Nieuport 17 Fighting Biplane Scout Aircraft
The Nieuport 17 of 1916 was a continuation of fighting excellence first revealed in the Nieuport 11 of 1915.
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Fresh off of the heels of the success that was the Nieuport 11, the Nieuport 17 was a direct development intended to improve upon the former design. The Nieuport 11 was born of the prewar Nieuport 10 competition airplane which was abandoned as a competition mount and adopted for military service by several world powers instead. The Nieuport 11 was then a militarized version of the Nieuport 10 and retained the excellent qualities of the design including its sesquiplane biplane wing configuration, single-seat open-air cockpit and strong handling characteristics. The Nieuport 11 was critical in turning the tide of the dreaded "Fokker Scourge" in 1916 as it outpaced and outperformed the German monoplanes with relative ease. Nieuport then attempted to improved the Nieuport 11 even further with the Nieuport 16 though its selection of engine made for a significantly nose-heavy design. As such, next came the Nieuport 17 which ended its tenure as one of the best Allied fighter designs in all of World War 1.
The Nieuport 17 incorporated a dimensionally larger airframe and biplane wing assembly while retaining the same general single-seat layout. Additionally, a more powerful engine was utilize for improved performance at altitude - this being a Le Rhone 9J series 9-cylinder rotary engine of 110 horsepower. The airframe, therefore, could reach speeds of 110 miles per hour and fielded an endurance of nearly two hours while being able to fight at altitudes reaching 17,400 feet. Rate-of-climb was listed at 9,800 feet within 12 minutes.
Outwardly, the Nieuport 17 following along the lines of accepted World War 1 fighter design. The engine and wing arrangement were all set well-ahead in the layout, the engine powering a simple two-bladed wooden propeller in a "puller" configuration. The upper and lower wing assemblies were of uneven span utilizing "V-struts". Such a wing development was traced back to the sesquiplane arrangement on the original Nieuport 10 racer which essentially identified a lower wing assembly that was decidedly smaller than the upper assembly. The wings were completed with single-bays so only a single instance of the V-strut support was apparent to either side of the fuselage. The engine compartment was covered over in a rounded metal cowling which was well-integrated into the boxy fuselage constructed primarily of canvas and wood. The open-air cockpit was situated behind and under the upper wing assembly. The fuselage tapered off at the aft end to which a single, shallow rounded vertical tailplane was fitted as well as a pair of horizontal planes. The undercarriage was fixed and consisted of two landing wheels set about a reinforced structure with a tail skid at the rear. This arrangement gave the Nieuport design a noticeable "nose-up" appearance when at rest. Such aircraft were also called to operate from rough airfields and did so under many circumstances during the war.
As one of Nieuport's famed "fighting scouts", the Nieuport 17 was a scout airplane primarily armed with a single machine gun. In French Air Service, the aircraft was eventually (Nieuport 17bis) fitted with a synchronizer which allowed the machine gun to be operated just ahead of the pilot, firing through the spinning propeller blades, within easy reach for clearing jams. Original production models incorporated a machine gun across the upper wing span. In British service, the type retained the upper wing machine gun fitting for the duration of their frontline service, jams cleared by lowering the machine gun to the pilot's position by mechanical means. The French utilized the Vickers series of proven aerial machine guns while the British made use of the Lewis system on a Foster mounting - both in 0.30 caliber chambering. In addition to the machine gun (and as in the Nieuport 11 before it), the Nieuport 17 was cleared to fire 8 x Le Prieur rockets against reconnaissance balloons or ground targets as required.
In practice, the Nieuport 17 proved an excellent fighting machine. Its single machine gun mounting made it an accurate gun platform in the heat of battle while the pedigree of a competition aircraft shown through with excellent performance figures and good handling. However, the Nieuport 17 retained the same structural weakness inherent in the Nieuport 11 design before it - the single-bay, V-strut support system of the wings, particularly during high-speed flight such as dives, led to failures often claiming the life of the pilot. This required a steady, well-trained and experienced hand at the controls to say the least.
Nieuport 17s were fielded almost immediately after their first flight in January of 1916. The Nieuport 11 was, itself, introduced that month which showcased the quick-changing face of the war - aircraft seeing operational service for a mere few months before being formally replaced by better, modern types. The Nieuport 17 was officially fielded in March of 1916 and directly replaced the Nieuport 11 types in frontline service with the French. The British followed suit and took delivery of the type soon after. Nieuport 17s made up a large portion of French air power in the months following, such was the importance of the type to the war effort (a large portion of World War 1 aircraft were, in fact, scout-minded aircraft). The Nieuport 17 became the mount of famous aces Albert Ball and William Bishop. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was also handed the type upon their arrival to the theater. The Russian Empire adopted the aircraft in some number and retained them for a time into their Soviet Union years that followed the war.
Despite its excellence following introduction, the Nieuport 17 was, in turn, itself outmoded in time by the latest in German fighter developments. As such, the aircraft was slowly replaced by improved Nieuport types (including the related Nieuport 17bis with its fuselage-mounted synchronized machine gun and 130 horsepower Clerget rotary engine) and eventually superseded by the competing SPAD S.VII series by the middle of 1917. The British Air Service managed to field the Nieuport 17 into early 1918 before giving up on the type for good. In the post-war years, surplus Nieuports were utilized as primary two-seat trainers for new generations of pilots. The Nieuport 23 was a further development of the Nieuport 17 and included a lighter Le Rhone 9J series engine and newly revised upper wing spar. The Germans, recognizing the type's excellence, reengineered the Nieuport 17 as the Siemens-Schuckert D.I with production following.
In all, the Nieuport 17 was utilized by Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia/Soviet Union, Siam, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay.