S.E. 5a

Steadily, the body of scouts rises higher and higher, threading its way between the cloud precipices.

Sometimes, below, the streets of a village, the corner of a wood, a few dark figures moving, glides into view like a slide into a lantern and then is hidden again.

But the fighting pilot’s eyes are not on the ground, but roving endlessly through the lower and higher reaches of the sky, peering anxiously through fur-goggles to spot those black slow-moving specks against land or cloud which mean full throttle, tense muscles, held breath, and the headlong plunge with screaming wires – a Hun in the sights, and the tracers flashing.
A red light curls up from the leader’s cockpit and falls away. Action! He alters direction slightly, and the patrol, shifting throttle and rudder, keep close like a pack of hounds on the scent. He has seen, and they see soon, six scouts three thousand feet below. Black crosses! It seems interminable till the eleven come within diving distance. The pilots nurse their engines, hard-minded and set, test their guns and watch their indicators. At last the leader sways sideways, as a signal that each should take his man, and suddenly drops.
Machines fall scattering, the earth races up, the enemy patrol, startled, wheels and breaks. Each his man! The chocolate thunderbolts take sights, steady their screaming planes, and fire. A burst, fifty rounds – it is over. They have overshot, and the enemy, hit or missed, is lost for the moment. The pilot steadies his stampeding mount, pulls her out with a firm hand, twisting his head right and left, trying to follow his man, to sight another, to back up a friend in danger, to note another in flames.

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But the squadron plunging into action had not seen, far off, approaching from the east, the rescue flight of Red Albatroses patrolling above the body of machines on which they had dived, to guard they tails and second them in the battle (...).
But, nevertheless, the enemy, double in number, greater in power and fighting with skill and courage, gradually overpower the British, whose machines scatter, driven down beneath the scarlet German fighters.
It would be impossible to describe the action of such a battle. A pilot, in the second between his own engagements, might see a hun diving vertically, an S.E. 5 on his tail, on the tail of the S.E. 5 another Hun, and above him again another British scout. These four, plunging headlong at two hundred miles an hour, guns crackling, tracers streaming, suddenly break up. The lowest Hun plunges flaming to his death, if death has not taken him already. His victor seems to stagger, suddenly pulls out in a great leap, as a trout leaps on the end of a line, and then, turning over on his belly, swoops and spins in a dizzy falling spiral with the earth to end it. The third German zooms veering, and the last of that meteoric quartet follows bursting... But such a glimpse, lasting perhaps ten seconds, is broken by the sharp rattle of another attack. Two machines approach head-on at breakneck speed, firing at each other, tracers whistling through each other’s planes, each slipping sideways on his rudder to trick the other’s gun fire. Who will hold longest? Two hundred yards, a hundred, fifty, and then, neither hit, with one accord they fling their machines sideways, bank and circle, each striving to bring his gun on to the other’s tail (...).

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The game of noughts and crosses, starting at fifteen thousand feet above the clouds, drops in altitude engagement by engagement. Friends and foes are scattered. A last S.E., pressed by two Huns, plunges and wheels, gun-jammed, like a snipe over marshes, darts lower, finds refuge in the ground mist, and disappears („Sagittarius Rising” by Cecil Lewis).
In the summer of 1917 the S.E. 5, a new creation of the British aircraft industry, was not able to put up an equal fight against German aircraft. The too weak engine and various defects doomed it to defeat in aerial combat. However, with the course of time, the S.E. 5a version, after numerous improvements and with a more powerful engine, came to be considered the best British fighter of WW1. Thanks to its durability, and particularly the quality of the engine, the S.E. 5a was long used during the post-war years by air forces in various countries.
It was used for various kind of tests and experiments. It also had contact with the Polish air force. Therefore, the history of its development and service is worthy of notice.

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