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Nieuport Nighthawk

Biplane Fighter Aircraft

The Nighthawk was plagued early on with an overheating engine, though the design showed enough promise as a whole to set a speed record during its time aloft.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 5/15/2018
National Flag Graphic


Year: 1923
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Manufacturer(s): Nieuport & General Aircraft Company Ltd - UK
Production: 70
Capabilities: Fighter;
Crew: 1
Length: 18.01 ft (5.49 m)
Width: 27.99 ft (8.53 m)
Height: 8.99 ft (2.74 m)
Weight (Empty): 1,504 lb (682 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 2,529 lb (1,147 kg)
Power: 1 x ABC Dragonfly I 9-cylinder radial engine developing 340hp.
Speed: 150 mph (241 kph; 130 kts)
Ceiling: 24,898 feet (7,589 m; 4.72 miles)
Range: 310 miles (499 km; 269 nm)
Operators: the United Kingdom, Japan and Greece.
The Nieuport Nighthawk began as a design showing great promise. Development began in 1918, the final year of World War 1, and was the product of the Nieuport & General Aircraft firm - a British-based company started during the war to produce French-made Nieuport fighters as needed. This experience no doubt led to some self-empowering as the firm began design work on their own products under the direction of Henry Folland that would eventually give birth to the Nieuport Nighthawk, a fighter of great performance and capability but marred by and unstable and relatively new engine.

To understand the history of the Nighthawk itself, one must revisit the war years. A requirement was put forth by the British Air Ministry for a fighter powered by the new ABC Dragonfly engine, a radial type designed to output some 340 horsepower and was of relatively light weight. This new type of fighter would eventually replace the aging Sopwith Snipe types in service. Nieuport & General went to work under Folland and produced the Nighthawk but by this time the war was long over and the Dragonfly powerplant was beginning to show some ugly results. The engine had a propensity to overheat and proved to be quite the gas-guzzler. Additionally, the engine was designed to a fault to where it vibrated heavily in the airframe. Despite this, it was a promising engine married to a promising airframe. As such, the Nighthawk still impressed when the powerplant allowed it to do so.

Despite the progress there were simply too many negatives attached to the engine and the entire powerplant development was cancelled. This came too late for the Nighthawk design, of which some 70 had already been completed despite the problems. By 1920, Nieuport & General itself had gone away and the design was eventually purchased under the Gloster label, to which the aircraft became the Gloster Mars. From there, a variety of Nighthawk-based designs began to appear, some as sport racing aircraft with more powerful engines and subtle design changes whilst others were produced for military service in the British and Japanese branches.

During its lifetime, the Nighthawk and its derivatives were subject to engine changes as seen fit, some sporting Bentleys and Siddeley brands while others were powered by Bristol brand engines. Armament consisted of a World War 1 type arrangement of twin 7.7mm Vickers machine guns mounted in front of the pilot and firing through a synchronized two-blade propeller. Overall design was also consisted with World War 1 types in that the Nighthawk featured a standard biplane design layout.

Greece became just the third operator of the Nighthawk when it acquired some 25 Nighthawks from the British RAF.


2 x 7.7mm Vickers machine guns

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun

Variants / Models

• Nighthawk - Production Model Designation; fitted with ABC Dragonfly engine.
• Gloster Bamel (Mars 1) - single production racing variant based on the Nighthawk; fitted with Napier Lion engine of 450 horsepower.
• Gloster 1 - Improved Gloster Bamel (Mars 1) model with smaller wing area and improved engine output.
• Gloster Sparrowhawk (Mars II, III, IV) - Japanese naval fighter designation.
• Gloster Nighthawk (Mars VI) - Based on Nighthawk model but fitted with either Jaguar OR Jupiter type engines.
• Nieuport Nightjar (Mars X) - British naval fighter designation.
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