Sopwith Cuckoo N24 port rear
The Cuckoo prototype, N74; the only example of the type built by Sopwith.
In October 1916, Commodore Murray Sueter of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) sent a letter to T.O.M. Sopwith at the Sopwith Aviation Company enquiring about the feasibility of a torpedo-carrying aircraft with a wheeled undercarriage. Torpedoes had already been carried on aircraft by that time, although only aboard fragile seaplanes. This severely restricted their capabilities as they could only operate from the calmest of seas.
If a torpedo-carrier could be designed that was sufficiently sturdy to operate from a shipborne flying-deck (although it would have to land back at a land base), the Royal Navy would have a distinct advantage over its enemies in naval warfare.
By February 1917, the 'Sopwith Torpedo Plane' (or T.1 as it was actually designated) was under construction at the company's works at Kingston-upon-Thames and remarkably it was ready for flight by early June the same year.
A three-bay biplane with foldable wings of equal span, the first aircraft (Serial N74) was fitted with a divided undercarriage, between which could be slung an 18" torpedo.
Powered by a geared 200hp Hispano-Suiza V8 water-cooled engine, the T.1 prototype was sent to the Isle of Grain for trials. These were concluded successfully and an order for 100 examples was issued to the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co in Glasgow in September 1917. The type was subsequently given the service name Sopwith Cuckoo.
As Hispano-Suiza engines were in high-demand elsewhere, production Sopwith Cuckoos were fitted with the similar 200hp Sunbeam Arab engine.
Sopwith Cuckoo stbd front ground
Yorkshire-based Blackburn built the vast majority of Cuckoos, including this one.
In February 1918, 100 more Sopwith Cuckoos were ordered; 50 from Pegler & Co. in Doncaster as well as 50 more from the Blackburn Aeroplane & Motor Co in Brough, Yorkshire. Blackburn delivered their first examples in July 1918 with Fairfield and Pegler commencing deliveries from September and October respectively.
In the summer of 1918, the first Sopwith Cuckoos arrived at the Torpedo Aeroplane School at East Fortune, Scotland before becoming operational as No 185 Sqn and embarking in HMS Argus in mid-October 1918.
Before the type could be proved in action however, the Armistice was signed and although a total of 350 had been ordered, only 233 were completed with the remainder being cancelled. A number of those built after the war were fitted with a Wolseley Viper engine in place of the Arab whilst other modifications included an enlarged rudder and tailskid. These examples were designated Sopwith Cuckoo Mk IIs.
Blackburn built Sopwith Cuckoo N6950 dropping torpedo
Blackburn-built Cuckoo Mk I N6950 drops a Mk IX torpedo during trials.
Sopwith Cuckoos continued to serve aboard aircraft carriers including HMS Furious and Eagle. They also served from land bases with Nos 185 and 210 Sqns until the latter was disbanded at Gosport in April 1923, Thereafter, the type was retired from service.
Six Viper-engined Cuckoos were taken to Japan by Colonel the Master of Sempill in 1921, as part of the British Air Mission to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) where former Sopwith designer Herbert Smith used the type as the blueprint for the IJN's Navy Type 13.
Although the Sopwith Cuckoo enjoyed a relatively short career, it earned the distinction of being the first British landplane torpedo-carrier capable of operating from a flying-deck. It also played a significant part in the development of the Blackburn Aircraft Company which built the vast majority of Sopwith Cuckoos with the parent company building only the prototype.
Sopwith Cuckoo General Arrangement
Original Sopwith Cuckoo three-view drawing, dated 23 October 1917.

Specification (Cuckoo Mk I)

One 200hp Sunbeam Arab V8 water-cooled piston engine
46ft 9in
Maximum weight
Capacity & armament
Pilot; one 18in Mk IX torpedo
Maximum speed
103mph at 2,000ft; 98mph at 10,000ft


Numbers and Variants

A total of 233 Sopwith Cuckoo were built.

Cuckoo Mk I
Main production variant with Sunbeam Arab engine
Cuckoo Mk II
Fitted with 200hp Wolseley Viper engine, flotation bags, enlarged rudder and tailskid, torpedo-warming exhaust tailpipes



No Sopwith Cuckoos survive today, but a set of Cuckoo Mk I wings are preserved at the Museum of Flight at East Fortune.

Other information

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