The fastest thing in the sky! A Champion of the SE5a

Sir Sholto Douglas, a first world war fighter pilot who later became a senior commander in the second world war, was a key champion of the SE5 which he described as a pleasure to fly:

“We sat in quite a roomy and well-padded wicker seat with a cushion on it, and were quite reasonably protected from the blast of the slipstream. In front of us, well under the padded rim of the fuselage, there were the instruments, above which there was a small, solid windscreen, with the gun sights in front of that. We were strapped into our seats with a broad belt around our waists attached to the back of the seat in such a way that while we were secure, we still had quite a fair amount of movement.”

In the first part of his autobiography, Years of Command, Sir Sholto said that few aircraft could match the splendid lines of the wonderful SE5: “It was a very strong aeroplane, and even under the most ham-fisted and violent handling it never caused the slightest apprehension about the possibility of breaking up in the air.

“It was fast for its time with a top speed of 170mph, and although that may sound almost ridiculous by modern standards, or even by the standards of fighters of the second world war, it was then the fastest thing in the sky over the Western Front.”

The speed of the SE5 in a dive was one of its major attributes:

“Although, later, the Fokker DVII was slightly faster than the SE5 in level flight, the SE5 would pick up speed in a dive much quicker, and for a few precious seconds one was sometimes able to draw out of range of the enemy. Then, with the fine zoom that the SE5 had, even at high altitudes, we could return to the attack.  In the low flying attacks at Passchendaele, this zoom often enabled us to rocket up to comparative safety when we suddenly came across an unexpected machine gun nest.

Author: Sean Feast