The SPAD VII, first flown in March 1916, established SPAD’s reputation at the front rank of fighter design. Built around the heavy but powerful Hispano-Suisa (“Spanish-Swiss”) 130 horsepower engine, the SPAD was the first significant Allied fighter not to be powered by one of the spinning rotary engines that were then the predominant aeroplane powerplant. The Hispano with its V8 layout was relatively streamlined and did not impose the gyroscopic forces of the rotaries, so it lent itself to planes that were less agile but fast and stable. The SPAD fighters were burly looking airplanes but really they were surprisingly compact, with small wings that enhanced the characteristics bestowed by the engine.
Some pilots preferred the turn-on-a-dime rotary powered Nieuports and Sopwiths, but the SPAD VII was such an effective weapon that it was license-built in Britain and Italy, with over 6,000 being completed among the various manufacturers, and the type equipped at least 15 air forces during and after the war. The United States was a major user as well.
About seven genuine SPAD VIIs survive around the world, and quite a few replicas have been built, both static and flying.
S.VII S.254 “Vieux Charles”
One of the priceless artifacts of the Musee Air et Espace is this original S.VII flown by Georges Guynemer, who achieved 53 aerial victories before being killed in another SPAD in September 1917. Museum conservators have preserved as much of the original fabric as possible by re-covering the aircraft with newer fabric and then attaching the old fabric on top of the new, so that the new fabric bears any stresses imposed by the airframe. Guynemer named his aircraft “Vieux Charles” (“Old Charles”).
Restored in the 1960s, this original S.VII is displayed at the National Museum of the USAF.
S.VII replica N8096L “Vieux Charles”
The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome operates this replica SPAD VII. Acquired in 1999, it was the final project of the late World War I replica builder Carl Swanson. Equipped with a modern Lycoming engine and other features, such as a tailwheel, that make it more suitable for airshow and cross-country flying, the SPAD looks wonderful in the air and is finished in the colors of another”Vieux Charles” of Georges Guynemer.