On 27th November 1913, the Sopwith Aviation Company's latest machine, a small and compact but highly maneuverable single-engined two-seat land-based biplane, made its first flight in the hands of test pilot Harry Hawker at Brooklands Race Track and Flying Grounds.
Initially known as the 'S.S', the type would quickly be nicknamed the 'Tabloid' after a popular square-shaped compact medical kit.
Powered by an 80 h.p. Gnome rotary engine, the new biplane was of conventional construction with a wire-braced wooden frame covered with fabric. Having impressed spectators at Farnborough and Hendon with its remarkable display of its performance, Harry Hawker then took the prototype to Australia for further demonstrations.
The War Office was immediately impressed and placed an initial order for nine single-seat examples. Initially identified as 'Service Tabloids' this was officially changed to Sopwith Scout in mid-December 1913, for a prescribed use as high-speed scouts and dispatch carriers.
Another order for nine was placed in March 1914 with the first batch being completed the following month.
It was decided to modify one example Tabloid to compete in the prestigious Schneider Trophy, an Air Race specifically for seaplanes. A 100 h.p. Gnome Monosoupape engine was installed as well as a single-float undercarriage. The latter proved unsuitable during trials and the float was later divided into two halves and re-fitted as part of a twin-float chassis.
Test pilot C. Howard Pixton won the Trophy for Sopwith and Britain on 20th April 1914, covering the 174-mile course at Monaco at an average speed of 86·8 m.p.h.
This famous winning aircraft was later fitted with a revised wheeled undercarriage as the original version fitted to production Tabloids had proved insufficiently sturdy. The revised arrangement was later adopted on all production examples before their entry into Royal Flying Corps service.
The production Tabloid was fitted with a modified 80 h.p. Gnome engine installation and a redesigned tail unit, incorporating a plain rudder attached to a triangular fin. It officially entered service with the RFC when Serial 381 was delivered to the RFC at Netheravon in 1914, thus becoming the first production aircraft to go into service as a single-seat scout with the British flying services.
Four Tabloids were crated and shipped to Boulogne in France in August 1914 although three were wrecked and the single survivor was sent back to the UK by early 1915. Thereafter, it was suggested that the type was 'not effective' in RFC service.
With the RFC having largely washed its hands of the Tabloid by late 1914, the Royal Naval Air Service requested that it should take on some of the RFC’s examples and by October that year the RNAS had up to four on strength.
On the 8th October 1914, the Tabloid performed its most significant operational achievement when two RNAS examples bombed the Cologne Railway Station and the Zeppelin Sheds in Düsseldorf.
Four RNAS examples were also sent to the Dardanelles aboard HMS Ark Royal early in 1915, whilst others remained in the UK on 'Home Defence' duties, some armed with a Lewis machine-gun carried on a mounting above the wing centre section.
Between October 1914 and June 1915, a total of 30 Tabloids (including the two-seat prototype) had been built; 12 each for the RFC and RNAS as well as one sample aircraft being sent manufacturers in France, Russia and Italy.
Additionally, two aircraft were modified for the Gordon Bennett Air Races although these were ultimately unused for racing and were absorbed into RNAS service.
One aircraft was used as a Test Machine for the 'deflector' propeller system in which bullets were fired through the arc of a steel-plate-armoured propeller. Although the early examples were fitted with wing-warping for lateral control, later examples incorporated ailerons.
Although no original Tabloids exist today, four replicas have been built. One is on display at Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon in landplane form whilst another is the magnificent replica of Howard Pixton’s 1914 Schneider Trophy floatplane on display at Brooklands Museum in Surrey.
One airworthy landplane configured replica (N1213) was built in 1998 by Airdrome Aeroplanes at Holden, Missouri, USA and it was followed by another (N1205) built from another Airdrome Aeroplanes kit in 2012. This example currently registered to Waring & Wells Airdrome of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
The Tabloid was originally designed for racing and demonstration flying and had a cleanness of line that was remarkable for its day. Although its operational military career was short and comparatively unspectacular, it established a Sopwith tradition that was to have its most significant echo in the company’s later and far more successful Pup of the Great War years.
|Powerplant||One 80hp Gnome, or one 100hp Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine (1914 Schneider Trophy aircraft)|
|Capacity and Armament||One pilot + one passenger (prototype); single pilot (production aircraft). One Lewis machine-gun installed on some RNAS examples.|
Single prototype and a total of 29 production aircraft, as detailed above.
Tabloid Survivors & Replicas
No original examples survive, but the following replicas have been built.
|168/G-BFDE||Replica built during 1976–80. Displayed at Royal Air Force Museum Hendon, London, UK. www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/collections/sopwith-tabloid|
|“3”||Replica of Howard Pixton’s Schneider Trophy-winning floatplane Tabloid, completed in 2012. On display at Brooklands Museum, Weybridge, Surrey, UK. www.brooklandsmuseum.com/explore/our-collection/aircraft/sopwith-tabloid-floatplane-replica|
|N1213||Airworthy replica built by Airdrome Aeroplanes, Holden, Missouri, USA, completed in 1998. Currently in private ownership in California, USA|
|N1205||Replica built from Airdrome Aeroplanes kit, completed in 2012. Currently in private ownership in Pennsylvania, USA|
Hawker Association: www.hawkerassociation.org.uk
Brooklands Museum: www.brooklandsmuseum.com