Designed by Herbert Smith of the Sopwith Aviation Company, the Sopwith 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 Sopwith 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 Aviation as a private venture. The 3rd prototype (B9965) featured a modified wing pattern and more circular fuselage profile which allowed the Sopwith 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 Sopwith Snipes replaced the Sopwith Camel at 43 Squadron RAF in August 1918. With a similar rate of climb and manoeuvrability to its predecessor, the Sopwith 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 Sopwith 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. 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.
|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|
|Powerplant||1 × Bentley BR2 rotary engine, 230 hp (172 kW)|
|Wingspan||31 ft 1 in (9.48 m)|
Empty: 1,312 lb (596 kg) Loaded: 2,020 lb (918 kg)
|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 -|
National Air And Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
There are also a number of replica aircraft on display including: