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Sopwith Triplane

United Kingdom (1916)
Picture of Sopwith Triplane Triplane Fighter / Trainer Aircraft
Picture of Sopwith Triplane Triplane Fighter / Trainer Aircraft Picture of Sopwith Triplane Triplane Fighter / Trainer Aircraft
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Such was the immediate success of the British Sopwith Triplane fighter in World War 1 that the Germans brought about their own triple-wing counter - embodied in the Fokker Dr.I Triplane.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Sopwith Triplane Triplane Fighter / Trainer Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 6/7/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com

The Sopwith Triplane (dubbed "Triplehound" by her pilots) was a three-wing fighter design built by the Sopwith Aviation concern of Britain and based on the strengths of the successful Sopwith "Pup" biplane fighter (detailed elsewhere on this site). The aircraft strayed from conventional aviation design of the time, where biplanes proved the accepted norm for most major air services, and sought to combine additional lift and maneuverability by the addition of a third wing element. This resulted in the first-ever operational deployment of a triplane fighter in the Sopwith Triplane. For a short time in World War 1 (1914-1918), the Triplane had no equal though its eventual end came with the arrival of the Sopwith Camel biplane - the classic fighter aircraft of the war. Triplanes continued to see second-line service as trainers from mid-1917 onward.

First prototypes were developed during the early part of 1916 and a first-flight was recorded on May 28th, 1916. Such was the promise of the aircraft design that it was rushed to the frontlines, seeing formal service introduction as soon as December of 1916. Initial operational use was outstanding enough to warrant serial manufacture and some 147 were ultimately delivered - the primary operator being the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).

Beyond its triplane wing arrangement, the aircraft exhibited traditional qualities of fighters of the period - a slab-sided, tapering fuselage with open-air cockpit for one, a fixed, twin-wheeled undercarriage for ground-running, and a single-finned tail unit. To brace the three wing pattern, a thick, large strut joined the planes outboard and shorter struts connected the upper wing assembly to the upper fuselage ahead of the pilot. The pilot sat just behind the wing assemblies which did hinder visibility. However it was in maneuverability and rate-of-climb that the Triplane excelled - giving the pilot a considerable advantage in aerial firefights that were close-ranged.


Picture of the Sopwith Triplane Triplane Fighter / Trainer Aircraft
Picture of the Sopwith Triplane Triplane Fighter / Trainer Aircraft


Armament was typically a single 7.7mm Vickers machine gun firing through the spinning propeller blades by way of a synchronizer. There were some attempts to field a twin-gunned version but it was found that a single gun approach was more effective - the weight gained from the addition of a second machine gun, along with its ammunition supply, degraded overall performance of the fighter.

Power stemmed from a single Clerget 9Z series, 9cylinder rotary piston engine driving a two-bladed wooden propeller at the nose. This allowed for speeds to reach 117 miles per hour as well as a service ceiling up to 20,500 feet. The aircraft held a mission endurance window of 2.75 hours and time to 6,000 feet was nearly six minutes.

Results for the Triplane were exceptional in the early-going - for a period in 1917 the series racked up over 100 enemy kills. However, the machines proved complicated to maintain and repair and steep diving actions often resulted in the wing elements giving way. Its single machine gun also lacked the firepower seen in other twin-gunned contemporaries. These inherent deficiencies ultimately led the Triplane to see a very short operational career over the battlefields of Europe in the war.

Nevertheless, for its time, there proved few equals. Indeed, the Germans respected the Triplane enough to put forth a reward to any German aircraft-maker that could deliver a similar fighter. Anthony Fokker responded with what would become the Fokker Dr.I Triplane (detailed elsewhere on this site). There were many other "multi-winged" creations (some simply aerial monstrosities as aircraft go) seen during this period as well though few ever saw the light of day.

Beyond its service with the British Navy, the Sopwith Triplane found homes in the inventories of France (Navy), Greece (Navy, single example) and the Russian Empire (single example). The French received seventeen examples. The sole Russian Empire example fell to the Soviet Air Force when it was captured.






Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 120mph
Lo: 60mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (117mph).

    Graph average of 90 miles-per-hour.
Relative Operational Ranges
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Graph showcases the Sopwith Triplane's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era Impact
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units
147
147


  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.


Altitude Visualization
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Supported Mission Types:
Air-to-Air
Interception
Unmanned
Ground Attack
Close-Air Support
Training
Anti-Submarine
Anti-Ship
Airborne Early Warning
MEDEVAC
Electronic Warfare
Maritime/Navy
Aerial Tanker
Utility/Transport
Passenger Industry
VIP Travel
Business Travel
Search/Rescue
Recon/Scouting
Special Forces
X-Plane/Development
National Flag Graphic
National Origin: United Kingdom
Service Year: 1916
Classification Type: Triplane Fighter / Trainer Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Sopwith Aviation Company - United Kingdom
Production Units: 147
Global Operators:
France; Greece; Russia; Soviet Union; United Kingdom
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Sopwith Triplane model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.

Operational
CREW


Personnel
1


Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
18.83 ft


Meters
5.74 m


Dimension
WIDTH


Feet
26.51 ft


Meters
8.08 m


Dimension
HEIGHT


Feet
10.50 ft


Meters
3.2 m


Weight
EMPTY


Pounds
1,100 lb


Kilograms
499 kg


Weight
LOADED


Pounds
1,541 lb


Kilograms
699 kg

Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
1 x Clerget 9B rotary piston engine developing 130 horsepower and driving a two-bladed propeller at the nose.

Performance
SPEED


Miles-per-Hour
117 mph


Kilometers-per-Hour
188 kph


Knots
102 kts


Performance
RANGE


Miles
280 mi


Kilometers
450 km


Nautical Miles
243 nm


Performance
CEILING


Feet
20,505 ft


Meters
6,250 m


Miles
3.88 mi


Performance
CLIMB RATE


Feet-per-Minute
1,200 ft/min


Meters-per-Minute
366 m/min

Armament - Hardpoints (0):

STANDARD:
1 OR 2 x 0.303 caliber (7.7mm) Vickers machine gun(s) in fixed, forward-firing position over the nose, synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades.
Visual Armory:

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Variants: Series Model Variants
• Sopwith Triplane - Base Series Designation