Nieuport 28

The Nieuport 28 was a totally new design that was produced in an attempt to replace the famous sesquiplane fighters that had begin with the Nieuport 10 and Nieuport 11. It was most famous as the first fighter to be used in combat by the American Expeditionary Force.

The classic Nieuport fighters had been light, manoeuvrable aircraft, normally armed with a single machine gun and with a sesquiplane wing layout. The lower wing had a similar span to the upper wing, but half the chord and thus half the area. The two wings were connected by 'V' struts. This wing layout produced manoeuvrable aircraft, but it made it hard to increase engine power, as the heavier engines also increased wing loading and thus made the aircraft harder to fly. By the autumn of 1917 the last production versions of this design, the Nieuport 24 and Nieuport 27, had appeared, but despite Gustave Delage's best efforts they weren't able to compete with the improved German types, or with the excellent Spad fighters.

Delage responded to this problem with an almost entirely new design. The Nieuport 28 abandoned the sesquiplane layout in favour of a much more standard biplane layout. The lower wing was still slightly smaller than the upper wing, but not by much, and the overall wing area increased from just under 15 square meters to 18 square meters. The new wings were straight edges, un-tapered and had rounded ends. They were connected by parallel struts. The aircraft used a similar tail to the Nieuport 27, with a small fixed vertical fin and rounded rudder. It was powered by a 150hp Gnome Monosoupape 9N rotary engine.

The first prototype was flying by June 1917. This aircraft had a very small gap between the fuselage and the upper wing, no dihedral on the lower wing and a significant amount of dihedral on the upper wing. This design wasn't a success and a second prototype was produced with a bigger gap between the fuselage and upper wing and no dihedral on the upper wing. This was followed by a third design with the same wing gap, but with 1.5 degrees of dihedral on the upper wing. This became the production version of the aircraft.

A few Nieuport 28s may have entered French service late in 1917, but it was not adopted for widespread use and was quickly replaced by the Spad fighters.

Instead the type entered large scale production for the Americans, who had been promised a large number of fighter aircraft. There weren't enough Spad fighters to fulfil this promise and so they were given the Nieuport 28 instead. A total of 297 aircraft were delivered to the Americans, where they were used by the 27th, 94th, 95th and 147th Aero Squadrons of the First Pursuit Group.  

The combat debut of the 94th and 95th Squadrons was unusual - in March 1918, while based at the Villeneuve training centre they were used for unarmed flights along the line of the Marne, designed to discourage high flying German photo reconnaissance aircraft. No machine guns were carried as the operation was too far behind the lines for opposition to be expected. Eight of these patrols were carried out before the German spring offensives forced the Americans to change base. Soon afterwards, in mid-April, the American Air Service was given responsibility for the Toul sector of the front, with combat operations beginning on 14 April. On that day Douglas Campbell became the first American-trained fighter pilot to claim an aerial victory, although of course many French-trained Americans had scored victories when flying with the Escadrille Lafayette. Campbell would also go on to be America's first ace. The first AEF victory was actually scored by Campbell's colleague Alan Winslow, earlier in the same fighter, but he was French trained.

The Nieuport was unpopular with the Americans after a few lost their upper wing covering in fast dives (the most successful American fighter pilot of the war, Eddie Rickenbacker, survived one loss of wing fabric). The engine was also unreliable, and Quentin Roosevelt (son of President Theodore Roosevelt, lost on 14 July) and Raoul Lufbery (lost on 19 May) were both shot down and killed while flying the type. Some American pilots did achieve success with the type, including Eddie Rickenbacker, Winslow, Douglas Campbell and Jimmie Meissner.

In July 1918, in the middle of the German Champagne-Marne Offensive (15-18 July 1918), the US squadrons converted from Nieuport 28 to the Spad XIII. The new aircraft were welcomed, but they also suffered from problems with their Hispano-Suiza engines. Despite these early problems the American pilots began to achieve success in the new fighters, although this was probably due more to their increased experience than to the merits of the two aircraft. The type remained in limited use into August, and on 1 August the 27th Squadron suffered the AEF's most losses on a single day. Soon after that the squadron changed aircraft.
After the war twelve aircraft were used by the US Navy for experiments with flying off platforms mounted on battleship turrets.

Engine: Gnome 9B rotary engine
Power: 160hp
Crew: 1
Span: 26ft 3in
Length: 20ft 4in
Height: 8ft 1.75in
Empty weight: 1,172lb
Maximum take-off weight: 1,631lb
Max speed: 121mph at 6,500ft
Climb Rate: 21min 15sec to 16,405ft
Service ceiling: 17,060ft
Range: 248 miles
Armament: two fixed forward firing Vickers machine guns

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 January 2015), Title,

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