THE SOPWITH BEE
Sopwith’s chief test pilot Harry Hawker had a number of one-off aircraft made for his racing, aerobatic and business use. The little Tabloid and the land adaptation of the Schneider Trophy racer are the best-known, but there were also the two 1914 Gordon Bennett racers, the SLTBP (a wing-warping “proto-Pup” made in late 1915), the Scooter, made from Camel components in 1917, the 1919 Schneider racer and this diminutive 18 ft wingspan Bee, produced in 1916. In “Sopwith, the Man and his Aircraft” it is briefly described as having a 50 hp Gnome engine and being built from Pup components and is illustrated photographically by a very good side view and a low-level ¾ front view.
After studying the photographs, drawing up the 3-views and then building models of both the Bee and the SLTBP, I am convinced that it was the latter rather than the Pup that provided the inspiration and perhaps even the hardware for the Bee. They share the same type of engine, fin, tailplane and control system, whereas the wing is a real one-off, owing nothing to SLTBP or Pup.
In order to start somewhere, I assumed that the wing chord was, like the STLB, a fraction over 5 ft and made nearly all the other measurements and assumptions from there. I had to take a deep breath when fixing the dimensions of the cabane struts and the wing cutout, but they do tie in with other measurements, even though the distortions in the photographs make it hard to be absolutely certain. For instance, I show only one set of rear cabane struts, and even these lean backwards, but that is the only solution I can see: it’s not good engineering though!
The tailplane looks as though it is the same shape as the SS3 Tabloid and very similar to the later Triplane tail, but the fin and rudder are pure SLTBP. The fuselage “fits where it touches” to standard Sopwith practice and the rigging is obvious in the photographs. Harry Hawker must have clambered into the cockpit from above the top wing, but once inside, he sat behind a little windscreen in a very snug cockpit, quite like the Scooter and Swallow.
The national markings are very clear in the photographs and imply that the Bee was made up to look just like an operational aircraft, with PC10 and natural linen in the usual places. The wheel covers are not painted and the cowl and side panels are brightly burnished alloy. The top panel, from the cowl to behind the cockpit, is probably varnished ply, though it is difficult to be sure. What is most unusual is that there is no Sopwith trademark on the fin or rudder, although it does appear in transfer form on the main struts.
Drawing the plans and making the model has been a fascinating exercise, but I make no claim that this is the definitive interpretation. I would love to hear from anyone else who has made a Bee, or any of the other “one-offs” that decorate the margins of the best aircraft company in the world. Write to me at 5 Foxwood Avenue Christchurch, Dorset, England BH23 3JZ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Roach Feb 2003