Sopwith’s wonderful 80hp Scout (Pup) immediately impressed when unveiled in February 1916 and quickly went into service with the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) and RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) and long term production (see Wingnut Wings models 32013 and 32016). Sopwith’s follow up machine, the 110hp Clerget 9z powered Sopwith Triplane prototype N500 was approved on 28 May 1916, only 4 months after the Pup prototype. It was sent to France in mid June 1916 for trials with A Sqn (later 1 Naval Sqn) RNAS where it was reportedly sent into action as soon as it arrived. A 2nd prototype, the 130hp Clerget 9b powered N504, was flying by August 1916 and was similarly dispatched to France for trials. Even more powerful and maneuverable than the highly respected Pup, Sopwith’s new Triplane or ‘Tripehound’ (often shortened to ‘Tripe’) as it became known, was an instant hit with the young RNAS pilots lucky enough to fly them. Although superficially similar to the Sopwith Pup, the Tripe fuselage was designed from the outset for the larger 110hp & 130hp Clerget engines. The wingspan was the same but the triple ‘short chord’ wings afforded greater visibility, more maneuverability and a phenomenal rate of climb. Although initially armed only with a single Vickers machine gun like the Pup, the Tripe could out-climb and out-maneuver the best German fighters of the time, the twin gun Albatros D.II & D.III (and later D.V), and it was faster too!
So promising was the new Sopwith design that the RFC had an order “under consideration” for 50 aircraft a mere 10 days after the prototype was unveiled, although ultimately the RFC would only receive 1 aircraft with the vast majority going to the RNAS. A handful were operated by the French Centre d’Aviation Maritime and at least one served with the Imperial Russian Air Service (and remarkably remains in existence today). The performance of the Tripe so impressed the Germans that much time and expense was expended by their aircraft industry in attempts to come up with their own Triplane. Ultimately the only successful design was the famous Fokker Dr.1 which started to appear at the front towards the end of 1917, about the time that Sopwith’s design was being phased out of front line service in favour of their Camel. The arrival of the superior Camel meant that merely 150 Tripes were built by Sopwith, Clayton & Shuttleworth and an inexperienced company of shopfitters at Oakley & Co who had their contract cancelled after completing only 3 aircraft (one of which survives to this day).
WW1 aircraft colours are contentious at the best of times and we have done our best to provide what we consider to be accurate painting information. Sopwith Triplanes appear to have been doped with both PC10 and PC12, the latter being noted on Sopwith factory drawings for the Tripe. Service wear and tear required that they were frequently recovered and re-doped so the factory applied colour scheme would not last long. There is considerable controversy as to what colour PC10 (Protective Covering number 10) actually was. Made from mixes of yellow ochre, iron oxide and lamp black pigments it varied between olive drab and chocolate brown, depending on the mix and, presumably, time spent exposed to the elements. It appears that early, fresh PC10 appeared more olive drab while later mixes and aircraft exposed to the elements for some time would appear more chocolate brown. PC12 is slightly less controversial although previous reports of it being red brown are in error and it was actually a chocolate brown (original samples examined from a late production Sopwith Snipe are a very close match to FS26120). The undersides of the wings, tailplane and fuselage were CDL (Clear Doped Linen). Metal cowling panels were treated to a ‘turned’ finish on Sopwith built machines while those from Clayton & Shuttleworth were usually given a coat of camouflage paint approximating PC10 or PC12 dope. Small metal fittings and brackets were usually black although some appear to have been finished in grey. All surfaces exhibited a shiny gloss appearance when new which would loose its shine and fade relatively quickly.