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This diary is dedicated to Otteray Scribe, to encourage him, and show him that there IS life after 'complex' aircraft!

In March 1917, at the height of the savage fighting on the Western Front in France, No. 56 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, (motto, ‘Quid si coelum ruat’, ‘What if the heavens fall?’) took delivery of a new version of a fighter which was fated to become the mount of the some of the Allies leading ‘aces’. The S.E.5A had arrived. A revised version of the underpowered and unreliable S.E.5, it was a product of the Royal Aircraft Factory, Farnborough, Hampshire (hence the ‘Scouting Experimental’ designation) and was designed by a team lead by Henry Folland, who later designed such classic fighters as the Gloster Gladiator. The S.E.5A, powered by a Hispano-Suiza 8A/8B or Wolesley W.4A Viper of 200 hp, was armed with a .303 Vickers machine gun, and a .303 Lewis machine gun on an over-wing mounting. It was fast, strong, and could be dived at great speed; not as manoeuvrable as the Sopwith Camel, it could, however, hold its own with the German Fokker D.VII. The very best fighter pilots on the Allied side gravitated towards the S.E.5A, including Major (later Air Marshal) W.A. ‘Billy’ Bishop, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, MC, DFC, ED, RFC (the top Canadian ace with 72 kills) and Major Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock, V.C., D.S.O. and two Bars, M.C. and Bar, RFC (his kills are listed between 61 and 73; authorities are at odds). By the end of WW1 there were no less than 21 squadrons of S.E.5A’s in action, and plans had been made for large-scale production for the fledgling United States Army Air Service. Despite over 5,200 being built, very few S.E.5A’s survived beyond the early 1920′s.

So, how do you enjoy the flavour of flying a WW1 ’scout’ like the S.E.5A? Well, there were six replicas built in 1967 by the Yorkshire company, Slingsby Sailplanes Ltd (based on the Currie Wot design), and other single examples have been constructed, but if you want to feel like you are dicing with the Fokker D.VII, Pfalz D.III and Albatros D.Va of the Luftstreitkräft (Imperial German Air Service), you need a set of plans from Replica Plans of Chilliwick, B.C., Canada.  Designed by ‘Gogi’ Goguillot and Dan McGowan in 1969, the replica is approved by the Light Aircraft Association (formally, the Popular Flying Association) for home building, and allows you to produce an attractive 7/8th scale S.E.5A in about 2,500 hours.

Here you can see a Replica Plans S.E.5A, constructed by Michael Beach, who exhibited it in part-finished form at the PFA Rally at Sywell Aerodrome in 1976. It has been owned since August, 1999 by David Linney of Langport, Somerset. The replica has a plywood fuselage, with fabric covered rear-decking and aluminium cowlings. The wings are fabric covered, with either GRP or aluminium leading edges for strength. Power comes from a Continental Motors Corporation C90-8F producing 90hp; this gives a cruising speed of 90 mph, and a maximum of 110 mph (as opposed to the real S.E.5A’s top speed of 138 mph!).

The aircraft is on the British Register as G-BDWJ, and is parked at the Great Vintage Flying Weekend at Cotswold Airport, Kemble, Gloucestershire; it performed an excellent dogfight sequence with other replica WW1 aircraft during the ‘lunchtime flying display’ at this event. It has appeared at many other air show venues, including Biggin Hill, Old Warden and Yeovilton. Some eyebrows might be raised with regard to the ‘chocolate brown’ colour of the upper surfaces, since many RFC/RAF aircraft are shown in a khaki colour, or even a mid-green! The answer lies in the ‘dope’ used to tauten and protect the Irish linen fabric of RAF aircraft during the Great War, called PC10 (Protective Colouring 10). It was made from two pigments – ground yellow ochre (iron oxide, silica and clay) and carbon black – in the ratio of 250:1, which were added to one of a number of approved varnishes (either oil or cellulose-based) produced by companies such as Cellon Ltd., British Emaillite and the British Aeroplane Varnish Co. Ltd. This formed a suspension (NOT a solution) with the pigments and was painted onto the fabric. When dry, the pigment refracted and reflected light in such a way as to give a ‘greenish cast’ to the surfaces. This diminished with time as the pigment was degraded by the ultra-violet rays in sunlight (sorry about this, but I used to work in a textile research facility!) The final result was a variable ‘chocolate’ hue, due to differences in varnish types, pigment batches, etc.

Oh, and the hexagon on the fuselage? This was the mark of No. 85 Squadron, RFC (later, RAF), motto,  Nocto Diuque Venamur, ’We hunt by day and night’. It would later appear on the unit’s Hawker Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain, and later still on Bristol 'Bloodhound' surface-to-air guided missiles!

Originally posted to shortfinals on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 09:30 PM PST.

Also republished by Kossack Air Force, World War One Aircraft, and History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A top speed of 138 mph? (9+ / 0-)

    Shit, I've driven a car faster than that. Seriously.

    Great diary as always, SF!

    "'club America salutes you' says the girl on the door/we accept all major lies, we love any kind of fraud"--The Cure, "Club America"

    by Wheever on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 09:42:48 PM PST

  •  Sweet! (8+ / 0-)

    When I was in high school I uncovered a book in the school library from the early 1930's on woodworking projects for teenage boys. The reason I still remember the book was that one project was a model of a S.E.5A. It had full plans for the balsa wood frame and painting instructions, including the replica of the personal insignia that was on the author's S.E.5A that he flew in WWI. (The insignia was a ham as the author's nickname was "Ham").

    Growing up making Revell models I remember being amazed that "models" were at one time something that you made from scratch by following some plans.

    •  I remember the Revell 1/72 scale.. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Otteray Scribe, ER Doc, markdd, mlharges

      ...WW1 models. Actually, the Albatross D.Va wasn't bad, and the Camel better than the Airfix version. Later, as a memer of IPMS (UK) I learnt a few tricks...but for a schoolboy they were a step up from (say) the 'Frog' Hampden, with its odd scale to get it in the box, and engraved roundels!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 11:20:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Latin, Latin Everywhere! (5+ / 0-)
    No. 56 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps - Motto: "Quid si coelum ruat" ("What if the heavens fall?")
    No. 85 Squadron, RFC (later, RAF) - Motto:  "Nocto Diuque Venamur" ("We hunt by day and night.")
    I have always been bemused by the British, who were so quick to break with Rome and Popish ways, only to continue to use Latin at least as much as the Vatican.  British fighting unit mottos are truly memorable though.

    "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

    by PrahaPartizan on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 12:08:27 AM PST

    •  Actually, you will find LOTS which are NOT .. (5+ / 0-)

      in are just a small sample

      26 Sqn = 'N Wagter in die Lug (Afrikaans) - 'A guard in the sky'

      36 Sqn = Rajawali raja langit (Malay) - 'Eagle King of the sky'

      37 = "Wise without eyes".

      46 = We rise to conquer

      53 = United in effort

      67 = No odds too great

      68 = Vzdy pripraven (Czech) - 'Always ready'

      69 = With vigilance we serve

      Everything from Afrikaans to Czech to Malay and lots of good old plain English, and Im just scratching the surface here.

      Trust me, this is ONE subject I really, really, REALLY know what I'm talking about (and 68 Sqn wasn't even a Czech unit!)

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 03:53:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's not just the British (3+ / 0-)

      My old unit - 2nd Bomb Wing

      ("Liberty We Defend")

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:58:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I came close to buying the airplane in this video. (5+ / 0-)

    It was at Aerodrome '92 held in Guntersville, Alabama.  The seller's asking price was reasonable, but my wife threw a fit.  Said if I was going to buy another airplane, it damn well better have two seats in it.  Of course, the SE-5a is a  single seat fighter.  So I did not buy it.  It is a museum quality replica.  If this is not the one I looked, at, it certainly has an identical paint scheme.  

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 04:24:12 AM PST

    •  I just watched this video again. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JaxDem, shortfinals, ER Doc

      I realized it has a slightly stretched fuselage and two seats.  This is NOT the one I looked at, but as I said, the paint scheme is the same.  The one I saw sale was the basic single seat fighter.  

      The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

      by Otteray Scribe on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 05:02:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ah, yes, the S.E.5A, flown by Biggles' friend... (4+ / 0-)

    ...Captain Wilkinson and his 287 Squadron (as opposed to the Sopwith Camels of Biggles' own 266 Squadron out of Maranique). They had a great rivalry. Wilks would often boast that his S.E. could fly higher and faster than Biggles' Camel, to which Biggles would retort that he much preferred the greater maneuverability of the Camel.

    Posted to France with just 15 hours solo, (Biggles) first flew in combat in September 1916 with 169 Squadron, RFC, (commanded by Major Paynter)... In late summer 1917, he was transferred to 266 Squadron RFC, commanded by a Dubliner, Major Mullen. With 266 Squadron, Biggles flew the Sopwith Pup and the famed Sopwith Camel, developing a friendly rivalry with 'Wilks' (Captain Wilkinson) and the S.E.5’s of 287 squadron and forming a close friendship with his young cousin Algy (the Hon. Algernon Montgomery Lacey). A study of the short stories featuring his World War I exploits suggests that he claimed at least 32 kills, and was shot down or crash-landed eight times. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and the Military Cross and bar.
    My uncle Joe Kernahan flew a two-seater Bristol Fighter.  But as much as I adored him, he was no match for Biggles!

    NEW PALINDROMIC METAPHOR MEANING TO MAKE A PREDICTION THAT IS ASTOUNDINGLY OFF TARGET: "Pull a Gallup!" As in: "The weatherman said yesterday would be sunny and mild, but we got a foot of snow! Boy, did he pull a Gallup!"

    by Obama Amabo on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 04:33:48 AM PST

  •  This airplane qualifies as a Light Sport Aircraft (5+ / 0-)

    under current FAA rules.  There is a limit on weight and power for LSAs, but one does not need an FAA medical certificate to fly one.  Just your driver's license.  

    As I grow older, the FAA is making more and more demands on me each time I renew my medical certificate.  The last three times I got my medical certificate, the FAA medical office in Oklahoma City wanted more and more tests....average cost of which is six thousand dollars.  While I was able to talk my health insurance into paying for things like an angiogram (well, THAT was fun) to all kinds of stress tests, They are going to balk at doing that every year or two.  Besides, as Dirty Harry said, a man's gotta know his limitations, and I am getting to the point where I have no business charging around these mountain passes in instrument conditions in a high performance multi engine airplane.  With this airplane, one can go out and chug around flying 'Dawn Patrol' and even go to airshows to show off.  I am sticking to daylight hours and VFR conditions.  The clouds around here have rocks in them.

    I have a set of plans from the Replica Plans people, and when I bought them, I was told there are only about 200 of these birds flying worldwide.  Not something you see at your local airport every day.  Frank Ryder, the entrepreneur who put Aerodrome '92 together, commented to me that the SE-5a Scout was the P-51 Mustang of WW-II.  This from a guy who owned two (2) Fokker DR-I triplanes.  

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 04:37:43 AM PST

  •  The SE-5a could not turn inside a Fokker DR-I (4+ / 0-)

    triplane, and also could not outclimb it.  But in straight line flight or a dive, could outrun the triplane.  Those three wings generated tremendous lift energy for quick turning and climbing, which was the goal Tony Fokker wanted to achieve.  He paid a price by added drag, which make the triplane slower in level flight or a dive.  

    This little video is an airshow performance, demonstrating a dogfight between three SE-5a and three Fokker DR-I triplanes.  IMHO, the SE-5a was one of the most beautiful airplane designs ever, and that includes modern aircraft.  There is an old saying, that if it looks good, then it is probably going to fly good.  

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 05:58:13 AM PST

    •  You fought the SE.5A against the Triplane ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Otteray Scribe

      ...(and the D.Va which was still around in numbers), like later pilots fought the P-38 against the Zero - slashing, high-speed dive and shallow climb attacks. Plus, have the Foster mounting on your Lewis gun ready for a belly shot as the Tripe climbs away from you!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:20:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It seems historically (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shortfinals, Otteray Scribe

        There is usually an "energy fighter" vs a "maneuver fighter"

        An F-4 versus, well pretty much anything, for example.

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 09:00:58 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Good one SF! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shortfinals, Otteray Scribe

    I remember the SE.5A from my earlier modeling days.  It was so much different from all of the other WWI planes, with the 'square' nose.  

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:41:46 AM PST

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