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SPAD XIII

SPAD is an acronyn for Société Pour Apparelis Deperdussin, or, in rough translation, the Deperdussin Aeroplanes Society. Armand Deperdussin, a silk merchant, was associated with the company as named above from 1910 until the company went bankrupt in 1915 and Deperdussin was arrested for embezzlement. The initials were also ascribed to Société Provisoire des Aéroplanes Deperdussin and Société Parisienne des Avions Deperdussin as well as Société des Productions Armand Deperdussin. The chief technician at the time was Louis Béchreau and later André Hebermont. Deperdussin was replaced by Louis Blériot, a famous French aviator. Blériot changed the name to Société Pour Aviation et ses Dérives [Society for Aviation and its Derivatives] so its initials remained the same.

The SPAD line of scouts became renowned in WWI. They first drew attention from the public when the all-American Lafayette Escadrille (see photo below) was formed and given SPADs. The S.VII was fast, especially on the level, but also in a climb or a dive. It was also a very stable gun platform. The SPAD VII first flew in 1916, over 3,500 were built.

The first SPAD S.VIIs arrived on the Western Front in September 1916 and were well received by the French escadrilles de chasse, whose Nieuport 17s had been outclassed by the German Albatros D.I and D.II scouts. By 1917 no fewer than eight French factories were building SPADS faster than any other aeroplane in the world. The air arms of Belgium, Britain, Italy, Russia and the United States wanted them. Five thousand six hundred S.VIIs were built in France alone, with other manufacturers under license abroad.

As 1917 rolled around, the combat superiority of the SPAD S.VII dwindled as the new Fokker Dr.1 triplane and Albatros D.R. came into service. At the suggestion of Lieutenant Georges Guynemer, an ace of Les Cigognes SPA3 squadron, a special S.XII was built with a 37mm Hotchkiss cannon mounted between the cylinder banks of the Hispano-Suiza engine. They called it moteur-canon. The gun fired through the hollow crankshaft and propeller hub which were raised in line with the cannon via a geared drive. Guynemer shot down four enemy aircraft with the cannon-firing SPAD. Capitaine René Fonck, the highest scoring Allied ace of WWI, scored 11 of his 75 victories with the moteur-canon. The hotchkiss was a single shot weapon which had to be breech-loaded by hand in the cockpit. The recoil was so severe that the plane would nearly stop in mid-air. Cordite fumes from the cannon were another hazard. The cannon idea did not catch on and was not continued on subsequent aircraft. The Vickers machine guns used on later aircraft were reliable as long as the pilot meticulously checked his tracer, incendiary and amor-piercing projectiles for true diameter and inserted them in the metal link-belt segments that fell off as the cartridge entered the gun. Adjustments were also needed with the pilot in the cockpit directing the horizontal position of the guns in conjunction with his bead-and-ring sighting on distant targets.

The SPAD XIII was, as Capt. Edward "Rick" Rickenbacker of the 94th Aero Squadron declared, 'the best ship' he ever flew. ' It was more impressive than any other airplane, any other automobile, any other piece of equipment I had ever seen; the ultimate aircraft in the war....' Rickenbacker scored 26 victories in eight months in the SPAD. René Fonk shot down six German aircraft on May 9, 1918 in two dogfights, three of them in such quick order that the wreckage was contained in a quarter-mile area. SPAD XIIIs were flown by some of the top allied aces of the war including Eddie Rickenbacker, Frank Luke, René Fonck, Nungesser and Baracca. Each took full advantage of the SPAD's strength and speed.

As with any throughbred, the SPAD XIII could be difficult to handle. SPADs were a 'pilots aeroplane'. They were very demanding of their pilots, but for those with the right touch they were a very rewarding plane to fly. SPADs needed to be landed under power. The same structural design that gave the SPAD its climbing and maneuvering abilities accounted for its high sink rate with power off (It tended to sink like a lead weight) and the lack of wing dihedral made it sensitive to roll control. The SPAD simply had to be flown constantly. It was not a 'hands off' flyer. The location of the header tank for the cooling system in the center section of the upper wing, directly foreward of the cockpit was in the right position to spray the pilot with boiling hot coolant if it sprang a leak, the pilots position in the cockpit gave a poor view foreward and the plane was fond of ground-looping, yet the good pilots forgave it all that and more.

The SPAD XIII (shown above) was an improved VII, being larger, refined and far more powerful. The S.XIII was a good gun platform, fast, sturdy and powerful. But it was not easy to fly and the engine was not entirely satisfactory. A total of 8,472 SPAD XIIIs were built; 893 went to the American expeditionary Forces.


Click here for photo of Escadrille Lafayette

SPECIFICATIONS

SPAD XIII
Country: France
Manufacturer:
Société Pour Aviation et ses Dérives [Society for Aviation and its Derivatives]
Span: 26 '11"
Length: 20' 8"
Weight: 1,811 lbs.

Armament

SPAD XIII
Machine Guns: Two Vickers or Browning 7.7 mm on cowling
Rate of Fire: 400 rpm

PERFORMANCE

SPAD XIII
Engine: 220hp Hispano-Suiza 8Be rotary engine geared so propeller rotates left instead of right
Speed: 138 mph max. at 6,560 ft.
Ceiling: 21,800 ft.
Endurance: About 1hr 30min.

 

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