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The legendary Canadian Flight of Sopwiths under Raymond Collishaw

Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, War, Weapons, World War 1 on Tuesday, 30 July 2013

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This edited article about World War One aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 354 published on 26 October 1968.

Sopwith triplane, picture, image, illustration

The Canadian Sopwith triplane was called 'Black Maria' by Wilf Hardy

One of the most remarkable planes of World War I was the Sopwith Triplane. Designers of fighter planes at that time wanted to build a machine which could out-climb and, perhaps more important, out-manoeuvre the German fighters over the Western front.

The triplane idea was a revolutionary one. The three wings gave the plane considerable extra “lift”, and their short span enabled pilots to make tighter turns than any opponent – a vital advantage in the kind of aerial fighting which occurred during World War I.

The Sopwith engineers built a winner. When it was powered with a 130 Clerget engine, the triplane climbed to 6,500 feet in six-and-a-half minutes, achieved a speed of 115 mph at 10,000 feet, and yet it had a landing speed of only 35 mph. Its service ceiling was 20,500 feet.

The first Sopwith Triplanes to see active service were those which went to the R.N.A.S. towards the end of 1916, and they flew on Channel patrols. They were not able really to show their paces until later however, when the Royal Naval Air Service went to the help of the R.F.C. in April, 1917.

It was a bad month for the allies, and a period when Baron von Richthofen’s Jagdstaffel 11 was at its peak, but the Germans were in for a shock when an all-Canadian flight of R.N.A.S. Sopwith Triplanes arrived on the scene. The flight was commanded by Canadian Raymond Collishaw, who came from British Columbia.

The pilots adopted “Black Death” as their insignia and had their planes painted mainly in black. During the early summer of 1917, they waded into the Germans in their light triplanes and, between them, the six members of the flight destroyed no fewer than 87 enemy aircraft with the loss of only one of their own.

Collishaw himself scored a great victory when he shot down an Albatros D-3 piloted by Karl Allmenroeder, one of Richthofen’s ace pilots. Collishaw, who became the top scorer of the R.N.A.S., also served with the R.A.F. during World War II, and retired in 1943 with the rank of Air Vice Marshal, having earned the C.B., D.S.O., O.B.E., D.F.C., and D.S.C.

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