THE SOPWITH GORDON BENNETT RACER: NEARLY A FAMOUS AIRCRAFT!
When Harry Hawker got back from his Australian adventure in early 1914 he had three months of flying experience in the Tabloid followed by a long sea voyage back to England. Impatient to put his experience to good use, he went straight to the works and persuaded Tom Sopwith to make 2 racers for the Gordon Bennett trophy to be held later that year in America. The first was a relatively standard Tabloid that eventually surfaced as RNAS Serial 1214. His second was a more ambitious plane, based on Tabloid wings but with a slim-line fuselage, a radial cowling for the 80hp engine and a very different tail unit. Of course they never competed in the race: the Admiralty impressed both as unarmed scouts for the RNAS and “Slim Line” became 1215. Together with 1213, a Tabloid built for an Italian firm, but completed for the RNAS, they became the “Fast Flight”, on Home Defence duties at Hendon. 1214 eventually went to France and was fitted with a Lewis gun on its starboard side.
I drew up a plan of 1215 based on the photos in the Sopwith book and a bit of pictorial detective work and a spell on the Internet at “the Sopwith Cook-Up” and other sites. The Cook-Up has pictures of a scatchbuilt plastic model and a 3-view of 1215, also based on the photos in the book. There were a number of things wrong with the accompanying drawing and the model but there is some useful information, which I had managed to miss, such as the clear outline of a Union Jack under the lower wings.
Transferring the photo to a plan probably took me as much time as it did Hawker, Sigrist and the Works to draw the original. It brought home to me what Hawker knew at the outset but Sopwith and Sigrist probably did not: that the only Tabloid components used in the Racer were the wings, and even they were drastically modified! The scale rudder is tiny, smaller even than the Tabloid’s, and it looked to me far too small for adequate control. So I had to have a scale wing warping system to provide control in the rolling plane. This fell in nicely with my feeling that a thinner wing section would be more realistic and in any case, little servos cannot warp a thick wing that has been covered with heat-shrink film! So under-camber it was, but as the plan shows, the rest of the structure is conventional balsa-bashing. It is covered with my favourite white Litespan, stained and dirtied with various paints and dyes and decorated with permanent marker to represent a tired, scruffy and war-weary aircraft, about to be replaced by a faster, stronger and better-armed Bristol Scout. But in late1914 it was the fastest, most glamorous Sopwith around, with a mean-looking radial cowl: almost a famous aircraft.