 continued on under the flag of the Soviet Union in the care of the "Workers' and Peasants' Air Fleet" before finally being given up for good.


1 x 0.303 Lewis Gun air-cooled machine gun fitted to flexible/trainable mounting at front cockpit.

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun

Variants / Models

• S.A. - Base Series Designation
• A.1 - Initial production model; fitted with Le Rhone 9C engine of 80 horsepower; tapered tail fin; 11 examples completed.
• A.2 - Fitted with Le Rhone 9J engine of 110 horsepower; revised tail fin; 35 examples completed.
• A.3 - Dual-control trainer; 2 x 0.303 Lewis guns, one per crewman for training purposes; powered by Le Rhone 9J engine.
• A.4 - Based on A.2 with Le Rhone 9C engine; 59 examples produced.
• S.D. - Dimensionally larger variant; additional gunner's tub fitted aft of the pilot; powered by Renault 8Fg engine of 220 horsepower.
• S.G. - Sans gunner's position; nacelle-mounted machine guns; 2 examples completed.
• S.H. - Proposed variant
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