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SPAD V / VII

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Swiss-born Mare Birkigt, chief designer of Hispano-Suiza, who had foreseen that the rotary engine was dose to its limit in development, embarked on the design of a new water-cooled V-8 engine. Designated Hispano-Suiza 8A, it produced 140hp; but even more important was Birkigt's own design for a synchronising gear. Bechereau, therefore, found awaiting him a unique opportunity, of designing a completely new scout around the new engine and gun synchronising mechanism. This evolved into the SPAD V, which though conventional in layout, retained many of the A2 and A4 features, such as the triangular fin, much of the rear fuselage, and particularly the unusual interplane bracing and method of actuating the ailerons, which were fitted to the upper wing only.

The first flight of the SPAD V was performed in the first half of April, 1916, by the company's chief test pilot Bequet, when a top speed of 215km/h was claimed to have been readied. By April 19, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) had recorded a more sober 170km/h, although both figures are devoid of details regarding the conditions or altitude in which they were attained. Still, the aircraft promised an excellent performance, a substantial advantage over that of Nieuport scouts then in service, and a production order for 268 examples was awarded to SPAD on May 10, 1916. For some unknown reason, the production version was designated SPAD VII.Cl, probably so that the original’V’ designation would not be confused with the company's own A5, a further refinement of the A4 powered by a Renault 8 Fg engine.

The SPAD VII, powered by a 150hp V-8 engine, was armed with a forward-firing Vickers 0.303 (7.7m) machine gun, offset to starboard firing through the airscrew are. 500 rounds of ammunition were carried in canvas belts, wound onto drums. Exhaust from the engine was ducted through long pipes on either side of the fuselage, the port side exhaust also doubling as a step to enable the pilot gain access to the cockpit. Fuel was stored in a tank located in the upper wing centre section, and a much larger one mounted under the cockpit floor, Of interest is the fact that this was probably the first fuel tank with an emergency jettison system to see operational use.

SPAD immediately embarked on the production of its new fighter, met a number of supply problems, and by the end of September only half the estimated production rate had been met. First delivery dates are uncertain, although the first SPAD VII victory is recorded on August 23, 1916, by Lt Armand Pinsard of Escadrille N.26. By early the following month, well-known aces such as Sgt Paul Sauvage and Lt Georges Guynemer of Esc N.3 had started flying the SPAD, the latter gaining his first victory on the type on his second flight. Guynemer, who had started his SPAD career with a tally of 14 victories, raised his total to thirty by the end of January 1917, bestowing upon his aircraft the nickname of mitrailleuse volante (flying machine gun). His unit was the first to be completely equipped with the new & scout, and later redesignated SPA.3.

One major problem which continued to afflict the new scout was its cooling system, with SPAD undertaking a long period of experimentation in an effort to find a solution. As production gained momentum, various other small modifications to the airframe were introduced, including a simplified fuselage bracing system and reinforcement of the engine bearers, the latter in an effort to solve vibration problems experienced with the HispanoSuiza. SPAD seems to have born the brunt of the VII's production, together with Construction Aeronautique E. de Marcay where 1800 examples were built, while subcontracted orders were passed onto Bleriot Aeronautique, Les Ateliers d'Aviation L. Janoir, Kellner et ses Fils, EAtelier de Construction d’Appareils d'Aviation R. Sommer, Les Ateliers de Construction Regy Freres, Gremont and Societe d'Etudes Aronautiques.

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By the autumn of 1916, the 150hp SPAD began to find it difficult to match some of the opposition. Guynemer informed Bechereau in December 1916 that "the Halberstadt [while] not faster, climbs better, consequently it has the overall advantage". In the quest for more power, Marc Birkigt increased the compression ratio of the 8A engine from 4.7 to 5.3, which in turn raised its revolutions from 1500 to 1800 per minute. This resulted in a power output of 180hp, enabling a significant improvement in the SPAD VII's performance to be achieved. Apart from the extra power, the new Hispano-Suiza 8Ab proved extremely reliable: Guyricnier obtained 19 victories during which time the engine on his aircraft was never changed. SPA.3 became the elite French fighter unit, with the SPAD becoming the favourite mount of such aces M Cpt Armand Pinsard (27 victories), S.Lt Rene Dorme (23), Cpt Alfred Hertaux (21) and Cpt Albert Deullin (20), among others.

At least one example had been handed over to the RFC by early September 1916. Delivered as S.126, this example received the British serial A253 at No.2 Aircraft Depot at Candas, and on September 20 was passed on to No. 60 Squadron for operational evaluation. Barely a week later, Cpt E. L. Foot shot down an enerny aircraft while flying the SPAD, Meanwhile two more examples had been delivered, these becoming A262 and A263.

There remained no doubt as to the superb qualities of this scout, for on September 20 Major General H.M. Trenchard, General Officer Commanding RFC, requested in writing 30 examples from Colonel Bares; with SPAD facing difficulties, Bares suggested that a sub-contractor be engaged to supply the British machines. Originally Janoir had been mentioned as a possible source, but eventually these were built by Bleriot, possibly on the suggestion of Captain Lord Innes-Ker of the British Aviation Commission. This deal had been approved by the French Ministry of War on October 5, 1916, on condition that the Hispano-Suiza engines were to be taken from stocks already allocated to the RFC.

Considering the supply situation, the French authorities responded most generously for continued supply of SPAD scouts. While the initial BIeriot-built SPADs were being delivered early in 1917, Trenchard requested further supplies; he received 10 of the 12 he had asked for.

Orders with Bleriot were increased, while a major order for 120 examples was placed with Kellner, the first of`which did not materialise before May 21. The first British unit to receive the SPAD was No.19 Squadron RFC in October 1916, but so slow was the delivery of these aircraft that full complement was only reached in February 1917. This was followed by No. 23 Squadron, which re-equipped between February and April, The installation of an additional Lewis gun on the upper wing was tested by this squadron, but was abandoned as performance apparently suffered badly.

By early June 1917, the RFC was receiving French-built SPADs fitted with the 8Ab 180hp engine; apparently these were labelled SPAD II to distinguish them from the earlier version in British service. However, this seems to have remained an unofficial designation. Such distinction would have been impossible, anyway, as both 150 and 180hp engines were interchangeable, and maintenance units fitted whichever was available. Some other refinements had appeared on machines used by the RFC, such as the use of Prideaux disintegrating-link ammunition belts housed in special boxes, instead of the clumsy drum-wound French versions. The British Aldis optical gun sight was specified in place of the Le Chretien sights; however a number of French-built examples in British service could be seen still fitted with the original French sight.

The Admiralty, too, showed early interest in the SPAD for the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), providing for their manufacture in England. By mid-December 1916, 100 examples had been ordered, equally divided between Mann, Egerton & Co Ltd of Norwich and the British Nicuport Co of Cricklewood. While the Nieuport order was changed in favour of S.E.5s, Mann’s order was first raised to 75, and then to 95, the first of which was delivered to Martlesharn Heath in April 1917. However, it had been decided in February that all RNAS SPADs were to be transferred to the Army, while the latter would surrender all its Sopwith Triplanes to the Navy. During this period serial batch allocations and numbers ordered were continuously changed, until they were settled to read as follows: N6210-6284 (75), B1364-1388 (25), B9911-9930 (20), totalling 120 examples. Aircraft from these batches proved to be structurally defective and it would appear that none were ever dispatched to France. After a series of fatal accidents, the Technical Department embarked on an investigation in April 1917, and it wasn’t until August that Mann Egerton’s SPAD were cleared as operationally acceptable.

Another batch of 100 SPAD VIIs to be built in England were ordered from Bleriot (Aeronautics) Ltd of Brooklands, allocated serial numbers A8794-8893 in December 1916. In February of the following year, the company changed its name to Bleriot & Spad on its move to Addlestone. Notwithstanding the considerable amount of SPADs available, the RFC limited its use in France to Nos 19 and 23 Squadrons, while others were shipped for service in Mesopotamia (Nos 30, 63 Sqn) and Palestine (No 72 Sqn).

Among the first SPADs to be exported were 15 examples (Sp.1-Sp.15) for the Aviation Militaire Belge in spring 1917. These went to the 5e Escadrille (later renumbered 10e Esc), with the first being allocated to Edmond Thieffry, who shot down the first Belgian SPAD victory three days later, on May 12, 1917; it was his third kill.

Italy began to receive SPAD VIIs for its Aeronautica dei Regio Escreito at about the same time, with the 91a Squadriglia acquiring a pair of examples on March 15, 1917. Delivery of these aircraft was rather slow, for a second batch of three only reached the same unit on May 1, at the time when Maggiore Francesco Baracca took over command. Most Italian fighter units to receive this type, which also included the 71a, 72a, 75a, 76a, 77a, 78a Squadrighe, were never fully equipped, thus retaining a mixed complement of SPADs and Nieuport scouts. Baracca was certainly the most brilliant Italian exponent of the SPAD VII, shooting down his first victim (an Austrian Albatros D.III) whilst flying the type on May 13, 1917. His tally stood at 34 when he was shot down and killed in action on June 19,1918, of which 23 had been achieved on SPAD fighters (VII and the later XIII).

Another country to produce the SPAD VII was Russia, where 100 examples were on the production line at Aktsionyernoye Obshchestovo Duks, in Moscow, before the October Revolution of 1917. Russia had already received 43 SPADs from France in spring of 1917, which saw action within the No.1 Fighter Group.

Although the first official purchase of 189 SPAD VIIs by the United States Expeditionary Force materialised in December 1917, American pilots had flown operationally over the Western Front within SPA.124 Escadrille Lafayette some nine months earlier. This unit was transferred to the United States Air Service (USAS) in February 1918 becoming the 103rd Aero Squadron. Although it had been earmarked for re-equipment with the later SPAD XIII, teething troubles with the new fighter meant that the older VIIs soldiered on for quite some time. Apart from acquisition from French sources, the USAS also saw the delivery of a number of British-built SPAD VIIs, 19 of which survived the war and were transferred to the States.

After the Armistice, which brought the First World War to an end, the type remained on strength with the French air force for over a decade. SPAD VIIs considered surplus at the end of hostilities, were passed on to a number of foreign air lorces, including Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Siam and Yugoslavia; a sole Russian-built example was also used by the Finnish air force.

 

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Czechoslovakia
 
The Czechoslovak Republic received Spad Mk VII in 1918. There were flown about sixty VII and XIII in Czechoslovakia after the Great War.
 
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Czechoslovak Spad Mk VII
 
Engine: Hispano-Suiza, 180 hp
Wing span: 7.77 m
Length: 6.12 m
Empty weight: 535 kg
Max. speed: 191 kph
Service ceiling: 5334 m
Endurance: 2 hrs 15 min
Armament : one forward firing synchronized machine gun 

 

Engine: One Hispano-Suiza 8A, 150hp
Propeller: Ebora, Integrale or AB.723 (2 450mm dia) or Mann, Egerton P.211 (2 464mm dia)
Span (upper): 7.822m
Span (lower): 7.573m
Length: 6.080m
Height: 2.200m
Wing area: 17.85sq.m
Empty weight: 499kg
Loaded weight: 705kg
Maximum speed: 179km/h at 3000m
Climb to 3000m: 11min 50sec
Ceiling: 5500m
Endurance: 2 hrs
Armament: One 7.7mm (0.303n) Vickers machine gun / 500 rounds; some carried two 10kg Anilitie bombs on rear undercarriage legs, Le Prieur rockets could be carried on interplane struts

Engine: One Hispano-Suiza 8Ab, 180hp
Propeller: Ebora, Integrale or AB.723 (2 450mm dia) or Mann, Egerton P.211 (2 464mm dia)
Span (upper): 7.822m
Span (lower): 7.573m
Length: 6.080m
Height: 2.200m
Wing area: 17.85sq.m
Empty weight: 499kg
Loaded weight: 705kg
Maximum speed: 204km/h at 3000m
Climb to 3000m: 8min 10sec
Ceiling: 6550m
Endurance: 1.5 hrs
Armament: One 7.7mm (0.303n) Vickers machine gun / 500 rounds; some carried two 10kg Anilitie bombs on rear undercarriage legs, Le Prieur rockets could be carried on interplane struts

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