Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a

It is debatable whether the nifty S.E.5a or the Sopwith Camel was the finest British single-seat fighter of World War I. Certainly, the former was easier to fly, killing and maiming far fewer Allied pilots than the
unforgiving Camel.
The S.E.5 (“S.E.” for “Scout Experimental”) was designed to exploit the potential of the innovatory Hispano-Suiza in-line engine; the
S.E.5a, which was chosen for large-scale production, had a 200-hp powerplant. The aircraft proved to be a superbly stable firing platform for its double armament, comprising a Lewis gun on an overwing mounting and a Vickers gun on the fuselage.
The fighter was also fast and manoeuvrable, while its great structural strength enabled it to absorb terrific punishment. The first
S.E.5s arrived on the Western Front in April 1917. They made tough, little adversaries for German fighters, even when the excellent Fokker D.VIIs appeared the following year. Top-ranking Allied fighter pilots such as James McCudden and “Mick” Mannock gained many of their victories on t he type.
Although 5,205 were built, the S.E.5a did not remain long in service after the Armistice. In peacetime, some were converted to skywriters, scribbling smoky advertising slogans in the skies over Britain.

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