Following on from last weeks post looking at the history of Sopwith’s most famous design, this week I have chosen to take a look at the seven original Camels that remain as well as a look at two notable reproduction examples of the type.
Original Aircraft – F.1
F6314 – Royal Air Force Museum Hendon
Hendon’s example, F6314 was built in July 1918, though there is some confusion as two camels were produced with the same serial number.
It was placed into storage in 1919 and purchased by Ex camel pilot Grenville O’Manton in 1923 as and engineless airframe. O’Manton had the ambitious plan to replace the Camels rotary engine with a lower powered radial to make it a more docile machine. However as it turned out it was very underpowered and only flew two times. O’Manton sold the aircraft shortly after, which led to a move to Wales.
The aircraft then reappeared in 1935 near Hornchurch in Essex, now owned by a D.C Mason, who hoped to fly the aircraft. Mason never did fly the aircraft and in 1936 it ended up in the hands of Richard Nash, much like the Fokker and a number of the other Hendon aircraft.
In 1939 ‘314 went on display at the Science museum along with the Bleriot XXVII and Fokker D.VII. Once again the aircraft was placed into store for the duration of the second world war. Following a number of post war static appearances at airshows and another restoration the Camel was put on display at Hendon in 1971. The aircraft is now displayed suspended in the Grahame White Factory.
B6291 – The Aeroplane Collection
This example is the only remaining original Sopwith built Camel.
It was one of a batch of 250 built at Kingston On Thames in 1917 and was delivered the RNAS Aeroplane Depot Dunkerque on the 21st September. Being sent to No. 10 squadron later that month, by the 30th of September the aircraft had made a forced landing, as a result the Camel was wrecked. Following the accident the aircraft was moved to a number of training schools and airfields, suffering another accident in June 1918, which again led to the aircraft being substantially damaged.
Following the war, this Camel was supposedly purchased by two former pilots from the RFC. The two men had the ambitious plan of using the machine for barnstorming around Lincoln. Ultimately this venture failed and the Camel ended up abandoned in a barn.
Restoration began in the early 1980s passing through a number of organisations and sponsors it eventually found its way to The Shuttleworth Collection in 1992, though owned by AJD Engineering. The restoration was completed in 1993, with the Camel’s post restoration flight taking place in July 1993. by the British Aerospace Company, registered as G-ASOP.
Sold in late 1994, ‘291 moved to the USA, receiving the registration N629JA, little was then known about the aircraft until it came up for sale in 2006. Since then this machine appears to have transferred to Javier Arango, who owns “The Aeroplane Collection” based in Paso Robles, California.
A feature on the Air and Space magazine website here, tells the story of the collection. In that article, dated 2012 it is noted that an original 1917 Camel is under restoration. A later article featuring the same collection, which I also linked to in the Camel history piece, dated 2014, seems to confirm that this Camel is now flying again, which is excellent news if true.
B7280 – Polish Aviation Museum Krakow
B7280 was the last of a batch of 100 Camels built by Clayton and Shuttleworth and was powered by a 150hp Bentley BR.1. B7280 was flown by the RAF, with a notable pilot, Lieutenant H A Patey who shot down nine German aircraft while flying the Camel. Flying officer J H Foreman also flew ‘280 in combat, claiming two German machines.
Patey was forced to make a forced landing behind German lines in September 1918. and it was soon captured, along with Patey. After flying the aircraft till the end of the war it was put on display in Berlin. During the Second World War, to avoid the heavy bombing that Berlin inevitably took, the Camel was moved to Poland. The Shell of this Camel ended up with the Polish Aviation Museum.
A long restoration was completed in the the late 2000’s and the aircraft is now on display wearing the markings it would have done during the conflict, it recently became part of a new exhibition in the museum, marking 100 years since the start of the Great War.
With such a distinguished service record, being responsible for 11 German aircraft destroyed, B7280 is certainly the most highly decorated surviving Camel and a notable survivor of the First World War.
B5747 – Royal Army and Military History Museum, Brussels
This Bentley powered example of the Camel was built by Clayton & Shuttleworth. Unlike the other survivors, information surrounding the history of this machine seems very hard to come by.
N6254 – New Zealand
The true identity of this Camel has been lost over the years, but is believed to be a British Caudron built example. It was sold to the United States in 1920, being acquired by Clarence D. Chamberlin. In 1931 it moved to the Jarrett Museum of World War One History in Atlantic City. While at this museum the data plate was stolen by a child visiting the museum! With the data plate, the aircrafts original identity went as well.
The airframe was stored during the Second World War before being sold to Frank Tallman in 1950. While with Tallman the Camel was restored to fy, returning to the skies in 1955, flying until 1964.
The history from there on becomes slightly muddled, but it is believed to have passed through the National Air and Space museum before being sold to the Aerospace Education Center in Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1980s.
The Centre closed in 2011 and with its closure, the Camel was sold, being exported to New Zealand. In 2015 this aircraft appeared on the New Zealand register as ZK-SDL with The Vintage Aviator Limited, which suggests we may see another original Camel joining the airworthy population. If this is the case it makes a visit to New Zealand even more appealing!
N6812 – Imperial War Museum London
Built by William Beardmore & Co Ltd, ‘812 was a 2F1 “Ship’s Camel”, featuring a shorter wing span and a pair of lewis guns mounted above the wings. This N6812 was flown by Flight Sub Lieutenant Stuart Culley on the 11th August 1918 he shot down Zeppelin LZ100, the last of the war.
Not only did Culley manage the impressive feat of downing the German airship, but he did so after taking off from a tiny flight deck which was towed behind a naval destroyer. He had to climb up to 18,000ft in order to attack the Zeppelin, which can’t have been a pleasant experience in an open cockpit design.
Following this successful mission, Culley and ‘812 found themselves taking an early bath, ditching alongside the ship which he had departed earlier in the day, before both pilot and aeroplane were lifted out of the water.
The important role that this Camel performed no doubt helped to ensure it was preserved for future generations, in fact it was put on display at Crystal Palace in 1920. Following ‘812 was stored in the basement of the science museum amongst a number of other Great War aircraft.
It wasn’t until 1935 that ‘812 returned to public display at Lambeth, though it sustained some damage in January 1941, when the building took a direct hit. Following this damage the Camel went into hiding again, not emerging until 1953 at Honington. Soon returning to Lambeth, the Camel wouldn’t leave again until 1988 when it was sent to Skysport Engineering for a re-finish in authentic markings, the twin Lewis guns were also added at this stage.
The Camel has remained at Lambeth ever since, aside from a brief period of storage at Duxford in 2012, while the Lambeth site was being rebuilt.
N8156 – Canadian Aviation and Space Museum Ottawa
The second surviving 2F.1 can be found at the Canadian Aviation Museum. Built by Hooper and Company in late 1918, ‘156 was one of the last Camels to be produced, as such it missed out on service during the First World War.
The RAF still used the aircraft until 1925, when it was part of a transfer of 6 Camels to the Canadian air force. N8156 was bought by the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1924. ’156 was built in 1918 and, along with the museum’s Snipe was restored to fly again in 1966, performing at select airshows during the period.
The aircraft only flew until 1967, following its flying career it was placed on display in the museum.
A number of replica Camel’s have been built over the years, to various levels of authenticity, with a number being powered by radial engines. For this piece I am going to take a brief look at two replica aircraft. One is probably flown the most often out of all the Camels flying today, the other is an exciting prospect for UK enthusiasts like myself.
ZK-JMU – The Vintage Aviator Ltd New Zealand
Originally built in the United States by Gerry Thornhill and Carl Swanson, this Camel replica features a number of original components, as well as making use of a 160hp Gnome rotary engine.
‘JMU was first registered in the states in May 1985 and originally wore american markings. In 1998 the Camel was exported to New Zealand.
Reappearing in March 2001 under the ownership of Peter Jackson, the Camel now wears the markings of B3889 which was used by Clive Collett with 70 Squadron.
This machine is without a doubt the most flown rotary powered Camel in the world, usually in the hands of TVALs Gene De Marco, who as a result has the highest number of hours on the Sopwith Camel.
“D1851”/ G-BZSC – Shuttleworth Collection Old Warden
Following on from the Sopwith Triplane and Bristol M1C that fly as part of the collection, the final product from the Northern Aeroplane Workshops is the Sopwith Camel. This reproduction has been under construction for a number of years, arriving at Shuttleworth late in 2013.
Since arriving at Old Warden a dedicated team have been adding the finishing touches to the Camel. There have been a number of great leaps taken in 2015 and as can be seen, the aircraft is now complete.
The Camel has undertaken engine runs in the last few weeks as the finishing touches are added. This machine is powered by a 130hp Clerget engine, which should make for a sporty performance. As can be seen from the attached photographs this replica is a remarkable piece of craftsmanship and the thought of this machine taking to the Old Warden skies is one to be cherished.
The aircraft wears the markings of a 70 Squadron Camel, which would have flown in 1918, specifically that of D1851 “Ikanopit”, a name which the aircraft wears below the cockpit.
It is hoped that the Camel will be joining the other Shuttleworth machines in the air later this season. It will be great to see such an iconic design joining the UK display scene.
As has been discussed on this site at length the Camel has undoubtedly become a legend despite its many limitations. It is fitting then that seven original machines remain, of which there will hopefully soon be two flying, which is a superb feat for such an iconic type of the First World War.
With countless replicas and reproductions, both rotary and radial powered being assembled and flown around the world, it seems likely that the Camel’s legacy will long live in in the skies of the world even as it’s 100th Birthday approaches.
Coming up in Part 7 of the Sopwith series is a real departure in terms of designs, the eccentric Dolphin.