World War I: SPAD S.VII

SPAD S.VII. US Air Force

SPAD S.VII - General:

  • Length: 19 ft. 11 in.
  • Wingspan: 25 ft. 8 in.
  • Height: 7 ft. 2 in.
  • Wing Area: 192 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 1,124 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 1,632 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance:

  • Power Plant: 1 x Hispano-Suiza 8A inline engine, 150 hp
  • Range: 225 miles
  • Max Speed: 119 mph
  • Ceiling: 17,500 ft.

Armament:

  • 1 x .303-cal. Vickers machine gun

SPAD S.VII - Design & Development:

In early 1915, noted automobile engineer Marc Birkigt adapted his famed Hispano-Suiza engine for use in aircraft.

The result was a powerful, inline, 140-horsepower engine which weighed approximately 330 pounds. Excited by Birkigt's work, the French government issued a call to the aviation industry to create new aircraft powered by the engine. Further tinkering with the design, Birkigt was able to increase the newly dubbed Hispano-Suiza 8A's power to 150-hp by that summer. Among those who took up the government's challenge was Louis Béchereau, the chief designer at Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD).

Drawing upon his previous designs, Béchereau began work on a new high-performance fighter. Central to his new design was the use of a single-bay biplane wing with central section struts. This feature, which had appeared on the unpopular SPAD A.2, prevented excessive vibration of the flying wires and greatly reduced drag. In creating the fuselage, Béchereau took a more traditional approach and utilized fabric stretched over a wooden frame.

To arm the aircraft, SPAD placed a single .303 Vickers machine gun was above the engine.

The use of one gun led many to feel the new fighter was under-armed as many German planes were equipped with twin guns. Dubbed the SPAD V, the prototype first flew in April 1916. Reaching an admirable top speed of 119 mph, the new SPAD's rugged construction allowed it to achieve a far superior dive performance than its Nieuport predecessors.

While more durable than the Nieuports, the SPAD lacked the smaller fighter's agility and maneuverability. Highly pleased with the new fighter, the French Aéronautique Militaire immediately ordered 268 aircraft.

SPAD S.VII - Operational History:

Redesignated the SPAD S.VII, production commenced in the summer of the 1916, with the first units reaching the front in August. Despite, the Aéronautique Militaire's enthusiasm for the aircraft several problems quickly emerged in the field. Among these was a tendency for the engine to overheat in warm weather and for the ammunition feed system to jam. Addressing these issues in late 1916, the SPAD S.VII finally began reaching the front in large numbers in early 1917. The aircraft's performance was further improved that spring with the introduction of the 180-hp Hispano-Suiza 8Ab engine.

At the front, the fighter quickly proved itself when Armand Pinsard scored the first kill for the SPAD on August 26, 1916. While some pilots were discouraged by the plane's initial reliability issues, others, such as ace René Fonck, worked to develop new tactics based on the SPAD's speed and power. Flying over the Western Front, the SPAD S.VII proved more than a match for most the German fighters it encountered and demonstrated an ability to take an amazing amount of punishment.

As a result, most French squadrons had their Nieuports replaced with SPADs.

After observing French success with the aircraft, several foreign air services, such as the Royal Flying Corps and the US Army Air Service, purchased and operated the SPAD S.VII as well. In April 1917, the new SPAD S.XIII flew for the first time. A heavier, better-armed version of the SPAD S.VII, the new fighter possessed a 220-hp Hispano-Suiza engine and was capable of 135 mph. First introduced in May 1917, the S.XIII gradually replaced the S.VII in frontline units. Still a capable aircraft, the SPAD S.VII was utilized in secondary and training roles for the remainder of the war.

Selected Sources