BuiltWithNOF

MIKE ROACH’S MODEL AIRCRAFT

THE SOPWITH BEE

Sopwith’s chief test pilot Harry Hawker had a number of one-off aircraft made for his racing, aerobatic and business use.  The little Tabloid and the land adaptation of the Schneider Trophy racer are the best-known, but there were also the two 1914 Gordon Bennett racers, the SLTBP (a wing-warping “proto-Pup” made in late 1915), the Scooter, made from Camel components in 1917, the 1919 Schneider racer and this diminutive 18 ft wingspan Bee, produced in 1916.  In “Sopwith, the Man and his Aircraft” it is briefly described as having a 50 hp Gnome engine and being built from Pup components and is illustrated photographically by a very good side view and a low-level front view. 

After studying the photographs, drawing up the 3-views and then building models of both the Bee and the SLTBP, I am convinced that it was the latter rather than the Pup that provided the inspiration and perhaps even the hardware for the Bee.  They share the same type of engine, fin, tailplane and control system, whereas the wing is a real one-off, owing nothing to SLTBP or Pup.

In order to start somewhere, I assumed that the wing chord was, like the STLB, a fraction over 5 ft and made nearly all the other measurements and assumptions from there.  I had to take a deep breath when fixing the dimensions of the cabane struts and the wing cutout, but they do tie in with other measurements, even though the distortions in the photographs make it hard to be absolutely certain.  For instance, I show only one set of rear cabane struts, and even these lean backwards, but that is the only solution I can see: it’s not good engineering though!

The tailplane looks as though it is the same shape as the SS3 Tabloid and very similar to the later Triplane tail, but the fin and rudder are pure SLTBP.  The fuselage “fits where it touches” to standard Sopwith practice and the rigging is obvious in the photographs.  Harry Hawker must have clambered into the cockpit from above the top wing, but once inside, he sat behind a little windscreen in a very snug cockpit, quite like the Scooter and Swallow.

The national markings are very clear in the photographs and imply that the Bee was made up to look just like an operational aircraft, with PC10 and natural linen in the usual places.  The wheel covers are not painted and the cowl and side panels are brightly burnished alloy.  The top panel, from the cowl to behind the cockpit, is probably varnished ply, though it is difficult to be sure.  What is most unusual is that there is no Sopwith trademark on the fin or rudder, although it does appear in transfer form on the main struts.

Drawing the plans and making the model has been a fascinating exercise, but I make no claim that this is the definitive interpretation.  I would love to hear from anyone else who has made a Bee, or any of the other “one-offs” that decorate the margins of the best aircraft company in the world.  Write to me at 5 Foxwood Avenue Christchurch, Dorset, England BH23 3JZ or email roachfoxwood@aol.com.

Mike Roach Feb 2003

SOPWITH BEE – SCALE DRAWING AMENDMENTS 

No sooner had the plan and scale drawing of the Bee been published in the October 2003 FSM, than I was contacted by Sopwith enthusiasts.  H Stephens (known in concentric circles as Steve, so he says) from Richmond, Surrey, with many more details and his own analysis of this unique aircraft.  He enclosed photocopies of pages from Flight Magazine, the Crowood and the Putnam Sopwith books, as well as a wonderful photograph of Hawker himself standing by the Bee and one from his personal collection showing the Bee from the rear quarter.  These high-quality pictures revealed a number of points that were previously hidden, and one of the books gave its dimensions: span 16 ft 3 in (4.9 m) and length 14 ft 3 in (4.3 m).  This is slightly smaller than I had estimated and although I was prepared to believe the wingspan, I think that the length is an error and 15 ft 3 in is more likely.  But each time I studied the pictures, more details came to the fore (and more contradictions: I could have drawn a different plane each time).

  • I doubt if there is a single production item in the aircraft.  Made from Pup components?  Never!  It owes more to the Camel (the wing may be the same chord, and the tip shape is similar) and the SLTBP (fin and rudder shape) than anything else.
  • The tailplane may be a production item but looks more like a left-over SS3 Tabloid item than anything else.
  • There is a bracing wire from the top of the rear cabane to the bottom of the front cabane.  I should have anticipated this, I suppose.
  • The curve of the alloy side cheeks carries back to the rear of the fuselage about 3 ft in front of the roundel in accordance with Sopwith practice, rather than ending abruptly as I have shown. The lighting on the Putnam photo suggest this, that on the Harleyford side view does not, but it is confirmed by all other photos.
  • The top wing centre section cut-out is very difficult to be precise about, but is definitely not the semi-circle I drew, but more a curved triangle, and has an additional cut-out at each wing training edge.
  • The roundels are edged in white, but are definitely of non-standard proportions – most unusual for Sopwith.

I still cannot tell whether the cabane struts, which lean backwards, are in the vertical plane or whether they splay outwards in the usual way.  The perspective is difficult to interpret, but Steve and I favour the vertical.

Mike Roach 2004

THE SOPWITH TADPOLE

At some unspecified time the Gnome 50hp engine was replaced by an ABC Gnat 35hp twin, presumably as part of the Sparrow aerial target programme.  This version was christened the “Tadpole” and looking at the heavily revised cowling it’s not difficult to see why.  Performance must have been pretty dismal!

The Tadpole version would make a very fine “Peanut” free flight model: it has lots of wing area and far less drag than the more usual radial-engined types.  The nose moment is also unusually long, allowing a longer motor to be fitted.

Mike Roach  Feb 2007

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