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Sopwiths Over Flanders Fields 3

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There can't be many aircraft prototypes that have been looped on their maiden flight. But I do know of one that was - three times in rapid succession, a few minutes into the flight. It was the Sopwith Triplane, courtesy of the Sopwith Aviation Company's famous test pilot, Harry Hawker, who gave his name to the firm when it was effectively reconstituted to avoid a crippling tax bill, post-war.


The Tripe or Tripehound, as it was known, served only with the Royal Naval Air Service and (apart from one machine) not with the Royal Flying Corps (though the Aéronavale had a few, for a while). And it equipped few squadrons, lasting longest with  'Naval 1', which was fully operational with the type in early 1917 and didn't give them up for Sopwith Camels until about November the same year.  But the Tripehounds certainly made a big impression, on friend and foe alike. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the success of the fast-climbing and highly-manouuvrable Sopwith Triplane spurred a German 'triplane craze', with many plane makers rushing to develop prototypes, of which only the famous Fokker Dr.I saw significant combat service. I don't believe the two ever met in combat but you can see them in a fairly leisurely mock dogfight in this HAFU video. The Sopwith reproduction is in the 'Black Maria' markings of ace Raymond Collishaw, leader of the famous 'black flight' of 'Naval 10'.




For this campaign in the Sopwiths over Flanders Fields series, I've opted to fly with pioneer Tripehound squadron 'Naval 1', starting in May 1917 for no better reason than at that stage, we've moved to la Bellevue, closer to the front - I fly my Wings over Flanders Fields missions in real time, so I appreciate the shorter transit flights! My pilot is Richard Collishaw, possibly 'Naval 10' ace Raymond's (imaginary) brother. As usual, having ticked the 'always lead' option, I'm in charge of 'B' Flight, with 'A' Flight AI-led and no 'C' Flight.




My first mission is a run up to the lines to the east-north-east, responding to a ground observer report of enemy air activity in the sector. There's four of us in 'B' Flight (all with proper naval ranks, like 'Flight Sub-Lieutenant') and 'A' Flight is putting up another five Tripehounds, to assist us in an unspecified fashion.




And here we are, lined up and ready to go. The dire weather of 'Bloody April', replicated in WoFF when you have 'historical weather' selected, has happily given way this early May day, to blue skies with but a scattering of small clouds. Several (but not all) 'Naval 1' Tripehounds carried the two small white bars seen on mine and some other machines in this line-up; the kites with the white fins display a variation that is common on Sopwiths.




I check my controls while my 130 HP Clerget rotary engine fires into life, then it's off we go!




Once well off the ground, I throttle back (which in rotaries, if I recall right, was either via a 'blip switch' which cut the ignition, or a variant which did so for some cylinders). This gives me time to admire the weather, my mount and the scenery, all of which WoFF reproduces very nicely, thanks in no small measure to Ankor's DX9 mod. A thing of the past is the exaggerated 'wide-angle lens' external view, for one thing.




The view from the 'office' is just as good. You can't see it in the picture below, but it includes an animated propeller-driven pump mounted on the right-hand centre section strut. I'm glad the WoFF riggers have fitted a square pad to protect my virtual pilot's head from the breech of the Vickers Gun; it blocks the view much less than Sopwith's patent 'flattened doughnut' padded windscreen, as fitted to the WoFF Pup and Strutter.




One thing I quickly find that I don't much like about my Tripehound is that she is determined to roll to the left. At all engine speeds, quite a lot of aileron deflection is needed to keep her level. This is uncomfortable in transit and will undoubtedly be awkward in combat. But there's no point dwelling on it. When the others get into 'V' formation on either side, I open her up and swing around in a climbing turn to the front. What will await us there - if anything - we will find out, soon enough.




To be continued!

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We find company, over the lines!




Reflecting further on my Tripehound's tendency to roll left - not seen as strongly or at all in other rotary-engined sim aircraft I've flown, including the Rise of Flight Triplane - I notice that with stick central, the ailerons on both sides are somewhat depressed, which effect is visible in the picture above. I really must have a word in the ear of my rigger when I get back to la Bellevue, I decide.


Looking back, I can see that the flight-mates on my right are keeping up reasonably well, as we climb towards the lines.




To my left, the other two chaps are edging somewhat ahead, leading me to wonder if I had echelon formation selected, rather than 'V'. I can't change this in flight, so it'll have to do.




About half-way to the lines, I see a formation of five aircraft as they emerge from under my nose, passing below and ahead of us, moving from left to right. They pay us no heed, and are not being fired upon by our own gunners, so I'm confident that they are the five machines of 'A' Flight. Where they're going, and what they intend to do when they get there, I am less sure of.




We're approaching ten thousand by the time the shelled area becomes visible, ahead and right. In the pic below, you can see the little prop whizzing around on the strut-mounted generator or pump to my right. It's said that the Sopwith Triplane was evolved from the biplane Pup so that the more slender wings would give the pilot a better view, and overall, in this it succeeds quite well.




We arrive at the front pretty well on track, over the town of Arras itself, which gave its name to the battle for which 'Bloody April' was fought the month before. Some buildings are still standing, but much of the town has been smashed by shellfire.






Reaching the area where enemy aircraft have been reported, I see nothing of them. The skies around use seem clear, above and below. So I begin a wide turn to the right, intending to orbit the area for a while, to see if anyone else comes along to provide us with a bit of company and generally keep us entertained.




As we come around, I look behind and right to check if the two fellows on that side are still keeping up. They are, but I am more interested in the more distant aircraft I can now see directly behind, and apparently coming after us. This isn't terribly friendly behaviour, I tell myself.




I turn the formation around to confront him. He seems to be on his own, but he keeps on coming. In fact, it's an Albatros D.III scout. If he really is on his own, he's either very hot or very silly, taking on three of the best fighting machines we have at the front. Evidently, he hoped to catch us by suprose from behind, but though he can now see that we've spotted him, the Hun isn't deterred. Well, if he wants a scrap, that's exactly what he's going to get, very soon now.



...to be continued!

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Tussles over the trenches


The Hun is slightly above me as I turn into him, so I only get in a few rounds from my single Vickers Gun as he flashes overhead...




...and then goes down in a left hand turn, before pulling up level a few hundred feet below. I can see clearly his white tail and red fuselage.




But he's not on his own. There are at least two Huns, probably three or more. My flight-mates are now going for the first Hun, whom the tactical Dpsilay - turned on briefly for padlocking purposes - tells me is 'Historical Ace' Paul Kemp. Rather than risk a collision by joining a conga line, I aim to swing in behind them all, and cut in on the second Hun.




This fellow also has a white tail, so it looks like I'm up against Jagdstaffel 2, by now named after its first leader, the late Oswald Boelcke. Soon, we're having a merry old tussle, and I'm wishing I had tried to use the CFS3 trim keys, while I had the time, so that I had full sideways movement of my joystick, instead of having to use a fair proportion of it to counter my Tripehound's strong roll to the left.




Still, I manage to outmanoeuvre the V-strutter and get in behind him.




He's fast, and my single gun lacks the killing power of his twin Spandaus. But I think I've landed some hits, for he stops evading and dives away in a gentle turn. It's a bad move, for the Hun machine hasn't been invented that can out-dive a .303 round.




Suddenly, the tables are turned! The Hun with the red fuselage has somehow escaped the attentions of the other Tripehounds and the first I know of it is when his rounds are whacking into my machine. In a momentary panic, I roll right and shove the nose down hard, desperate to get out of that withering fire.




Meanwhile, the second Hun makes good his escape, passing underneath me and away. Von Seel I think was his name, another Historical Ace, with his own skin and individual marking in WoFF.




My clumsy manoeuvre does the trick, and the red Hun is now engaged again by my flight-mates and driven off. I use the opportunity to extend from the scrap in a gentle dive to build up speed...




...then, finding that everything still seems to be working and that nothing has fallen off, I pull back up and around, to get back into the fight. I've had a close shave but am rather cross to have been thwarted in my effort to clobber the second Albatros. It's time to give that red Hun a taste of his own medicine!




...to be continued!

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Back in business - briefly!



Heading back into the dogfight behind and above me, the first Hun I met was the V-strutter with the black ‘S’, who, I thought, had run for it, after his friend Red Fuselage shot me off his tail. We had a quick head-on pass then he disappeared behind and began to turn.




Instead of going after him, I left him, continuing to climb away, up to where my three flight-mates were scrapping with two other Huns.




One of these fellows was Red Fuselage, so I singled him out for some special attention, with artillery fire, raking ground targets beyond him, providing a dramatic backdrop.




But I quickly broke off, when I saw another Triplane - just visible behind the tip of my left middle plane - cutting in onto his tail.




Looking around for Black ‘S’ instead, I saw the third Albatros, above me. This had the later Jasta 2 marking of a halved black and white tailplane, but the rest of him was pale blue – it was Hermann Frommherz’s ‘Blaue Maus’. Of course, this sort of information was unknown to my virtual alter ego in May 1917, but the bright colours marked the Hun out as someone who didn’t feel the need for camouflage and concealment, and perhaps therefore something of a hot shot. Or perhaps his sky colour was intended as a form of camouflage, ahead of his time!






Either way, it wasn’t long before he was rolling over, to get onto my tail.




He didn’t make it. Instead, another Triplane was onto him in a flash. He twisted and turned but the Sopwith easily out-manoeuvred him and hot shot or no, down he went.




As I watched, the pale blue Albatros glided down and made a respectable forced landing, managing not to turn over despite the rough ground.




As I returned my attention to the skies above, I came unstuck. I was evidently now over enemy territory, and low to boot, for my machine came under sustained ground fire from the trenches below. The grey pencil-lines of the tracers lanced up all around me, and for the second time, rounds whacked into my Triplane.




I jinked like a hare to get out of the lines of fire, swinging around to the west as I did so. Behind me, our gunners continued to pound unseen targets amidst the enemy trenchlines. The MG fire from below soon tailed off, and I was not pursued from the air, thank goodness.




No damage was visible (bullet holes aren’t, with high-resolution aircraft textures enabled, on my version of WoF) but my motor didn’t seem to be pulling so strongly any more. Confident my four comrades could handle the one or two remaining Huns - probably all the better without a disabled flight leader to worry about - I got back across into friendly territory without further incident.




Preferring to avoid the risk of a forced landing if my motor packed up, I headed for a conveniently-sited friendly aerodrome just on our side of the lines, outside the shelled area.




My Clerget rotary kept going and I was able to get down in one piece. Parked aircraft on WoFF airfields generally seem to be the same as the one you’re flying, regardless of what’s really based there, hence the other Tripehound in front of the hangar.




The mission results screen in WoFF is one of the big improvements over previous versions of the sim, as you can see from the one below for this mission.




I had shot down nothing and got few hits, so it was a rather poor show on my part. I was flying the more manoeuvrable aircraft, but the enemy all seemed to be very experienced pilots, with at three current or future aces amongst them. So I was quite glad that as a flight, we had come out on top, with no losses or casualties, and one victory credited to Maynard, one of my flight's  two 'Historic Aces' (an unfortunate abbreviation in WoFF, as to the RFC it meant 'Hostile Aircraft', until replaced by 'Enemy Aircraft' about 1916).


I am very new to the WoFF Triplane and I think I need a bit more experience to get the best out of her. Strangely enough, in a 'Quick mission' in the Tripehound featured below - one of Naval 10's famous 'Black Flight' - I didn't experience the pronounced tendency to roll left, so perhaps my old Saitek cyborg is due replaced at last!




But having now faced off against the foremost planes and pilots Germany can put up against me and returned battered but unvanquished, I’m feeling pretty confident, and looking forward to the next scrap!

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Good action report, 33LIMA! I've always been more than a little partial to the Tripehound. As I recall, Naval 1 had a pair of "twin Vickers" Tripes for testing, starting in July of 1917. Do you get a chance to try them out in WoFF?

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Thanks, guys! No, Silberpfeil, I haven't tried WoFF's 2-gun Tripehound yet! I see that Jon Guttman, in Osprey's 'Naval Aces of WW1 Part 1', says there were six of these, and that Naval 10's Collishaw got a DFW in one of them, N533, on 7 July.The extra firepower would be very welcome, but if WoFF models the real-life performance penalty, I wouldn't want to sacrifice better climb and manoeuvrability for it!


Anyhow, there are no prizes for guessing which WoFF Sopwith comes next!



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