Nieuport Scout On Display In Gallery One

ESAM is thrilled to have a 7/8 scale replica of this historic treasure!

You don't want to miss the exciting display our Exhibit Team put together to showcase this plane. On display in Gallery One, the Nieuport brings a fresh perspective and continuity to our early aviation collection.

The Nieuport Scout and its Role in the Development of Aerial Warfare

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History of the Nieuport
The Planes of World War I
Improvisation and Ingenuity
Later Nieuport Designs

The story of the Nieuport series of fighting aeroplanes essentially parallels the genesis of aerial warfare.

When French Field Marshal Ferninand Foch famously declared, "Aviation is good for sport, but for the Army it is useless," he did so because few people in 1914 had foreseen a need for, or a means of, turning the flying machine from a rich man's plaything into a weapon of war. Though aeroplanes and aviators appealed to the public's appetite for glamor and novelty, most military thinkers perceived contemporary aircraft - with their fragile airframes, unreliable engines and meagre lifting capacity - as insufficiently robust for wartime duty. Some rudimentary attempts had been made at dropping primitive bombs from the air during the First Balkan War (1912-13), but by and large, the few visionaries of 1914 who bothered to consider it at all regarded the aeroplane's usefulness as limited to reconnaissance and observation - extensions of the role traditionally performed by the cavalry. It was to these purposes that the civilian flying machines of 1914 initially were adapted.

Most aircraft of the day belonged to one of two types: They were either fast single-seaters, typically derived from high-speed racing designs, or multi-place, general-purpose aircraft with separate cockpits for the pilot and a passenger/observer. The two sub-species were as different as a dray horse is from a thoroughbred colt: one slow, inherently stable and workmanlike, the other bred for speed and agility. It took no great leap of imagination, therefore, for designers to adapt the exisiting two- and three-seater machines for reconnaissance and observation duties, and to begin designing newer, better models along similar lines. They and their aircrews soon became known as "the eyes of the army," and the information British and French aerial observers brought back early in the war played a signal role in stopping the German offensive drive toward Paris at the Battle of the Marne.

The role of the single-seater, however, was more nebulous at first. Conventional thinking initially relegated these swift, often tricky-to-handle, machines to messenger duties, where it quickly became evident that they held no great battlefield advantage over the field telephone and telegraph, or even the embryonic wireless radio. In time they were employed as a mount for high-speed reconnaisance, in which the pilot could dash behind the enemy's front, observe his troop movements and other military dispositions, then retire with this information as speedily as he had penetrated. In this role the single-seaters came to be known as "scouts." They were, in effect, the stealth technology of 1914.

Both types of aircraft soon came to be employed widely and with great success in their respective roles. Their usefulness became even greater as the conflict on the ground devolved into trench warfare and the cavalry could no longer survive on a battlefield characterized by barbed wire, machine guns and rapid-firing field artillery.

Before long, airmen on both sides began seeking new ways of employing their winged mounts. If aerial reconnassance was indeed "the eyes of the army," they reasoned, then preventing the enemy's observation machines from performing their function was equally essential. Airmen began arming themselves with pistols, shotguns, infantry rifles and all manner of improvised weapons - from half-bricks, towed lengths of chain and grapnel hooks to vicious little steel darts called "flechettes" - in efforts to drive away or bring down their counterparts from across the lines.

The logical weapon, for such use was, of course, the machine gun. Two-seater aircraft were readily adapted to this purpose by the simple expedient of mounting a gun on a swivel in the observer's cockpit, where it could be fired across a broad arc, both defensively and offensively. Scout aircraft presented a seemingly intractable problem, however, for it proved all but impossible for a scout pilot to fly his machine and simultaneously operate a machine gun aimed to the side or rear with any accuracy. The only practicable solution was to mount the gun in front of the pilot, fixed to fire along the axis of flight; in this way the pilot had only to point the nose of his aircraft at his target to bring his gun to bear on the enemy. But to do so meant shooting directly into the arc of his own propeller - with inevitably disastrous results.

French designers achieved a compromise solution in the spring of 1915 by mounting angled steel wedges to the propeller blades of a Morane-Saulnier Type L scout, fixed directly in line with the muzzle of a clip-fed Hotchkiss 7.9-mm machine gun. Their calculations showed that approximately 96% of the bullets fired in this manner would pass between the whirling propeller blades; those that didn't would be deflected aside. It was an imperfect solution, but it worked, after a fashion, and for a brief time French pilots were able to shoot down their German counterparts with relative impunity. However, it was only a matter of time before the "deflector apparatus" fell into German hands, and before long German engineers had improved on it with a mechanism that actually synchronized the propeller and gun together, preventing the gun from firing when a propeller blade passed in front of it. This "interrupter gear" was incorporated into a series of Fokker Eindekker monoplanes that enabled the Germans to achieve unprecedented aerial supremacy between July 1915 and the spring of 1916. It was a time known as "the Fokker Scourge".

By 1916 Allied designers had discarded the deflector gear as mechanically unsound and dangerous, and were researching several interrupter designs of their own. Development was slow, however, and it became necessary to equip the new generation of purpose-built Allied scout machines with an alternative method of armament. These aircraft were inevitably biplanes, as the wire-braced two-wing design could be made structurally stronger and more readily adaptable to military purposes. The machine gun could be mounted in a pivoted cradle attached to the top wing, and fixed to fire over the top of the propeller arc. The weapon of choice was the .303-cal. Lewis light automatic, a gas-operated machine gun which featured a top-mounted drum magazine holding 47 rounds, later increased to 98.

The first Allied scout aeroplane so equipped to go into squadron service was the French-built Nieuport 11, a design developed from the earlier, larger, two-seat Nieuport 10 observation machine. Dubbed the "Bébé" (baby) by its pilots because of its diminutive size. It was fast for its day, with a top speed of around 100 m.p.h., and highly maneuverable. Nieuport 11s - and successive models constituting refinedments of the basic Nieuport biplane design - were produced in great numbers over the next two years and equipped numerous French, British and Belgian scout squadrons. Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Finland and Japan all built Nieuports under license.

The basic Nieuport design was called a "sesquiplane" - that is, it featured 11/2 wings, the bottom wing being only half the chord of the upper, built around a single lateral spar. This gave the machine its characteristic "Vee-shape" interplane (between-the-wings) struts and made it wonderfully light and highly maneuverable. This came at a price, however, for the "Vee-Strutter" Nieuports were known to be structurally fragile. When dived at excessively high speeds or subjected to the stress of violent maneuvering, the single-spar lower wing was prone to flexing and twisting, occasionally leading to structural failure. Some Nieuports were known to break up under such conditions, and pilots were instructed to be ever mindful of the limitations inherent in the aircraft's design.

Judiciously handled, however, the Nieuport was pleasant to fly and a highly effective fighter aircraft for its time. The combination of a light structure, a rotary engine and one or two machine guns combined to make an agile, effectively armed fighting aeroplane and enabled the Allies to bring the Fokker Scourge to an end.

The Nieuport 17 was an evolutionary development of the original Nieuport 11 design. Compared with its predecessor, it had a larger wing span and surface area, and a more powerful 120-hp LeRhone rotary engine, which necessitated some modification of the engine cowling. It was among the first Allied aeroplanes to feature a synchronized, belt-fed, .303-cal. Vickers machine gun fitted in front of the cockpit. Problems with the early Alkan gun synchronizing mechanism led some pilots to remove the Vickers and replace it with a wing-mounted Lewis gun, however, and in fact all Nieuports in use with the Royal Flying Corps were thus equipped. Some French pilots and Americans serving with the French in the Lafayette Escadrille used both machine-guns together, although the extra weight of the second gun did degrade the aircraft's performance noticeably.

Nieuport 17s were first deployed in May 1916 with France's N57 squadron. Pilots described it as having a good rate of climb, adequate speed, good pilot visibility and excellent maneuverability in a dogfight. Many high-scoring British and French aces, including Guynemer, Ball, Bishop, Dallas, Fullard, Nungesser and others, scored the majority of their victories while flying Nieuport scouts.

By 1918 the Nieuport sesquiplane design had reached the limit of its potential, and the final wartime product from the company's line, the Nieuport 28, featured a conventional two-spar, equal-chord structure, twin Vickers guns and a 160-hp Gnome rotary engine. The type was not adopted for French service, although the United States purchased 297 Nieuport 28s and used them to equip four "pursuit" (as the U.S. then called its fighters) squadrons.

Learn More
A list of famous WWI aviators with brief biographies:
The national markings for aircraft during WWI (alphabetically listed by country):



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