Thomas Sopwith and his legendary aircrafts

Thomas Sopwith around 1911. Image: Library of Congress

Thomas Sopwith around 1911. Image: Library of Congress

On January 18, 1888English aviation pioneer and yachtsman Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith was born. Sopwitth’s pioneering firm was famous for British WWI military aircraft, including the legendary Sopwith Camel.

Thomas Sopwith was interested in motor cycles from early age and took part in the 100-mile Tricar trial in 1904 and was among the four medal winners. His first ascent with a hot air balloon was two years later and along with Phil Paddon he bought his own hot air balloon from Short Brothers. For a while, Sopwith was even in business with Paddon selling automobiles in London. Sopwith’s interests varied and next to his enthusiasm for aviation and motor sports, Sopwith was also a member of the Great Britain national ice hockey team that won the gold medal at the first ever European Championships in 1910.

Thomas Sopwith’s enthusiasm was fueled by John Moisant’s cross-Channel passenger flight. Sopwith’s first flight was with Gustave Blondeau in a Farman at Brooklands and after teaching himself how to fly a monoplane, Sopwith managed to fly on his own for the first time in 1910. After a first crash and further improvement of his skills, Sopwith was awarded Royal Aero Club Aviation Certificate No. 31, flying a Howard Wright 1910 Biplane. In December of the same year, the aviation pioneer Thomas Sopwith won a prize for the longest flight from England to the Continent in a British-built aeroplane, flying 272 km in less than four hours.

Sopwith and Fred Sigrist founded the Sopwith Aviation Company and success came with Harry Hawker who won the British Michelin Endurance prize with a flight of 8h 23m using a Wright Model B completely rebuilt by Sopwith and fitted with an ABC 40 hp engine. Only one month later, the companygot its first military aircraft order. In total, it is believed that Sopwith Aviation produced more than 18,000 British World War I aircraft for the allied forces, including 5747 of the Sopwith Camel single-seat fighter. Unfortunately for Thomas Sopwith the company faced bad times when the war was over and the pioneer re-entered the market a few years later with the Hawker Aircraft company, named after the chief engineer and test pilot, Harry Hawker.

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