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Boulton Paul P.3 Bobolink Prototype Biplane Fighter

 Updated: 4/25/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Boulton Paul P.3 Bobolink  
Picture of Boulton Paul P.3 Bobolink Prototype Biplane Fighter

The Boulton Paul Bobolink - the first fighter entry for the company - lost to the Sopwith Snipe in a competition designed to succeed the classic Sopwith Camel.

Boulton Paul's first entry into fighter aircraft design and development came through the P.3 "Bobolink" of 1918. It was intended for British service in World War 1 (1914-1918) and as the successor to the storied Sopwith Camel fighter (detailed elsewhere on this site) but the type never advanced beyond its prototype stage. Nevertheless, the offering put the company on a path to respectability heading into World War 2 (1939-1945). Design of the Bobolink was attributed to J.D. North.

Boulton Paul held origins as far back as the late-1700s with its headquarters being Norwich, UK. By the 1900s, the company had evolved along various names until, in 1905, it became known as Boulton & Paul Ltd - specializing in engineering and manufacturing. By the time of World War 1, Boulton Paul served the war effort by building other company's aircraft produced - including the Sopwith Camel.

Despite the excellence of the Sopwith Camel, the British Air Ministry looked to the future and inevitably sought a successor for their aging biplane. This led Boulton Paul to throw its hat into the ring with a possible contender - a fighting biplane named "Bobolink". A first flight (in prototype form) was had in January of 1918 and tests followed into February. In its earliest form, the aircraft lacked ailerons along its lower wing assembly but these were added prior to official trials.

Boulton Paul engineers relied on proven techniques for their fighter entry: It was a wood-and-fabric single-seater powered by a single engine at the nose. The powerplant of choice became the Bentley BR.2 rotary engine of 230 horsepower output. The biplane wing arrangement featured a two-bay approach and N-shaped struts. Overall dimensions of the product included a length of 6 meters, a wingspan of 8.8 meters and a height of 2.5 meters.

The Boulton Paul design performed largely as intended - it could reach speeds of 125 miles per hour and held a service ceiling of 19,500 feet. Endurance was over three hours which was a prime consideration for fighting aircraft of the period. Armament was rather standard - 2 x 0.303 inch Vickers fixed, forward-firing machine guns with interrupter gear set to allow for firing through the spinning propeller blades. One of the more unique features built into the Bobolink was a jettisonable fuel tank system intended to increase survivability of the pilot. The pilot was also shielded from the fuel stores by a section of armor.

Despite the promising nature of the Bobolink, British authorities selected the competing Sopwith Snipe (which also relied on the Bentley BR.2 rotary engine). Officials cited the Bobolink as lacking in maneuverability during its evaluation phase and the overall product was seen as more complex (and therefore more expensive) to produce in the numbers required. The Sopwith Snipe simply performed better, was easier to produce and would come from the proven designers/builders at Sopwith.

As such, only the single Bobolink prototype was ever completed though the company continued using the aircraft some time later in tests.

Boulton Paul P.3 Bobolink Technical Specifications

Service Year: 1918
Type: Prototype Biplane Fighter
National Origin: United Kingdom
Manufacturer(s): Boulton Paul - UK
Production Total: 1

Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 20.01 feet (6.1 meters)
Overall Width: 29.04 feet (8.85 meters)
Overall Height: 8.37 feet (2.55 meters)

Weight (Empty): 1,235 lb (560 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 1,995 lb (905 kg)

Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

Propulsion: 1 x Bentley BR.2 rotary engine developing 230 horsepower.

Maximum Speed: 124 mph (200 kph; 108 knots)
Maximum Range: 407 miles (655 km)
Service Ceiling: 19,685 feet (6,000 meters; 3.73 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,085 feet-per-minute (331 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

2 x 0.303 caliber Vickers machine guns firing through the spinning propeller blades.

Global Operators / Customers

United Kingdom (trialed)

Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

P.3 "Bobolink" - Base Series Designation; sole prototype completed.

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