When I went to buy up a bunch of aircraft to get started with Rise of Flight, I decided on two famous Sopwith aircraft types – the Pup and the Camel. Classic aircraft! I gave the Sopwith Triplane a miss not knowing the aircraft very well and kind of ignoring it as a sub-type that wasn’t that interesting to me. Many years later and I’m kicking myself because after spending some time with the new Sopwith Triplane for Flying Circus Vol 2 and I can say with some confidence that this might be my new favourite aircraft in the series. Let’s have a look!
A bit of history
Designed by Sopwith designer Herbert Smith, the Triplane was a private venture development by the company. It borrowed the fuselage and empennage of the Sopwith Pup and paired the design with three, thin, wings. The span was the same as the Pup but the change in design granted the new type a more impressive climb rate and great maneuverability with good control harmonization.
It first flew in May of 1916 and by June the first prototype had been armed with a single Vickers machine gun and sent to “A” Naval Squadron. On arrival it was sent into combat performing an intercept of enemy aircraft within 15 minutes of its arrival.
The aircraft performed well in combat although its typical armament of a single Vickers machine gun was becoming inadequate relative to the German fighters of the time that were packing two light machine guns. There were some structural issues with the aircraft produced by subcontractor Clayton & Shuttleworth which led to some aircraft being modified with additional wires in the field.
The type’s combat history was short with just 6 months of service before it was withdrawn in favour of the sturdier, faster, and better armed Camel. The type had also proven to be difficult to repair and often needed to be sent back to rear maintenance units. Just 147 were produced in total.
Despite this short service, the Triplane performed brilliantly in combat with units armed with the type wracking up a long series of victories over their German counterparts. Such was the success of the type that some German aircraft actively avoided combat with the distinctive aircraft. It also led aircraft makers to come up with competing designs leading to the iconic Fokker Dr. I triplane.
Flying the Triplane
The Triplane, or the “Tripe” or the “Tripehound” as it was sometimes called, flies brilliantly! Takeoff roll is average but once sufficient speed has picked up, the aircraft climbs away with confidence that some WWI-types lack.
The real-world version reportedly had very good control harmonization and I find that to be the case here. Elevator response is strong but not overly twitch, roll rate is about average or perhaps slightly better than average, and the rudder is very effective.
In stall situations the aircraft is highly controllable although you will start to feel the effects of the Clerget 9B rotary engine at the limits. That said, its not nearly as twitchy as the Camel can be. The type does have a blip switch should you need to temporarily halt the engine to make a quick roll and turn.
The Triplane is controllable up to a very low speed provided that you keep on top of your rudder controls. When it does stall it can be quite an awkward experience but so far I’ve been able to recover from every stall that I’ve gotten into. No unrecoverable spin like the Camel. And when the stall does develop you often have a split second to get on top of it before a wing drops and you start tumbling so it is, by World War I standards, forgiving.
The approach to combat with the Triplane differs only slightly from what you may be used to with the Camel. The Triplane is an earlier type so its natural enemies are more typically the Albatross D.Va and the Pfalz D.IIIa. Versus these it holds up well with the ability to out turn, out climb, and generally keep up with the speed of these aircraft although it will not out dive the Pfalz D.IIIa with that type’s extremely strong wing structure.
Against some of the later types, the Triplane reveals its age and so it is definitely on the back foot versus the excellent Fokker D.VII and Pfalz D.XII. It’s hardly surprising given those aircraft and their exceptional late war performance.
The Triplane is easy to fly. Easier than I expected with the Fokker Dr. I as my only other triplane experience. I recognize how capable the Dr. I can be in the right hands but for me the Triplane is the aircraft that I’d prefer to fly in. It’s a fun aircraft with few bad habits and great resistance to stalling.
Visibility is also a lot better than I would have expected.
Most Tripes were fitted with just a single 7.7mm Vickers light machine gun. A few were fitted with two machine guns to help give them some parity versus the better armed German scouts that were almost all fitted with the two-gun armament. This modification is available and it does, of course, add to the weight of the aircraft reducing performance. I haven’t decided yet if I prefer the two gun or single gun armament. What is clear, however, is that the single gun is definitely a disadvantage compared to the other aircraft.
The type also has a cockpit light and a Aldis Collimator sight as available modifications.
Visuals and sounds
By and large, I’m extremely happy with the way that Ugra Media has upgraded this aircraft. The cockpit looks great and most of the details are very good and about at the same standard as we’ve seen for other aircraft. The exterior looks phenomenal with beautiful high resolution textures and lighting.
The only area that I feel is a bit weak is the cockpit as seen from the exterior. It’s not always noticeable but when you get up close to it you can see the lower resolution textures. Once you hop into the cockpit yourself its fine. It’s a nitpick and hardly noticeable unless you go looking for it. There are some complaints in the community on the cockpit machine gun models both from an accuracy point of view as well as details. For accuracy, I don’t really know the difference so it doesn’t bother me. It’s functional so that’s fine. As for the details it didn’t really stand out to me either.
The sound is up to the usual standard and is good without being outstanding.
With the Fokker Dr. I as my guide, I just assumed that I didn’t like the way that triplane aircraft handled. The Dr. I is immensely capable but a real handful and an aircraft that I feel like is fighting me as much as its fighting the enemy. The Triplane by comparison is a beautifully handling aircraft that very much feels like a more agile and capable Sopwith Pup. It’s just a joy to fly around!
As a combat aircraft in the current Flying Circus mix, the Triplane is definitely an earlier type and so its more limited armament and overall performance is a bit of a disadvantage. That said, its not always going to be fighting Fokker D.VIIs and when it isn’t it is in a great place especially when it can use its climb rate to its advantage.
This is a fun and reasonably capable fighter with a tremendous pedigree and possessing a more interesting history than I initially thought. The Triplane gets a two thumbs up from me!