Nieuport 17

The Nieuport 17 was the most famous in the series of Nieuport fighters, and was a redesigned version of the original Nieuport 11, with larger wings and a more powerful engine.

The Nieuport 11 was a sesquiplane, with a lower wing of about half the area of the upper wing (with the same span but half the chord). It was powered by an 80hp engine, and was a manoeuvrable, fast climbing aircraft that helped defeat the Fokker monoplanes when it first entered service early in 1916. The main flaw with the design was the weak lower wing, which could twist at high speeds.

The first attempt to improve the type was the Nieuport 16, which kept the basic layout and size of the Nieuport 11, but with a more powerful but heavier 110hp engine. The new fighter thus had higher wing loading than the Nieuport 11 and was less manoeuvrable.

The Nieuport 17 kept the basic layout of the earlier aircraft, but most elements were redesigned. The wings were increased in area and the lower wing was strengthened in an attempt to solve the twisting problem. The wing area grew from just over 13 sq/m to just under 15 sq/m, and in British service the wing area was sometimes used as an alternative designation. The lower wing was still built around a single spar and it could still suffer from failures. In May 1917 the RFC ordered that the lower wings in all of its Nieuports should be strengthened in an attempt to solve the problem. Part of the problem was that the lower wing was still attached via a circular collar which had been designed to allow the wing incidence to be adjusted. This was apparently never implemented, but the collar was left in place.

The Nieuport 17 was produced in large numbers by several French companies, although sadly the exact production figures for most of the Nieuport fighters are unknown.

The standard Type 17 was powered by a 120hp Le Rhône engine. The Type 17 had some fairing behind the engine cowling, but the fuselage behind the cockpit still had flat sides.

Late in 1916 Nieuport also produced the Type 17bis, which used a 130hp Clerget engine and had more fuselage fairing.

The Nieuport 17 was armed with a machine gun mounted above the upper wing. British aircraft used a Lewis gun mounted on a sliding Foster mount that allowed it to be pulled down to be reloaded, to clear jams, or to fire upwards. French machines used different mountings. Some aircraft were later given a synchronised Vickers gun, carried on the top of the engine cowling, but the RFC normally removed these and replaced them with the over-wing gun.

The Nieuport 17 was a very manoeuvrable aircraft, with a high rate of climb, maintaining the features that had made the Nieuport 11 popular. It soon replaced the earlier types in front line service (including the Nieuport 10 and Nieuport 12 two-seaters).

Some Nieuport 17s were equipped with a cone de penetration, effectively a fixed faring mounted in front of the propeller. These looked like a large spinner but were actually fixed. 

The Nieuport 17 was used in combat by the French, Belgian, Italian and Russian air services and by the British RNAS and RFC. They were also used in smaller numbers in neutral Holland and after the war in the newly independent Finland.

The Nieuport 17 made its maiden flight in January 1916, and entered service with Escadrille N57 on 2 May 1916. Soon after this it entered RFC service. The aircraft helped to give the Allies control of the air over the Somme and Verdun during 1916, although later in the year new German types began to win control back (eventually leading to the heavy Allied losses of April 1917).

French users included Escadrille N3, where Charles Guynemer achieved much success using a synchronised machine gun to counter the Fokker monoplanes. Guynemer's aircraft was decorated with an orange beaked stork. Other French aces to use the type included Maurice Boyau, Armand Pinsard, René Dorme, Gabriel Guérin, Albert Deullin, Jean Navarre and Charles Nungesser (who used at least two, decorating both with his 'Coffin and Candles' insignia). The American volunteer pilot Raoul Lufbery also flew the type, decorating his with the head of a Seminole Indian. At one point during 1916 the Nieuport 17 was in use with every single French fighter escadrille of the Aviation Militaire, an impressive dominance (later repeated by the Spad fighters).

The British evaluated the Nieuport 17 in June 1916 and as result General Trenchard requested that all future Nieuport single seaters should be of the new type. The first few aircraft came from the RNAS and were transferred to the RFC. They were followed by a batch of ten aircraft that had been ordered for delivery in the third quarter of 1916. In October another fifty were ordered but deliveries were slow, mainly because Russian and Romanian orders had a higher priority at the time. An attempt to order another 160 aircraft at the end of 1916 was turned down by the French, but sixty more were allocated to the RFC in March 1917. The last aircraft were delivered to the squadrons in October 1917.

In France the Nieuport 17 was used by No.1 Squadron (from the middle of 1916 until the autumn of 1917), No.11 Squadron (for a short spell in the summer of 1916), No.29 Squadron (for most of 1917), No.40 Squadron (1917) and No.60 Squadron (August 1916-August 1917).

In the Middle East it was also used by No.14 Squadron, No.111 Squadron and No.113 Squadron, all during 1918.

The RNAS also used the type in combat. It was used by No.1 Squadron, RNAS, in France from December 1916 to February 1917, alongside the Sopwith Triplane. No.2 Squadron, RNAS, had it before that, from October to December 1916 and later by No.9 Squadron, from February to June 1917 and No.10 Squadron from February to May 1917).

The most famous British user was Albert Ball. Between August 1916 and May 1917 he shot down 44 aircraft while serving with No.11 Squadron, helping to restore the morale of the RFC during a bad period before his death on 7 May 1917. The aircraft was also used by Captain William Bishop of No.60 Squadron. The RFC also used the type in Macedonia.

In Belgian use the aircraft was used by Escadrilles 1 and 5, and was flown by the aces André de Meulemeester, Edmunds Thieffry, Jan Olieslagers and Francis Jaquet.

On Italian Front the Nieuport 17 was in use in 1916-17 and was flown by Francesco Baracca, Pier Piccio and Silvio Scaroni, all of whom scored early victories on the type. Around 150 were built under license in Italy by Macchi.

The Nieuport 17 remained in use in Russian after the Revolution, and was used by both sides during the Civil War.

The United States used the type as a trainer for the Expeditionary Force in France in 1917-18.

Nieuport 17bis

The Nieuport 17bis was a modified version of the aircraft using a 130hp Clerget 9B engine and with fairings that gave the sides of the fuselage a rounded shape. This engine might have been adopted because the 110hp Le Rhône was in short supply.

The 17bis saw limited service with the French air force, although one was used by the famous ace Charles Nungesser, who was reportedly very enthusiastic about the aircraft. He had it armed with two machine guns, one synchronised Vickers gun and one Lewis gun on the upper wing.

The British RNAS ordered 30 aircraft late in 1916, along with a licence to produce another 50 in Britain. The two orders appear to have produced some confusion at Nieuport, and delivery of the bulk of the French-produced machines was delayed until the spring of 1917.

The 17bis entered service with No.6 (Naval) Squadron, a RNAS unit that was lent to the RFC. It was active on the front by April 1917, and proved to be somewhat disappointing. In June it began to be phased out in favour of the Sopwith Camel, but in August the squadron was disbanded.

A handful of Nieuport 17bis fighters also served with No.11 (Naval) Squadron, but only for a few days in the summer of 1917. After that most of the surviving aircraft were put into store, although some were used by training units or on home defence duties.

Nieuport 17
Engine: Le Rhône rotary
Power: 120hp
Crew: 1
Span: 26ft 10.75in
Length: 19ft 7in
Height: 8ft 0in
Empty weight: 825lb
Maximum take-off weight: 1,235lb
Max speed: 106mph at 6,500ft
Climb Rate: 19min 30sec to 13,125ft
Service ceiling: 17,550ft
Range: 155 miles
Armament: One fixed forward firing Vickers or Lewis gun

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 November 2014), Nieuport 17 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_nieuport_17.html

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