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Sopwith Snipe

The RAF's first fighter
Sopwith Snipe Sopwith Snipe (B9966) with 200hp Bentley engine in March 1918
 
Designed by Herbert Smith of the Sopwith Aviation Company, the Snipe was selected as a replacement for the battle-weary Sopwith Camel, which saw such distinguished service in World War 1.  Initially conceived as a single-bay biplane, the Snipe first flew in October 1917 and the first prototype was designed to be fitted with a pair of Vickers machine guns and a Bentley AR.1 rotary engine. 
 
An order for 6 prototypes was eventually issued which also included the first prototypes that had been completed by Sopwith as a private venture. The 3rd prototype (B9965) featured a modified wing pattern and more circular fuselage profile which allowed the Snipe to compete in the 'high-altitude' category where oxygen and heated clothing were provided for the pilot flying up to 25,000 ft.
 
An order for 1,700 aircraft was placed by the Air Ministry in March 1918 and although the order book boasted a full requirement for 4,500 units, only a fraction of that number was ever realised by the time production ceased in March 1919.
 
After evaluation and approval by the Number 1 Aerial Supply Depot in St Omer, France, 15 Snipes replaced the Sopwith Camel at 43 Squadron RAF in August 1918.  With a similar rate of climb and manoeuvrability to its predecessor, the Snipe was considered a first class replacement and worthy opponent to contemporary German fighters.
 
However, World War 1 was nearly at its conclusion when the Snipe arrived at the newly-renamed Royal Air Force and although it only saw a very short initial service campaign, it can lay claim to the accolade as being the 'RAF’s first fighter aircraft’.
 
Following the Armistice with Germany, Sopwith Snipes formed part of the British Army of Occupation before returning to the UK in 1919 and by the end of that year only one single squadron (No 80) was equipped with the aircraft. The Snipe also took part in the Allied intervention during the Russian Civil War against the Bolsheviks in 1919.
 
The last Sopwith Snipes were retired from active service in 1926.

Variants

Sopwith Snipe Production variant with Bentley BR.2 rotary engine and 2 x .303 Vickers machine guns
Sopwith Snipe 1 Production specification with ABC Dragonfly radial engine, later armoured and designated Sopwith Dragonfly

Specification

Powerplant  1 × Bentley BR2 rotary engine, 230 hp (172 kW)
Wingspan  31 ft 1 in (9.48 m)
Weight
Empty: 1,312 lb (596 kg)  Loaded:  2,020 lb (918 kg)
Capacity  One pilot
Length  19 ft 10 in (6.05 m)
Max speed                 121 mph (105 knots, 195 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3,050 m)                             
Range  3 hours - 

Number built

497  All variants

Survivors

Snipe                                  
(E6938)
Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Ottawa, ON K1K 4R3,  Canada www.casmuseum.techno-science.ca
Snipe
(E8105)
National Air And Space Museum, Washington, D.C. 
 
There are also a number of replica aircraft on display including:
Snipe                           
(N8263)                
Antique Aero California, 4301 Cloud St, Paso Robles, CA, USA
 
Snipe 
(E8102)
Fantasy of Flight Aviation Museum, Polk City, Florida
Snipe
(E6655)
Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, UK www.rafmuseum.org.uk/london

More information

Hawker Association: www.hawkerassociation.org.uk
Brooklands Museum: www.brooklandsmuseum.com
RAF Museum, London: www.rafmuseum.org.uk/london
or email to BAE Systems Heritage via: heritage@baesystems.com
 
Please note that the information shown is based on that available at the time of the creation of this web page - If you have any additions or corrections please contact: Heritage@baesystems.com