While most Sopwith fighters used a rotary engine, the Sopwith 5F.1 Dolphin used a Hispano-Suiza vee. The upper wing sat low on a deep cockpit to give the pilot maximum visibility, with his head poking out in a cage structure splitting the upper wing. The lower wing was negatively staggered to maintain the correct center of gravity. Pilots were not keen on this arrangement, though, fearing being decapitated if the plane should flip over. Those fears were unfounded though, and the plane proved easy to fly and quite capable, especially at high altitude where Camels struggled. The first operational trials commenced in June 1917, but it was not until the late months of 1917 that production units reached the front. Problems with the geared 200hp Hispano-Suiza plagued rapid production, just as it was slowing the R.A.F. S.E.5a.
|Designer||Herbert Smith |
|First flight||June 1917 |
|Introduction||late 1917[note 1][note 2]|
|Primary user||U.K. (RFC/RAF)|
|Number built||1,532  [note 3]|
|Wingspan||9.91 m (32 ft 6 in) |
|Propeller Diam.||2.90 m (9 ft 6.1 in)|
|Engine||200hp Hispano-Suiza vee|
|Armament||2×fixed sync. Vickers; 1-2× angled Lewis[note 4]|
|Ammo||≥500 (Vickers) + 1-2 drums of 97 rounds (Lewis)|
|Max Speed||see table|
Twin synchronized Vickers were fitted to the fuselage, and sometime additionally one or two limited-movement Lewis guns aimed upward at a 45° angle, though the latter were frequently removed, with a corresponding increase in performance. The Dolphin performed all the normal fighter patrol and escort duties and one unit was issued Dolphins for Home Defense.
Fears of pilot injury in the case of a crash landing led to the addition of a crash pylon on the upper wing to protect the pilot's head if the plane overturned.
A version using the powerful 300-320hp Hispano-Suiza (the Dolphin II) was in testing at the end of the war and was anticipated for use by both French and American units.  It was anticipated that the French firm SACA would build as many as 2194 Dauphins for use by the Americans, but the order was cancelled with the Armistice.
The Dolphin Mk.III used a direct-drive Hispano-Suiza engine, eliminating the troublesome gearing, and saw action with all four RAF Dolphin squadrons. Its performance was somewhat less than then standard Dolphin, but that may have been due to a less efficient propeller.
|Dolphin||200hp Hispano-Suiza||2×Vickers||205.2 km/h (127.5 mph)||2,000 m (6,500 ft) in 6:05
3,000 m (10,000 ft) in 10:30
4,600 m (15,000 ft) in 19:30
|6,400 m (21,000 ft)|
|195.5 km/h (121.5 mph)||2,000 m (6,500 ft) in 7:05
3,000 m (10,000 ft) in 12:05
4,600 m (15,000 ft) in 23:00
|6,100 m (20,000 ft)|
|Dolphin Mk. II||300hp Hispano-Suiza||2×Vickers||230 km/h (140 mph)||2,000 m (6,500 ft) in 5:10
3,000 m (10,000 ft) in 8:20
5,000 m (16,500 ft) in 12:10
|7,500 m (24,600 ft)|
|320hp Hispano-Suiza 8Fb||2×Vickers||224 km/h (139 mph)||2,000 m (6,500 ft) in 5:27
3,000 m (10,000 ft) in 8:35
5,000 m (16,500 ft) in 17:33
|7,900 m (26,000 ft)|
|Dolphin Mk. III||200hp Hispano-Suiza|
|188 km/h (117 mph)||2,000 m (6,500 ft) in 6:20
3,000 m (10,000 ft) in 11:20
4,600 m (15,000 ft) in 21:50
|5,800 m (19,000 ft)|
For more information, see Wikipedia:Sopwith Dolphin.
Timeline [note 5]
|Version||Availability||Maneuver||Damage||Dmg Points||Max Alt.||Climb|
|+angled Lewis||N||A or B||16||13||3|
|+2× angled Lewis||N||A or A||16||13||3|
|+2× outboard Lewis||N||A+A||16||13||3|
Plane and Crew Cards
Miniatures and Models
- Metal kit: Reviresco
- Cast Metal: MSD Games/Hostile Aircraft
- Metal kit: Heroics & Ros GWA108
- Shapeways: Kampfflieger
- The prototype was sent to France for operational trials starting on 13 June 1917.
- The first unit in France to be fully equipped with Dolphins was No.19 in January 1918.
- 2,150 were ordered but not all were built before production ceased.
- Early Dolphins featured two Lewis guns, but the official production planes included only one, and it was frequently removed. Some No.87 squadron planes had a Lewis on each lower wing, outboard of the propeller. Outboard guns could not be reloaded.
- British usage numbers are approximate, derived from the squadron histories.
- Bruce'67, p.3.
- Bruce'69, p.600.
- Bruce'67, p.4.
- Bruce'67, p.7.
- Bruce'67, p.10.
- Bruce'67, p.12.
- Lamberton, pp.214-215.
- Kelly, p.230.
- Munson, p.48.
- Davilla, p.473.
- Bruce'67, p.9.
- Philpott'13, pp.379-444.
- J.M. Bruce. British Aeroplanes 1914-18. Great Britain, Funk & Wagnalls, 1957, 1969. ISBN 0370000382
- J.M. Bruce, Profile Publications 169: The Sopwith Dolphin. Great Britain: Profile Publications, Ltd., 1967.
- Kevin Kelly, "Belts and Drums: A Survey of First World War Aircraft Ammunition Totals". Over the Front, Vol. 5, No. 3, Autumn 1990. Walsworth Publishing Co, Inc. and The League of World War I Aviation Historians.
- W.M. Lamberton and E.F. Cheesman, Fighter Aircraft of the 1914-1918 War. Great Britain: Harleyford Publications Limited, 1960.
- Kenneth Munson, Fighters 1914-19, Attack and Training Aircraft. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1976. ISBN 0713707607
- Ian Philpott, The Birth of the Royal Air Force. Great Britain: Pen & Sword Books Limited, 2013. ISBN 978-1-78159-333-2