Sopwith Aviation Co.

Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith (1888-1989) was one of the most influential figures in British aviation history.  Sopwith obtained his pilot’s license in 1910 (the 31st license issued by the Royal Aero Club) and soon was teaching others to fly, opening the Sopwith Aviation Company in 1912.  Sopwith’s company designed many of the best and most important British scout (fighter) and light bomber aircraft of World War I.  After the war, the company fell into bankruptcy and, to evade creditors, Sopwith and three partners founded a new concern, Hawker Aircraft, in 1920.  Sopwith continued as Chairman of the new company and continued to influence its designs through at least the 1960s, retiring only in 1980.

Sopwith’s designs were structurally sound (something not to be taken for granted in the 1914-18 period) and one might say they were conventional in layout, although really Sopwith’s products helped establish the conventional layout for warplanes of this period.  Eschewing things like the sesquiplane layout or tiny, ineffective rudders with no fixed vertical tail surface, Sopwith was innovative in his own way, experimenting with lift and weight distributions to progressively fine-tune his designs.  The fundamental conservatism of his early designs was popular with the conservative British Army aviation establishment.  His designs also were efficient enough to do much with relatively little horsepower, compensating somewhat for the German advantage in in-line powerplant technology of the period.


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