Biplane Fighter Aircraft
The Nieuport 28 was the first operational fighter to be fielded by incoming American forces during World War 1.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Aerial combat in World War 1 (1914-1918) turned into a tit-for-tat affair as technology ruled the latest performance gains for aircraft fielded by both sides. The French concern of Nieuport made a name for itself in the war by producing a line of well-known biplane fighters that began with the early-war Nieuport 11 "Bebe". This fighter, based from a commercial racing plane, allowed for excellent performance and handling during 1915 and helped to end the dreaded "Fokker Scourge" - a period of aerial supremacy held by the Germans. From the Bebe spawned a series of like-minded biplanes built upon agility that eventually culminated with the Nieuport 28 (N.28) of 1918. Like many of the previous Nieuport offerings, this fighter's design was attributed to Gustave Delage.
As supplies of the new SPAD S.XIII were limited for the incoming Americans, the Nieuport 28 was passed on to them - becoming the first operational fighter to be flown by American airmen in the war. The N.28 was the aircraft that spawned the careers of aces like Eddie Rickenbacker (26 kills). Unlike the preceding Nieuport 17 design, the N.28 was handed a more powerful engine in the Gnome 9N rotary of 160 horsepower (over the N.17's Le Rhone 9J of 110hp). All-new wings were also fitted (the upper and lower sections of nearly the same area) as were a pair of fixed, forward-firing Vickers machine guns (the N.17 carried just one machine gun). The V-struts so common to earlier Nieuports were now replaced by a more traditional parallel strut approach which offered increased strength to the upper and lower wing spans. The fuselage took on an ever more streamlined shape from nose to tail - the engine shrouded by a curved metal assembly and the tail unit set at the extremely end of the tapered fuselage. The empennage included a single vertical fin and low-set horizontal planes. The pilot sat under and aft of the upper wing unit. The undercarriage remained fixed with wheels at the main legs and a simple skid at the tail. First flight of this product was recorded on June 14th, 1917.
297 N.28s were ultimately produced - as well as several prototypes beyond these - and a bulk of these served with the Americans. Production was eventually handled by both Nieuport and Liore et Olivier though early deliveries were seen sans their machine guns. The lack of proper armament limited the aircraft to training for the interim. In time, as the required machine guns became available, the aircraft proved went on to make its own legacy as a suitable gunnery platform. The American groups fielding the N.28 were the 27th, 94th, 95th, and 147th Aero Squadrons while a few N.28s made their way into U.S. Navy service where they were launched from USN battleships for over-the-horizon work.
In practice, the N.28s were more maneuverable than the SPAD.XIII series but suffered from being fragile under the stresses of combat. Upper wing elements were particularly prone to losing their fabric in a dive - the dive being a basic defensive maneuver used by pilots throughout the war, the build-up of speed proving the difference between life and death in many confrontations. Nevertheless, the Americans made do with what was given to them and kill-loss ratios were quite good.
Performance from the Gnome 9N rotary - coupled with the airframe's light weight and streamlining - allowed for a maximum speed of 125 miles per hour with a range out to 180 miles. The aircraft's service ceiling reached 17,400 feet with a rate-of-climb to 9,840 feet being 11.5 minutes.
Towards the end of the war, the United States Army looked to purchase 600 of an improved Nieuport 28 model as the Nieuport 28A (N.28A). These aircraft were slated for advanced training work in the American air service but were required to hold combat capabilities if required to strengthen needed stocks. The aircraft were fitted with mountings for American Marlin machine guns and given improved wings and fuel systems. Production of this type was from Liore et Olivier but netted just 170 N.28As of the expected 600 total due to the end of the war. Spares for 100 more aircraft were also part of the final drive.
The Nieuport 28 was one of the wartime aircraft that managed a useful post-war existence. A few governments - Argentina, Greece, Guatemala, and Switzerland - managed a small collection in frontline service while others became museum showpieces and Hollywood props. Amazingly, the last operational Nieuport 28s were released from service in 1930.