On the 9th of October David Hassard gave his lecture entitled The Sopwith Story, compiled to mark the centenary of the foundation of Sopwith Aviation in 1912, to Association Members and to the visitors, including Tommy Sopwith junior, who had come to the Hawker Centre to celebrate the Kingston Aviation Centenary Project. After much research David has managed to identify all the Sopwith types and to relate them to each other in terms of design links and calendar time as well as collating production numbers. This he showed in an original and effective Powerpoint presentation. He has also collected together from many sources numerous photographs of the Sopwith aircraft being built, at the manufacturers, and in service or on trials.

In its eight years of existence Sopwith Aviation produced more than 40 basic designs with many variants bearing 56 names. That is equivalent to a new one every twelve weeks. Some 18,000 Sopwith designed aircraft were built, mostly by licensees and contractors in the United Kingdom and overseas, the company itself building but 3,300 in Kingston upon Thames. Numbers of aircraft produced at Kingston indicate the growth of Sopwiths company: 1913 - 16, 1914 - 73, 1915 - 199, 1916 - 282, 1917 - 863, 1918 - 1320, 1919 - 560, when the war was over.

The Sopwith Aircraft Story

Toptop toptoptop

David explained how, in 1910 at the age of 22, Tom Sopwith, after teaching himself to fly, gained the 31st royal Aero Club flying licence. He took up competition flying and, with his mechanic Fred Sigrist, went to USA. In 1912, with their winnings, Sopwith set up the Sopwith School of Flying at Brooklands using standard contemporary aircraft. However, Sigrist thought he could improve upon them so he modified the Burgess-Wright they had bought in America.

Also in 1912, Australian Harry Hawker joined the Company, was taught to fly by Sopwith and soon became the company test, demonstration and competition pilot. More importantly he joined Sopwith and Sigrist to form the unique and effective three man design committee, each with complementary skills. The first Sopwith design was the Hybrid tractor biplane combining existing and newly designed components. This was so successful at gaining records with Hawker that the Admiralty bought it.

As there were by now several flying schools Sopwith decided to move wholly into aircraft design and manufacture and chose Kingston upon Thames as his site. With the Admiralty money he bought the roller skating rink as this provided a cavernous space, uninterrupted by pillars or other roof supports, and a flat, level, wooden floor on which designs could be laid out and structures built.

As the company grew he would build a large new factory close by in Kingstons Canbury Park area and, in 1918, leased Government Aircraft Factory No.2 at Ham. (After the war Sopwith offered to buy the Ham factory but his offer was rejected by the Government in favour of Leyland who went on to build civil and military vehicles, Trojan cars, tanks and munitions.

Happily, in 1948 Sopwith bought the Ham factory from Leyland as the principal Hawker production and design centre). Design and manufacture started in earnest in 1913 with the height record breaking Three Seater and the Bat Boat, the first successful British flying boat and later, when fitted with retractable wheels, the worlds first successful amphibian.

 From here the speaker went through every Sopwith type on a year-by-year basis, illustrating each with excellent photographs, and highlighting particular design features and achievements. A very important type was the Tabloid of early 1916 which set the pattern for all subsequent fighting scouts. As a seaplane it won the 1914 Schneider Cup in Monaco, the first time a British aircraft had won such a competition. It was developed into the Baby and led to the 1916 Pup and Triplane and the 1917 Camel, the most successful fighter of the war. In 1915 Sigrist produced his Bus which led to the 1 Strutter in 1916 of which nearly 5,500 were built. The Camel was followed by the Snipe family in late 1917, and in parallel with the Camel was the often overlooked Dolphin of which over 1,000 were built.

After the November 1918 Armistice the demand for military aircraft reduced to zero. However, a number of experimental prototypes and one-offs were designed and built of which the most famous is the Atlantic in which Hawker and Mackenzie Grieve came so close to making the first non-stop Atlantic crossing. However, it made national heroes of the crew. In 1919 a new Sopwith Schneider was designed and built for the race, and with a top speed of 160 mph was the fastest entry, but fog prevented the race from starting.

In 1920 Sopwith wound up his company to pay a Government bill for excess war profits. He sold land from his estate at Horsley and paid off every creditor in full. The same year Sopwith, Sigrist and Hawker started again when they formed the HG Hawker Engineering Company which became Hawker Aircraft Ltd whose success allowed Sopwith by acquisitions to create Hawker Siddeley Aircraft, Hawker Siddeley Aviation and the great industrial conglomerate, the Hawker Siddeley Group. Not bad for three young men in their twenties who wanted to build aeroplanes in the second decade of the 20th century.

This is but an incomplete summary of Davids highly detailed and informative talk on which he must be congratulated. As Chris Farara said, when giving the vote of thanks, David really should write the book.