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SPAD XIII C.1

Airworthy Reproduction

In spite of a very successful prewar business, thanks to its chief designer Louis Béchereau, the SPAD (Société Pour les Avions Déperdussin) company went bankrupt after serious financial problems.

 

The company was taken over by Louis Blériot in 1914. The new owner, feeling that he should take advantage of SPAD reputation, managed to twist the new company name into: Société Pour l'Aviation et ses Dérivés, thus retaining the original SPAD initials.

 

The SPAD design was not particularly innovative compared to aeroplanes such as the Fokker D.VII. Its sturdiness was due to a well-engineered wooden fusleage although this was at the expense of an increase in weight. The design was aerodynamically sound, with its rounded fuselage and high aspect ratio wings, and it was propelled by the rather temperamental 220 HP Hispano-Suiza geared engine. Its main asset was a very good climbing performance, far superior to its British and German counter parts but it did not handle as well as pilots expected.

 

As a matter of fact the SPAD was certainly no easy aircraft, especially in the low speed range where its thin airfoil section often resulted in brutal stalls. On the other hand it could withstand the stress of dives above 280 MPH followed by steep climbs. The aircraft was at ease in vertical manoeuvres rather than tight turns and it gained superiority over the enemy until the arrival of the Fokker D.VII. On top of this the SPAD was a very stable firing platform and could take its share of punishment without too many problems.

The one-piece twin-spar upper wing has no dihedral, while the lower is built in two parts and also has no dihedral. The top has a slightly wider chord than the lower, the leading edges of all wings are covered with plywood and the wire tailing edge gives the so-called scalloped effect. The fuselage is also made out of wood with numerous metal fittings. The four longerons are tightened by wires with top and bottom rounded deckings. The langing gear legs are made of laminated poplar with the usual bungee cord system. The engine coolant flows through the front radiator, with manually operated shutters to adjust the water temperature. The main fuel tank is located at the bottom of the fuselage and has an emergency release system. Two auxillary tanks are located in the top wing centre section, immediately behind the water tank. The oil tank sits in the cockpit next to the pilot's seat.

The propeller was either designed by GALLIA or Marcel Bloch, later to become known as Marcel Dassault.

The first flight was performed by French Ace René DORME on April 4th 1917 and from the beginning it was clear the aeroplane would be a success. The total production amounted to more than 8000 and 81 French escadrille and Allied Squadrons flew the type before the end of WWI.

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The Spad XIII # 4377

This aircraft was built in February 1918 by the Kellner company based at Levallois near Paris. It is one of the few survivors of the 8000 units built.

The well worn aircraft was recovered from an attic by Jean Salis in the 1970s. Restoration work started slowly in 1988 and gained pace when the aircraft was donated to the Memorial Flight Association in 1990. The restoration took 4 years. Both the fuselage and the engine are original, but the wings had to be mostly rebuilt to original specifications. Everything was restored or made, checked and reassembled using original techniques and material. For example, the aircraft is covered with linen fabric and the official 1918 camouflage pattern was used to provide an accurate paint scheme. Only metal parts are painted as well ad the roundels and rudder. Other fabric covered parts are tainted with pigmented dope as per the original. It flies with a new-built propeller copied from an original Eclair propeller that belongs to the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace.

The first post restoration flight (and the first flight in 73 years) took place on the 3rd of May 1991. The aeroplane wore the colours of Charles Henri Dolan, last survivor of the Escadrille La Fayette.

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Charles Henri 'Carl" Dolan - last survivor of the N 124 Escadrille passed away in 1982

10 years after her first reborn, the SPAD XIII returned in our workshop for a complete overhaul (engine, airframe, new fabric and radiator) and an upgrade to a higher standard of restoration.

She's now wearing the colours of brigadier Trémeau, SPA 83 "Dragon" Escadrille, January 1918.

This airplane is the oldest SPAD XIII airframe known and the only original in flying condition.

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Some history: Escadrille Lafayette

"The American Squadron N124" was officially formed on 18 April 1916 on Luxeuil aerodrome, two years after the idea of an American volunteers squadron was contemplated. It started with 6 Nieuport 11s under the command of Captain Thenault and Lt Alfred de Laarge de Meux as second in command. Pilots were W. Thain, E. Cowdin, K Rockwell, N. Prince, C. Johnson, B. Hall, C. Baisley, V. Chapman, L. Rumsey and J. McConnell.

The first war sortie took place on May 13th and was uneventful. N124's score started with K. Rockwell when he downed an LVG two-seater near Mulhouse in the morning of May 18th 1916. When he learned of his brother's feat Paul Rockwell sent a bottle of aged Kentucky Bourbon whiskey to the squadron. The pilots then decided that the only person allowed to take a sip in the future would be a pilot after a victory. Later, Raoul Lufbery took almost half the bottle! A big dogfight took place on May 24th without loss although Thaw was injured after an emergency landing within allied territory. On this day Lufbery, a quiet and modest American, born in France, reported to the unit. Lufbery had been the mechanic for M. Pourpe prewar and he had been shot down and killed in 1914. To avenge his memory, Lufbery enlisted and became a pilot.

The first loss was Victor Chapman, a very brave man, who was shot down and killed on June 23rd in an uneven fight against five Fokkers that he had attacked to get revenge for his friend Balsley, shot down and seriously wounded on 19th. It is during this time that Charles Nungesser paid a friendly visit to the Lafayette and added one victory to his score. On July 31st, Lufbery scored on victory over a German, three more followed making him an ace.

N124 'Lafayette' had then shown the world what they were worth with 146 fights and 13 official victories for the loss of one man. Taking advantage of leave in Paris, they managed to acquire a baby lion before returning to Luxeuil. They named it Whiskey and it became a playmate for Captain Thenault's German Shepherd dog Fram.

The unit was then issued with the new Nieuport 17 equipped with a synchronised machine gun and 110hp engines but soon after, on September 23rd, K Rockwell was lost and on October 12th N. Prince was seriously wounded while on an escort mission. On October 2nd and 3rd, the new SPAD VII began to arrive and for a while these were used alongside the Nieuports. During the winter, one of the mechanics, Suchet, painted a Seminole head that was soon to become the unit emblem and Harold Willis joined the unit in February 1917 and redesigned the emblem as a Sioux head, giving it its final touches. For diplomatic and political reasons, the name was briefly changed by the French government and instead of Escadrille Américaine, it became Escadrille des Volontaires, fortunately the name was changed soon after to become Escadrille Lafayette as of December 6th 1916.

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La Fayette, Sioux, SPADs, and a group of brave and fiery pilots were enough to forge a new legend...

Lufbery shot down another enemy aircraft on December 27th but had to wait until January 24th to paint another red bar as a sign of victory on his machine. He was among the first, if not the first, to start a custom that was to become the norm in future. On January 26th 1917, pilots and mechanics moved to St-Just-en-Chaussée in time for a tactical move. On March 16th 1917, Thaw had to travel to Paris and fly back with a new SPAD. He also took time to find a girlfriend for Whisky, a young lioness called Soda. By the end of May the Lafayette moved to Ham, a city closer to the lines. They soon learned of the declaration of war by the United States of America on April 6th. Nevertheless a sad period was to plague the unit when Genet and Hoskier were shot down and Lt de Laake de Meux was killed in a take off accident. A. C. Campbell joined the unit only to be involved in an extraordinary accident. He lost the left lower wing of his Nieuport while doing some aerobatics but managed to bring his aeroplane safely to the ground without any other damage !

Soon, seven new pilots joined, among them Charles (Carl) Henry Dolan who turned out to be a good pilot and a good electrician.

On January 1st 1918, the Lafayette officially became the 103rd Aero Squadron, and the first fighter squadron of the infant American Air Force with Thaw as Commanding Officer while Lufbery was appointed Commanding Officer of another group. He was later to perish when he jumped from a blazing aeroplane near Toul. SPA 12 kept going with new French pilots as of February and took the name SPA 124 Jeanne d'Arc and disbanded after the armistice in November 1918.

The Lafayette was credited with 199 official victories with 17 being credited to Lufbery.

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Evolution of the Lafayette emblem during WWI

Original seminole head painted on Raoul Lufbery's aircraft preserved at the French Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace.

Late 1916, early 1917.

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Original Sioux head painted on Henry Jones' Spad XIII preserved at the U.S.A.F.Museum.

The best known emblem, worn from 1917.

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The overhaul (2001 - 2003)

The first restoration (1988 - 1991)

Photoscopes

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220 hp Hispano-Suiza engine and accessories.

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Radiator.