Nieuport 1-27

The aerial combat during the Great War1 gave life to numerous legends about flying machines and the men who flew them. It was a result of passion for flying. For to fly into the sky had been the man’s dream for ages.

Also to the domain of dreams belonged the time when the knight was the live example of all virtues and nobility, courage and devotion in defense of the weaker and the abused. Most of us will remember the Excalibur – King Arthur’s legendary sword – or Don Quixote, the knight-errant of La Mancha’s brave horse, Rosinante.

The knights of the Great War were pilots of aircraft called fighters. Their weaponry and charger in one was the aircraft, or aeroplane as it used to be called. The lance and the sword had been replaced by one or more machine guns. They only lacked armor. Combat was one-on-one. Pilots would do aerobatics in order to obtain a good firing position and to prevent the adversary from achieving the same. The airplane had to be fast and agile. Fights would usually take place in the presence of many spectators – soldiers who were hiding in trenches. The exchange of fire on the ground would stop, everyone watching the breathtaking aerial strife, which was very reminiscent of a fight between two dogs – therefore such an engagement is termed a ‘dogfight’ in the English language. One of the participants was usually shot down, the victor remaining airborne. One who had achieved five victories was called an ‘ace’. Fonck, Mannock, Richthofen, Brumowski, Kazakov, Baracca, Rickenbacker, Makijonek and Peter are names of aces, while Fokkers, Nieuports, Spads, Oefags and Albatroses were names of aircraft, or rather their designers or factories where they were designed and built. We will say about Nieuports – French aircraft which became famous and have found a prominent position in the history of the world’s and Polish aviation.

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The birth and development of the Nieuports

The designation of Nieuport is linked with the origins of aviation. Édouard de Niéport (August 24, 1879-September 16, 1911) – a pilot and designer – was one of the aviation pioneers. In 1909 he established the Société d’Aérolocomotion aircraft factory in Suresnes, manufacturing airplanes of his design. He was one of the few designers who preferred the monoplane layout with the smallest possible number of drag-increasing items. The first construction, the Nieuport I, did not distinguish itself in performance, but it was a kind of laboratory which enabled the designer to develop his new brainchild, the Niueport II of 1910, into a machine singled out for its novel technical solutions: the fabric-covered fuselage with the pilot’s seat so arranged that only his head would protrude above the fuselage, or the landing gear with the wheels attached to a skid through a steel suspension spring. This solution ensured safe landings even in cases of having lost both wheels, which was not rare in those times. The aircraft’s tail unit was not typical, either. The horizontal stabilizer was permanently fixed to the fuselage, whereas the elevator was fitted separately at the end of the fuselage. It came with a doubled rudder. Control of such surfaces was complicated. When presented at the aviation meet in Rheims, it was propelled by the air-cooled two-cylinder Darracq rated at 14.7 kW (20 h.p.), achieving 72 km/h.

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In 1910, upon moving the factory to Issy-les-Moulineaux, the company name was changed to Société Anonyme des Etablissements Nieuport. A next version of the aircraft was developed there, powered by a two-cylinder 20.6 kW (28-h.p.) engine. It was designated the Nieuport 2N. This new machine was a many-time world record breaker. On April 11, 1911 at Chalons, the pilot and designer in one achieved a speed of 119.76 km/h. On June 16 another speed record is set at 130.06 km/h, and still another, at 133.14 km/h, on June 21. These were unimaginable speeds in those times.
Having been fitted with a 37 kW (50-h.p.) engine, the Nieuport 2G, piloted by Belgium’s Jan Olieslagers (a Great War ace with the Belgian air forces), covers a distance of 625 km. Another record was French pilot A. Gobé’s, a distance of 740.3 km being covered. Such distances were over fifty times greater than those covered by the best pilots in the best machines five years earlier. The Nieuport 2G’s next success was America’s Charles Weyman’s victory in the Gordon Bennett speed cup race held at Eastchurch, Great Britain, in 1911, with Weyman achieving 125.5 km/h. The third place was won by France’s Chevalier in a Nieuport 2G.
Édouard de Niéport dies in a flying accident on September 16, 1911. The company is taken over by Charles de Niéport, who continues to develop his brother’s concepts. The record ceiling of 6,120 m achieved on December 28, 1913 by France’s Georges Legagneux was another success of the Nieuport 2 with a 59 kW (80-h.p.) Gnôme Monosoupape A engine. Production orders flooded Société Anonyme des Etablissements Nieuport, making it known not only in France but also across the borders.
But the owners of the company were doomed – Charles de Niéport dies the death of a pilot on January 24, 1913. His successor was Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe with Léon Bazaine as his assistant.