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Standard Built Sopwith Pup


Aircraft Feature: Standard Built Sopwith Pup 3 - Standard wartime production and the History of B1087


 The Sopwith Pup B1807, photographed in 1917





Standard Aircraft production 1916- 1918


In 1915, Standard were asked to build aircraft for the war effort. The Canley factory was rapidly  constructed  on a greenfield site, with a flying field adjacent to the first factory buildings. Some work was obviously carried out at the Cash's Lane works and this allowed the first aircraft, B.E.12's to be completed in the spring of 1916.


The B.E.12's were a Royal Aircraft factory design from Farnborough. The first, No 6136, reached the Royal Flying Corps No 21 Squadron in France, in August 1916, and subsequent aircraft went to the Royal Flying School and  to the Home Defence Guard, for evaluation, as well as to squadrons in France. It seems that the attrition rate was very high, the last presumed to survive was 6180, shot down on 20th October 1916 and retained for some time as a war trophy.


Obviously the design could hardly be described as a success, so the next War Office order was for Sopwith "Scouts". These planes were popularly described as "Pups", the first Standard built examples came out of Canley in November of 1916. This was a proven and successful design, already in service on the Western front. Such was the pace of development at the time that aircraft were becoming obsolete within months, if not weeks, as the enemy came up with new and superior designs, requiring constant innovation and upgrading of equipment as a response. Remember that it was only 13 years since the first ever powered flight.


The first Standard built Pup also became a war trophy when it was shot down on 4th January 1917; it must have been an aging design already as all Pups were replaced during 1917. That didn't stop production though, Standard were given further orders to produce Pups for training units. The factory was also ordered to produce another new design, the R.E. 8. The first of these flew in January 1917 and both planes were produced for a time. Production peaked in mid 1917 with 24 Pups and 12 R.E.8s  being produced each week.


In mid 1918 a further War Office Order was for Bristol fighters, though production of both Pups and RE8's continued until the armistice in November. All existing orders were delivered initially to store. The remaining Pups were given as a gift to establish the Royal Australian Airforce and many of the remainder were sold to the Japanese government.


Standards wartime production was 1077 aircraft of which 850 were Sopwith Pups. To my knowledge, none of these aircraft are airworthy today. I would be pleased to know that I am wrong! Standard showed no interest in continued aircraft production, in fact was rather keen to get back to car production in their new Canley facility.


History of B1087


B1087 was built as part of a batch of 150 under War Office Contract 87A461. The usual engine fitment to the Pup at this time was an 80hp air-cooled Le Rhone 9 Cylinder Rotary Engine. In this design the whole engine casing complete with propeller rotated around a stationary crank.



Sopwith Pup production at Canley. Note the wood shavings on the floor. A collection of fuselages each with its 360 degree engine cowling can be seen at the rear of the shop


For some reason, as yet unknown, B1087 appears to have been fitted with an upgraded engine, as the contemporary photographs show it fitted with a larger 110Hp 9 cylinder Monosoupape (single- valve, in french) engine. The design of these engines is a topic in itself, which I will attempt in the near future.



Whilst the Le Rhone engined Pups had a full circular cowling, the Monosoupape can be distinguished by the fact that it is wider in diameter, has slots in it from 9 o'clock to 1pm, only has a 3/4 cowl and indeed the propeller is somewhat larger, presumably giving it superior performance.


This 80Hp Le Rhone was fitted to a number of contemporary aircraft, including the Pup....

......but B1087's original fitting was a 110Hp Monosoupape. Both engines are French designs

B1087 is believed to have served in two Home defence Squadrons:

The first was 198 squadron at Rochford, now Southend Airport where it was engaged in night flying training. This squadron was under 50th wing H/Q at Great Baddow, nr Chelmsford.

The second was 76 squadron, based at Ripon Racecourse in Yorkshire operating under the 46th Wing at Burnholme Hepworth, Yorks.

Both squadrons were operating mixed fleets of aircraft.

I have been supplied with 3 further shots of B1807 dated July 1918.(below) You can see that the original engine has now been replaced by a Le Rhone, but the same 3/4 cowling has been retained, the smaller engine looks a little lost in the cowling - and the propeller is smaller.

Another shot of B1087, with 4 Airforce personnel, clearly taken at the same time

In November, 1918 the armistice was declared, and there was no further use for many military aircraft. B1087 was declared obsolete and sent to storage at the Aircraft  DisposaL Stores at Hendon. In November 1920 the plane was re-registered for Civil use as G - EAVX and sold to A. R. M. Rickards of Cheltenham.

Aubery Rickards was the son of a Gloucestershire farmer, and was a student at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, when the First World War broke out. He enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and, after training as a pilot, was sent to France in 1917; a fortnight later his plane was shot down and he spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in Germany.

His post-war service in the Royal Air Force was spent mainly in the Middle East, including seven years in Aden, and three years in Iraq and the Gulf. It is not known if Mr  Rickards had the opportunity to fly the aircraft, for the next record of its history is that it was entered in an Aerial Derby at Hendon in July 1921. 

G EAVX at Hendon, 21st July 1921

Aerial derbies had been  held at Hendon annually from 1912. The flying race around London started and finished at Hendon. At a time when few people had seen an aeroplane, and even less had been up in one, the spectacular air displays were hugely popular, attracting up to 500,000 spectators. This event continued until the early 1950s.

Designated as No 4 and piloted by Lester Forestier-Walker, the airplane failed to complete the course and crashed on landing.

Oopps, how not to land a Sopwith Pup!

Fortunately the pilot was not injured. Judging by the pictures the main damage was to the prop and undercarriage. The machine was righted and man-handled to the Graham-White aircraft factory on the site. Unfortunately, Graham White received no payment for repair or storage. The wings were sold to PT Capon and installed on G-EBAZ, his own Pup, which he had earlier damaged whilst learning to fly.

The whereabouts of the fuselage from that point on until 1977 when it was purchased by its current owner, is presently unknown. If you can add to this history please contact the webmaster in the first instance. We are particularly keen to contact members of the Rickards family

Grateful acknowledgements to Brian Long, Kelvyne Baker, Nick Harris and Air Pictorial. Article compiled by Phil Homer.