WW1 Planes
An encyclopediae of 1914-18 aircraft types


Prototypes: The jungle of non-commissioned planes

(And lesser known manufacturers)

In war, there are generally more prototypes than production planes, the main reason being competition on official requirements (only one winner), private-venture proposals, tests planes, pre-production planes encouraged and then later dropped when this is no longer the order of the day, and... the end of the war, that led to many program cancellations, in general after a crescendo of production and proposals. Here are most (if not all, the hunt is still ongoing) WW1 British prototypes, from prewar sports planes tested by the military to projects and programs started in the very last days of the war but developed in 1919 or 1920 like the Amazing Tarrant Tabor, largest aircraft in the world.

Pemberton-Billing P.B.31 Nighthawk (1916) - British WWI prototype of interceptor
Pemberton-Billing P.B.31 Nighthawk (1916) - British WWI prototype of interceptor

Tarrant Tabor (1919)
Tarrant Tabor (1919) - British heavy bomber, which design started just at the end of the war by W.G Tarrant Ltd (Only flight in May 1919, and crash) It was the world's largest aircraft. After this, the larger Caproni Ca.60 Transaereo (a novaplane, or nine-plane aircraft) showed by adding planes were no substitutes for structural strength. Giant planes would return, but made in all metallic structures and sturdier cantilever wings.

Flanders F.4 (1912)

Flanders F4

The Flanders F.4 was a WW1 British prototype serie of two-seat monoplanes designed and made by Howard Flanders, developed from the Flanders F.3. The latter flew in the spring of 1912, with success. Trials urged the British War Office to order four more for the newly created Royal Flying Corps with the same configuration as the F.3 but larger cockpits for two seats in tandem. It was also faster with a 70 hp (52 kW) Renault engine and four-bladed propeller and reviews, sturdier parts and assembly to be easier to maintain and be more reliable. The fixed landing gear was also improved as coil-spring suspensions were fitted to the wheel arms. First flight occurred at Brooklands on 6 July 1912, and the four ordered has been delivered by 2 January 1913, showing good flying characteristics. More were to come when the RFC was rebuffed from monoplanes after a fatal crash by a Deperdussin and a Bristol-Coanda in early September 1912. The Royal Flying Corps banned the use of monoplanes. The Flanders had their engines removed to power Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2s and the fuselage and wings dumped or recycled.

Grahame-White Type XV (1913)

Graham-White Char a banc Type X

Graham-White Type XI Military

Graham-White Type XV school Bus

This military trainer biplane was available before World War I. Often known as the Box-kite, this model was derived from the Grahame-White Type XII, following a long line of civilian and sport models but also the military Type X and XI. In 1911 the company was created by Claude Grahame-White and included an aerodrome (Hendon), a school and a workshop. Famous designer was John Dudley North, later Boulton and Paul's chief designer. Among the models buit were Aero-bus and Box-kite biplane, influenced by the Farman design. After its prewar own models the company focused on manufacturing other models, like the Henry Farman F.20 (80 hp Gnome/Rhone) and Avro 503, with about 600 delivered of the latter. In 1917 it was ordered also 700 DH-6 two-seater biplanes. Problems and delays on delivery raised disputes with the Air Board and led to huge financial losses that will almost bankrupt the company later, saved after the war by refurbishing war-surplus Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis...

The Type XV was also named Admiralty Type 1600, as it was purchased first by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). This was a pod-and-boom biplane with three-bay unstaggered wings. Early models had seats for the instructor and student pilot fitted on the leading edge of the lower wing. They usually seat in tandem in the nacelle, the engine being locatred at the back of it, in a pusher configuration. Four parallel beams started from the upper and lower wings, ended with twin rudders and the horizontal stabilizer. From equal span wings succeeded extensions on the upper wing. The landing gear was of the two-wheel and skid model. It was one of the most common trainerof the RNAS and RFC as 135 available before the war. By November 1913 one of these underwent trials with of forward-mounted Lewis machine gun, firing at ground targets. The Grahame-White Type XV were obsolete after 1915 and gradually retired or sold, just broken, and apparently three survived the war to see civilian service from 1919.

Graham-White five-seater Char a banc

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Howard Wright 1910 Biplane (1910)

Howard Wright 1910 Biplane

The Howard Wright 1910 biplane was a two-bay pusher biplane of the "Farman type", with two pairs of booms forward of the wings and bearing a single elevator and others supporting a single rudder half above and half below. The wings were reinforced by a mahogany main spar and short sheet-metal king posts. The upper wings had removable extensions braced by other king posts and the undercarriage had skids and wheels attached underneath. It was propelled by a 50 hp Gnome in a pusher configuration. The prototype traded this later for a 60 hp E.N.V. water-cooled engine and flew at the £4,000 Baron de Forest prize (longest all-British flight). A second prototype was built which flew at Larkhill on Salisbury plain, but crashed in Kent and was resold to the Army, being used by the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers at Larkhill. Another was bought by Thomas Sopwith which later won the Baron de Forest prize. A fourth prototype was shipped to New Zealand in 1910 for Leo and Vivian Walsh. A fifth one was used by the Graham White flying school at Hendon, powered by a Gnome engine, another was flown by Lewis Turner at the 1912 Aerial Derby, and another was powered by a 40 hp (30 kW) Green engine and flew at the Graham White school in 1911 before moving to Rangoon the next year. This gave a total of seven planes which mainly formed many pilots in 1911-1913.

Martin-Handasyde No.3 Monoplane (1910)

 Martin-Handasyde No.4B Dragonfly
A single sport monoplane based on Antoinette monoplanes, with a slender triangular section fuselage. It had also tapered wings braced by mid-span kingposts, and acted by wing-warping. It rested on a pair of wheels on a cross-axle and forward-projected skid. It was powered powered by a 60 hp (45 kW) Antoinette V-8 engine, later a 40 hp (30 kW) J.A.P. It flew at Brooklands with H.P. Martin acting as pilot in November 1910 but crashed in 1912, when piloted by Graham Gilmour, suffering a fatal structural failure. The two-seater was called the Martin Handasyde 4B Dragonfly was 11 m wide, built for Thomas Sopwith.

Cody Mark V (1913)

Cody Mark V

This plane of United Kingdom, was designed by American engineer Samuel Franklin Cody and first flew in July 1912, being introduced into service in late 1912 and was retired in 1913, used as a trainer by the Royal Flying Corps. Only two were ever built. Thy were the result of the December 1911 RFC competition for a Military aircraft capable of carrying a pilot and observer. Showman and aviation pioneer Samuel Cody was well-placed in this competition, already having British Army Aeroplane No 1 at the Army Balloon Factory at Farnborough in 1908, which made the first powered controlled flight in the United Kingdom. He also tested in August 1912 a monoplane powered by a salvaged 120-hp (89 kW) Austro-Daimler engine, and later a monoplane 60-hp Green engine which made a competition flight (tour of Britain) in 1911. This model crashed too, but Cody rebuilt both with a new engine and many modifications, the model being known as the Cody V. It participated an an Army competition and won the first prize, and was used by the Royal Flying Corps from 30 November 1912.

ASL Valkyrie (1911)

ASL Valkyrie

This competition model was a canard pusher designed by Horatio Barber of the Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd in 1910. 11 were built and widely flown during 1911 for sport, race and also for instructional purposes at the ASL flying school at Hendon Aerodrome in London. But they also served military purposes: Four were given to the War Office to promote military aviation in Britain. In 1914 they had been long retired. The Valkyrie B was propelled by a 1Gnome Omega rotary, 50 hp (37 kW) engine and flew at 70 mph (113 km/h; 61 kn).

ASL Viking (1912)

ASL Viking

A unusual single-engine, two propellers tractor biplane built by the Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd and designed by Horatio Barber, which first flew on 12 January 1912. This 360 kgs. plane housed a mid-fuselage Gnome Omega 7-cyl. air-cooled rotary piston engine, 50 hp (37 kW), which actioned two propellers fitted mid-wings on struts, via A.S.L. wooden fixed pitch tractor propellers, chain-driven. It first flew early in 1912 but due to no commercial success Barber basically ceased activities and sold Aerial Syndicate assets in April 1912 to Frederick Handley Page. The Viking ended in the hads of Hamilton Ross, manager of the Chanter Flying School at Shoreham, fitted with floats, and a single propeller driven directly by the engine through a gap in the rear part of the fuselage.

Beatty-Wright Biplanes (1911-1913)

Beatty-Wright Biplane

These were basically Wright Biplanes used at the Beatty School of Flying, some being modified by Beatty. The latter was a gifted pilot, one of the world's first to make banked turns on his Wright over Hendon. George William Beatty was born on August 28, 1887 in Whitehouse, New Jersey. He used to work as a linotype operator and in 1911 he enrolled at the Wright School at Nassau and in 1912, established a school on Long Island, then shipped his plane to England and formed there a partnership with Handley Page in 1914, establishing a new school at Hendon Aerodrome. Chief pilot instructor became Edouard Baumann. In 1915 Beatty opened a workshop tp produce aeroplane parts, also at Hendon, which worked well until the end of World War and also tested variants of the Wright design. In 1916 he made a reliable and simple two bay plane for training, powered by an Anzani, and then Beatty’s own engine, but it crashed on 13 October 1917. He returned to the USA after the war.

Boulton-Paul P series (1918)

Boulton & Paul P.3 Bobolink

Until the end of the war, Boulton & Paul Ltd, a former generic manufacturer of Norwich had built many aircraft under contract, including 1,575 Sopwith Camels and 550 of the Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2b. With the success of their planes they setup a design department and started working on their own model. Their first model was the P.3 Bobolink, which was designed following an official requirement for a replacement of the Sopwith Camel. They created a no-nonsense two-bay biplane powered by the same Bentley BR2 that already powered the Sopwith Snipe, another contender. This was the first also to feature jettisonable fuel tanks, placed behind the pilot and separated with a sheet of armour to act as firewall. Whereas the Bobolink and Snipe had similar performances, the former had ban ground handling and was more complex, therefore not selected.

The Boulton Paul P.6 was a parallel project, a pure testing biplane, two-bay aircraft made to explore the effects of different airfoil sections and a large interplane gap to test interference effects. The fuselage was virtually a near-copy of the Camel's and many Camel parts were used, but it was powered by a relatively week RAF1a air-cooled V-8, 90 hp (67 kW). First drawn in April 1918, the P.6 probably flew in the last days of the war (date unknown). From 1919 it was used as a sales planes, with the company name over it. A replica was built by the Boulton Paul Association, now in store at Cosford. It was derived into the P.9 Light utility aircraft of which six were bult, used on the civilian market.

Boulton & Paul P.7 Bourges

The next Boulton & Paul P.7 Bourges was a prototype British twin-engined biplane day bomber made on the official requirement to replace the DH.10 Amiens, powered by the new ABC Dragonfly radial engines, 9-cylinder air-cooled radial engine, rated for 200 hp (239 kW) each. It was classic-configuration two-bays biplane with strut-mounted engines, capable of 123.5 mph (107 kn, 199 km/h) at 6,500 ft (1,980 m) 9¼ h of endurance and a practical 15,000 ft (4,600 m) ceiling, which can be reached in 25 min 25 s (max ceiling 20,000 ft (6,100 m)), and a power to mass ratio of 0.10 hp/lb (0.17 kW/kg). It was armed with two .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns in the nose and mid-upper position, and carried four 230 lb (105 kg) bombs. Three prototypes were ordered by the Air Ministry, but the first, called Bourges Mk IIA only flew in June 1919, fitted with provisional 230 hp/172 kW) Bentley BR2 rotary engines. It became Bourges Mk IA when fitted with the planned ABC dragonfly engines. It was stable, fast but also extremely sturdy and had unusual acrobatic qualities for a bomber. The second prototype had low-wing mounted engines and gulled upper wing, and the third 1920 Bourges P.7B F2905 was fitted with again new engines, a pair of 450 hp (336 kW) Napier Lion. It was called the Mark IIIA, but since the requirement had been abandoned, the prototypes served as test planes at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough until 1924. The Bourges was also declined as a civilian airliner.

The last of these late WW1 company's models was the Boulton-Paul P.10, a conventional two-seats, one engine biplane made for structural testings. It was the British first all steel aircraft, and first to use plastics as a structural material, Bakelite-Dilecto, which was a hard, synthetic cellulose-formaldehyde compound that had many qualities, like being fire-proof. The fuselage structure used high tensile steel, zinc treated and varnished against corrosion. it was showcased as a knowhow advert at the Paris Salon d'Aeronautique in 1919, but probably never flew.

Dunne D.8 (1912)

Dunne D.8

The Dunne company made some of the most amazing aircraft in these pioneering years: It was a delta wings biplane, with a pusher configuration. It was designed by aviation pioneer J. W. Dunne. In 1906 and up to 1909 he was working for the Army Balloon Factory (later RAE Farnborough) and designed a swept biplane wing aircraft that can have automatic stability. He buit the D.1 in 1907, followed by the sole D.2 and D.3 prototypes, then the D.4. After 1909 he created the Blair Atholl Aeroplane Syndicate Ltd. and his first plane was the Dunne D.5, a single prototype powered by a Green 60 hp engine, and which first flew in 1910 and proved to be aerodynamically stable in flight. The Dunne D.8 was a development for military applications. Only four were built, with a Green engine. It flew at the Larkhill Military trial in August 1912, but was not officially part of the competition. In 1913 the plane was refitted with a 80 hp Gnome engine. A further two were ordered by the War Office order, soon cancelled. There were also the Nieuport-Dunne exposed in 1913 and the Burgess-Dunne hydroplane series built in the US.

Sage Type 2 (1916)

Sage Type 2

This prototype of two-seat biplane fighter aircraft, single-engine with an enclosed cabin was buuilt by Frederic Sage & Co. Limited, designed by Clifford Tinson, which first flew on 10 August 1916. This single prototype was discarded as more advanced models became available. The company was a well-known woodworker, which created a department for plane manufacturing, soon headed by test pilot and designer, E C Gordon England and recruited Clifford Tinson from Bristol. They designed a very small a small wood-and-fabric tractor biplane, and at that time there was still no synchronising gear for the machine-gun, and a hole was cut in the upper wing above the gunners seat for him to stand and man the Lewis gun. It was powered by a Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine mated to a four-bladed propeller. It was wrecked during a crash landing but never rebuilt. New planes with synchronized machine-guns appeared indeed.

De Havilland DH.15 (1919)

Airco DH.15
AIRCO became De Havilland in 1920. Its first plane was in fact the last Airco prototype, designed as a replacement for the legendary Airco DH.9A of 1918. This was basically and Engine test bed, powered by a B.H.P (Galloway Atlantic) V-12 watercooled, 500 hp engine. It was very stable and sturdy, and can fly at 139 mph (224 km/h), with a service ceiling of 20,000 ft (6,100 m), and rate of climb of 1,500 ft/min (7.62 m/s). It made many test flights in 1919-1920.

Edwards Rhomboidal (1911)

Edwards Rhomboidal
Although this model was never a military plane, it's so strange it is worth mentioning it. Just like other oddities like the swept-wing Dunne, this was an attempt to replace the tail with a particular wing arrangement, in imperfect lozenge, or Rhomboidal. It was designed by E.W. Edwards and flew in 1911, powered by a single Humber 50 hp (37 kW) inline water cooled engine, driving through cranks and chains, two tractor two-bladed propellers. It used wing warping, the wings being tensioned between the ends of the longitudinal girders and the outer ends of the struts by cables forming the wing leading edges. There was no lateral control and the machine was tested at Brooklands in early 1911 but it is not know of its flew.

Howard Wright 1910 Monoplane (1910)

The derived Howard-Wright AVIS
A Wright-type plane made by Howard T Wright, and designed by W.O. Manning. It was derived from the Howard Wright 1909 Monoplane. At least three of these Howard Wright were on display at the 1910 Aero show at Olympia. One was flown by Thomas Sopwith. This tractor monoplane with uncovered wire-braced wooden fuselag was powered by a 40 hp (30 kW E.N.V. water-cooled engine and tested later a polished aluminium spinner. It was flown at the Royal Aero Club's flying field, Eastchurch on 3 April by Warwick Wright.

Lakes Water Bird (1911)

Lakes water bird
The Avro-Curtiss design was the first British seaplane. It was built by A.V. Roe Ltd and designed by E.W. Wakefield. It first flew in a conventional wheeled undercarriage with skids and was later reconditioned as a seaplane on 25 November 1911. After Henri Fabre success in 1910, pioneers were concerned to "unstick" their plane, weakly powered, from water. In the US, Glenn Curtiss first flown on 26 January 1911 the first practical seaplane, and A.V.Roe & Co modified a Type D on floats, which flew briefly in November 1911, at Barrow-in-Furness. It was using stepped floats, but was underpowered and just made a "hop" above the water before roughly falling back being damaged in the process. However it was modified, equipped with cylindrical floats and flew 60 times between December 1911 and January 1912. It was used to design the production model Lakes-built Water Hen.

Macfie monoplane (1911)

MacFie Monoplane
Another interesting prewar prototype was the Macfie. It was a small shoulder wing, tractor monoplane powered by a 35 hp (26 kW) J.A.P. V8 engine and had an open-frame fuselage. It was designed and made, and flown by Robert Macfie, and was reminiscent of the Blériot, controlled by wing-warping via wires attached to king posts. But he also envisioned a production model already and his prototype was innovative because of its ease of construction, maintenance and repair. He dropped flying during the war and was an active member of the Landships Committee, militated for the use of caterpillar tracks for an armoured fighting vehicle, submitting many designs of its own.

Mersey Monoplane (1911)

Mersey Monoplane
This prototype was designed by Robert C Fenwick/Sydney T Swaby for Planes Limited, made for the 1912 British Military Aeroplane Competition. However it crashed during trials and was never repaired. Based in Lancashire, W P Thompson of Formby created Planes Limited and hired Frederick Handley Page, creating the Handley Page Type B, later modified by Robert C Fenwick. It was a pusher monoplane, powered by a 45 hp (34 kW) Isaacson radial engine. It was mounted in the nose, while the two-bladed propeller was driven by a long extension shaft ending at the rear. Later Fenwick and Swabey would create their own company, The Mersey Aeroplane Company. Before undergoing military tests, the 1912 plane altready crashed during a test and was rebuilt by Fenwick. But he died in the 13 August 1912 accident.

Paterson Biplane (1910)

A Paterson Biplane replica at the SAAF museum
Designed by Compton Cecil Paterson this pusher biplane was built in his own facility, the Liverpool Motor House. It was similar to the Curtiss Biplane, an open-framed pusher with a sturdy steel-tubes tricycle landing gear. It flew on 23 June 1910 but was damaged, helping later Paterson to obtain his aviator's certificate.

Roe series (1910-1914)

Roe III Triplane
The Roe series were all experimental prewar triplanes. The Roe I was dubbed as the first all-British plane that ever flew, as all previous flight were made by using French engines. This triplane of 1909 was propelled by a chain-driven HP JAP motorcycle engine which drove a four-bladed propeller. The first "flight" was more of a simple hop. It was made by Alliott Verdon-Roe (E.V. Roe), a British Lancashire aviation pioneer which started as a surveyor in Canada, worked in railways, in a dock, as engineer in various ships, allowing him to see one day an Albatross flying.

Back in UK he had the obsession of creating his own plane. In 1906 he joined the Royal Aero-club as a secretary, and became a draughtsman to represent GLO Davidson's engines, but he eventually resigned after a passage in the USA. He then started designing planes and won the Daily Mail competition for one of these models in 1907. He started to fly a real size one, the Roe I Biplane based on his winning model at Brooklands in 1907–08. His first recorded flight was made in 8 June 1908.

His behavior had him antagonize with the management at Brooklands, and he moved later to Walthamstow Marshes, creating his workshop under a railway arch at the end of a viaduct. There, he created his first triplane, dubbed the avroplane, which flew in July 1909. This model became the Roe type II. A replica of it was made in 7 June 2008 at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey. He created with his brother the A.V. Roe Aircraft Co. (Avro) on 1 January 1910, and developed his next models, aimed at the military.

The Roe II called "Mercury" was in fact the first product of the Avro company, in 1910. It was designed by Alliott Verdon Roe as a sturdier Roe I Triplane and two were built and tested examples. One became Roe's company advertising plane, and the other was bought by W. G. Windham. Moved by a two-bladed propeller driven by a Green C.4 4-cylinder inline water-cooled, 35 hp (26 kW), the longest "hop" of this model was 600 ft (180 m) at 45 mph (72 km/h; 39 kn). The Roe III was the last of these prototypes, a triplane tailplane with ailerons, two seats and an open-top fuselage of triangular cross-section.

Production records differed from 3-5 prototype with various ailerons configurations, still powered by a Green engine. One joined the Harvard Aeronautical Society USA, and two were lost by fire en route to the 1910 Blackpool Meeting, later replaced. Avro became one of the most successful British manufacturer to this day. His company built the largest production of planes in WW1 with the Avro 504 (8,300). In the late 1940s, he retired his shares from Avro and created his own company by purchasing S. E. Saunders Co., to create Saunders-Roe, which built the world's largest floatplane, the Princess.

Scottish Aeroplane Syndicate Avis (1910)

Avis I
The Avis I or a photo assumed to be such

The first plane of this unsung pioneering company was made by Howard T Wright (Nothing to do with the Wright brothers) in 1909, together with William Oke Manning for Alan Boyle at Battersea. Influenced by the Blériot design, this single-seat tractor monoplane had an open-air wire-braced wooden fuselage, cabane struts wire bracing, and used wing-warping for lateral control with foot pedals and a stick for elevation. The cabane prolongated downwards to a skids carriage for wheels using shock cords. The tail was cruciform tail, single assembly and articulated on a universal joint. The "Golden Plover" was propelled by a 30 hp (22 kW) Anzani engine which was soon disappointing on trials and replaced by a 35 hp (26 kW) Anzani and a new propeller made by Wright.

It flew succesfully at Boyle in March 1910 and was sold to Mr Maconie to be used at Brooklands in the summer of 1910. Their Avis II was propelled by a 40 hp (30 kW) J.A.P., exhibited by the Scottist Aeronautical Syndicate at Olympia and used by R.F. Wickham and later lost in a crash. The Avis I name was given to a third prototype, given a 40 hp (30 kW) E.N.V. engine, used by Boyle and lost later at the Bournemouth Air display. An Avis III was bought by racing driver J. H. Spottiswode, and the Avis IV was used by Boyle and resold on auctions when the syndicate was dissolved, at Brooklands, to Eustace Gray from the local press.

Spencer-Stirling biplane (1910)

Spencer-Stirling plane, powered by two props chain-driven by a Berlier engine

A single pusher biplane used by the RNAS. It was designed by Herbert Spencer and first flew on 9 November 1910, of the Farman type. It was later re-enginered with a 50 hp (37 kW) Gnome Gamma rotary engine after having tried the unreliable RH 4-cylinder in-line engine, rated at 40–70 hp (30–52 kW). This plane helped Herbert Spencer to obtain his Aviator's Certificate at Brooklands, and flew several times until it crashed in February 1912, acting as RNAS trainer.

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List of RFC planes See also, airships