The Sopwith Buffalo was an armoured aircraft designed for ‘contact patrols’, low level reconnaissance missions over the enemy lines, that would probably have entered production if the First World War had continued into 1919.
The official mission the Buffalo was designed for was the ‘contact patrol’. The idea was that the aircraft would fly low over enemy territory, reporting on the position of the enemy infantry. Sopwith photographs tend to call it a ‘Trench Fighter Two Seater’, but it wasn’t designed to carry bombs, a standard feature of ground attack aircraft even in 1918.
The Buffalo was powered by a 230hp Bentley B.R.2 engine. It was a fairly small aircraft for a two-seater, with a wingspan only 3ft larger than the single seat Snipe fighter. The Buffalo was a two bay biplane, The rotary engine was quite bulky, but the fuselage tapered very quickly behind it to an unusually narrow width just behind the engine. This gave the gunner a better view and field of fire downwards, and made the aircraft a smaller target. The pilot sat in the high position level with the upper wing, with his head in a large cutout section. The gunner was close behind, with another cutout in the upper wing to improve his view. The forward part of the aircraft was armoured, and it had twice the loaded weight of the Camel despite not being much bigger. The armour formed part of the structure of the aircraft instead of being bolt onto an underlying structure).
Two Buffaloes were ordered in July 1918, H5892 and H5893. They were to use as many parts from the Sopwith 2FR.2 Bulldog, a two main reconnaissance fighter, and this probably sped up the construction of the first prototype, which reached Brooklands for its flight trials on 18 September 1918. These must have gone well, as on 20 October the aircraft was flown to No.1 Aeroplane Supply Depot at Marquise to be tested in France.
The second prototype was delivered on 18 November. It had a new form of engine fairing which flared out at the rear. The rear gun had been carried on a rocking pillar mounting on the first prototype, but this was replaced with a Scarff ring on the second prototype. The armour was extended further to the rear, giving the observer/ gunner more protection. Cutouts were added to the trailing edge of the lower wing to improve the observer’s view down.
Performance was poor. At low level it at a top speed of only 110mph and it had a service ceiling of 9,000ft. However the service ceiling wasn’t that significant, as it was meant to be operating close to the ground, and speed wasn’t as important as survivability.
If the war hadn’t ended when it did the Buffalo would probably have entered production. However with the end of the war official interest ended, and only the two prototypes were completed. One was later used for carburettor tests, but its main significance is as the last Sopwith type to be produced during the First World War.
Engine: Bentley B.R.2
Span: 34ft 6in
Length: 23ft 3.5in
Empty Weight: 2,178lb
Maximum Weight: 3,071lb
Maximum Speed: 105.5mph at 6,500ft
Guns: Fixed forward firing Vickers gun, free mounted rear Lewis gun.