The 1st Aero Squadron, I Corps Observation Group, First United States Army, under the command of Colonel William Mitchell, Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, made its first combat patrol over the front lines from their airfield at Ourches, France. They were equipped with the two-place Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XVI A.2. They patrolled the lines, scouted troop movements, and took photographs in support of the U.S. Army I Corps and French XXXVIII Corps. This was the first United States air unit in combat during World War I.
The SPAD S.XVI was intended as an improvement of the earlier SPAD S.XI A.2, which was a two-place development of the SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter. The S.XVI is single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. It was crewed by a pilot and observer/gunner. The wings are swept aft approximately 4° and are staggered, moving the center of lift aft to compensate for the airplane’s longer fuselage. The lower wing’s chord is significantly narrower than the upper. Ailerons are on the upper wing only.
The S.XVI A.2 is 7.707 meters (25 feet, 3.425 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 11.220 meters (36 feet, 9.732 inches) and lower span of 10.900 meters (35 feet, 9.133 inches). Its height is 2.850 meters (9 feet, 4.211 inches) with the fuselage in a level attitude. The airplane has an empty weight of 906 kilograms (1,997 pounds) and gross weight of 1,140 kilograms (2,513 pounds).
The SPAD XVI was powered by a right-hand tractor, water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 16.286 litre (993.834 cubic inches) La société industrielle Lorraine-Dietrich 8Be single overhead cam 90° V-8 direct-drive engine which produced 270 cheval-vapeur (270.09 horsepower) at 1,900 r.p.m. The engine weighed 260 kilograms (573 pounds).
The SPAD S.XVI was armed with one fixed forward firing, water-cooled, .303-caliber (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.I machine gun and two air-cooled .303-caliber Lewis Mk.2 light machine guns on a flexible mount in the aft cockpit. Because of the cold temperatures at altitude, the Vickers’ water jacket was not filled, thereby saving considerable weight. The airplane could also carry small bombs attached to the lower wing.
Approximately 1,000 SPAD S.XVIs were built. Six were obtained by the United States. Mitchell’s personal SPAD S.XVI, serial number 9392, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia.
4 April 1917: Sous-Lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme of the Aéronautique Militaire (French Air Service) made the first flight of the famous World War I fighter, the SPAD S.XIII C.1.
Lieutenant Dorme was an ace with 18 confirmed victories. In the next seven weeks, he shot down another five enemy aircraft.
Designed by Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés Technical Director Louis Béchéreau and manufactured by SPAD as well as eight other companies, this was an improved and slightly larger version of the earlier SPAD S.VII C.1. It used a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 8Ba engine instead of the S.VII’s 8Aa, with an increase of 50 horsepower. (Later versions used 8Be engines.) Armament was increased from a single .303-caliber Vickers machine guns to two.
The SPAD was faster than other airplanes of the time and it had a good rate of climb. Though a product of France, it was used by both the Royal Flying Corps and the U.S. Army Air Service. In France, the airplane type now considered a “fighter” was called a chasseur (“hunter”). The letter “C-” in the SPAD’s designation reflects this. The “-.1” at the ending indicates a single-place aircraft.
The SPAD S.XIII C.1 was a single-seat, single-engine, two-bay biplane constructed of a wooden framework with a doped fabric covering. Sheet metal covered the engine and cockpit.
The S.XIII was 20 feet, 4 inches (6.198 meters) long.¹ The upper and lower wings had equal span and chord. The span was 26 feet, 3¾ inches (8.020 meters) and chord, 4 feet, 7-1/8 inches (1.400 meters). The vertical spacing between the wings was 3 feet, 10½ inches (1.181 meters), and the lower wing was staggered 1¼° behind the upper. Interplane struts and wire bracing was used to reinforce the wings. The wings had no sweep or dihedral. The angle of incidence of the upper wing was 1½° and of the lower, 1°. Only the upper wing was equipped with ailerons. Their span was 7 feet, 3½ inches (2.222 meters), and their chord, 1 foot, 7½ inches (0.495 meters). The total wing area was 227 square feet (21.089 square meters).
The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters) with a maximum chord of 1 foot, 8¾ inches (0.527 meters). The height of the vertical fin was 2 feet, 7/8-inch (0.876 meters) and it had a maximum length of 3 feet, 11¼ inches (1.200 meters). The rudder was 3 feet, 10-5/8 inches high (1.184 meters) with a maximum chord of 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).
The SPAD S.XIII C.1 had fixed landing gear with two pneumatic tires. Rubber cords (bungie cords) were used for shock absorption. The wheel track was 4 feet, 10¾ inches (1.492 meters). At the tail was a fixed skid.
The airplane had an empty weight of 1,464 pounds (664 kilograms), and gross weight 2,036 pounds (924 kilograms).
Initial production SPAD XIIIs were powered by a water-cooled 11.762 liter (717.769-cubic-inch displacement), La Société Hispano-Suiza 8Ba single overhead cam (SOHC) left-hand-tractor 90° V-8 engine. It was equipped with two Zenith down-draft carburetors and had a compression ratio of 5.3:1. The 8Ba was rated at 150 cheval vapeur (148 horsepower) at 1,700 r.p.m., and 200 cheval vapeur (197 horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.43 inches) through a 0.585:1 gear reduction. (The 8Be engine had a 0.75:1 reduction gear ratio and used both 2.50 meter and 2.55 meter (8 feet, 4.40 inches) propellers.) The Hispano-Suiza 8Ba was 1.36 meters (4 feet, 5.5 inches) long, 0.86 meters (2 feet, 9.9 inches) wide and 0.90 meters (2 feet, 11.4 inches) high. It weighed 236 kilograms (520 pounds).
The airplane had a main fuel tank behind the engine, with a gravity tank located in the upper wing. The total fuel capacity was 183 pounds (83 kilograms), sufficient for 2 hours, 30 minutes endurance at full throttle at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), including climb. There was also a 4.5 gallon (17 liters) lubricating oil tank.
The SPAD S.XIII had a maximum speed of 135 miles per hour (218 kilometers per hour) at 6,560 feet (2,000 meters) and a service ceiling of 21,815 feet (6,650 meters).
The chasseur was armed with two fixed, water-cooled, .303-caliber (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.I machine guns with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. Because of the cold temperatures at altitude, the guns’ water jackets were not filled, thereby saving considerable weight.
The SPAD S.XIII was produced by nine manufacturers. 8,472 were built. Only four are still in existence.
The airplane in the photograph above is SPAD S.XIII C.1, serial number 16594. It was built in October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, an automobile manufacturer in Paris, France. It did not see combat, but was shipped to the United States at the end of the War and was stationed at San Diego, California. The airplane was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is painted in the markings of the airplane flown by Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, commanding officer of the 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces. It is on display at NMUSAF, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The airplane in the photograph below is another SPAD S.XIII C.1, serial number 7689, also built by Kellner et ses Fils, in August 1918. It was sent to the 22nd Aero Squadron at Colombey-les-Belles and assigned to Lieutenant Arthur Raymond Brooks. Brooks’ fiancée attended Smith College and he named the SPAD Smith IV in her honor. With this airplane, Lieutenant Brooks shot down six enemy airplanes. Other pilots also flew it to shoot down another five.
After the War came to an end, 7689 was shipped to the United States and used in a Liberty Bond fund-raising tour. In December 1919, the United States Army gave the fighter to the Smithsonian Institution. It was restored at the Paul E. Garber Center, 1984–1986, and remains in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.
René Dorme fought 120 aerial engagements, many while flying a SPAD S.VII C.1. He is officially credited with 22 victories, and may have shot down as many as 59 enemy aircraft. His personal airplane was marked with a green Cross of Lorraine. He was a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, and had been awarded the Médalle Militaire and the Croix de Guerre with 17 Palms. Dorme was killed in action 25 May 1917 when his SPAD VII was shot down by Oberleutnant Heinrich Kroll of Jasta 9 at Fort de la Pompelle near Reims.
¹ Dimensions, weights, capacities and performance data cited above refer to SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 17956 (A.S. 94101), which was tested at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio (Project Number P-154), 1921.
9 March 1918: Captain James Ely Miller, commanding officer, 95th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, American Expeditionary Force, accepted the invitation of Major Davenport Johnson to join him and Major Harmon for a short patrol over the lines in three SPAD S.VII C.1 fighters borrowed from a French squadron.
Major Harmon’s SPAD had engine trouble and he turned back. Major Johnson and Captain Miller continued and encountered four German fighters near Juvincourt-et-Damary in northern France. Shortly after the air battle began, Major Johnson abandoned the fight, leaving Captain Miller on his own. Captain Miller was shot down near Corbény, France.
The German pilot who downed Miller and a German intelligence officer who had rushed to the crash scene witnessed Captain Miller’s dying words in which he cursed Major Davenport Johnson for leaving him during the air battle.
On 12 March, Major Johnson assumed command of the 95th.
James Ely Miller was born 24 March 1883 in New York City, New York. He was the fifth child of Charles Addison Miller and Mary Eliza Ely.
Miller attended Yale University, graduating in 1904. He was a member of the Psi Upsilon (ΨΥ) fraternity. Miller was active in sports, a member of the varsity crew and played guard on the football team.
Following university graduation, Miller joined the Knickerbocker Trust Company of New York (later, the Columbia Trust Co.), one of the largest banks in the United States. By 1913, he was secretary of the corporation, and by 1917, a vice president.
Miller was 6 feet, 2½ inches (1.89 meters) tall, with brown hair and eyes, and a fair complexion.
Miller married Miss Gladys Godfrey Kissel, 2 April 1908, in Manhattan, New York City, New York. They would have a daughter, Gladys Caroline Morgan Miller.
1st Lt. Miller flew with the 1st Aero Squadron, New York National Guard, in the Punitive Expedition into Mexico, in 1916.
On 10 May 1917, Captain Miller was activated from the Officers Reserve Corps and assigned to the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, for duty in France. He served overseas from 23 July 1917 until his death.
Captain Miller was the first United States airman to be killed in combat. In 1919, Miller Field, Staten Island, New York, was named in his honor. His remains were buried at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fère-en-Terdenois, France.
On 14 June 2017, the Distinguished Flying Cross was posthumously awarded to Captain Miller. Secretary of the Army Robert M. Speer presented the medal to Byron Derringer, Captain Miller’s great-grandson.
The Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.VII C.1 was a single-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane chasseur (fighter). The airplane was 19 feet, 11 inches (5.842 meters) long, with a wingspan of 25 feet, 7¾ inches (7.817 meters) and overall height of 7 feet, 2 inches (2.184 meters). It had a maximum gross weight of 1,632 pounds (740 kilograms).
The SPAD VII was initially powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 11.762 liter (717.769 cubic inches) Société Française Hispano-Suiza 8Aa, a single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine with a compression ratio of 4.7:1. The 8Aa produced 150 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. By early 1918, the S.VII’s engine was upgraded to the higher-compression 8Ab (5.3:1), rated at 180 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. These were right-hand tractor, direct-drive engines which turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller.
The SPAD VII had a maximum speed of 119 miles per hour (192 kilometers per hour). The 8Ab engine increased this to 129 miles per hour (208 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,500 feet (5,334 meters).
Armament consisted of a single air-cooled Vickers .303-caliber (7.7 × 56 millimeter) machine gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.
The SPAD S.VII was produced by nine manufacturers in France and England. The exact number of airplanes built is unknown. Estimates range from 5,600 to 6,500.
The airplane in this photograph is a SPAD S.VII C.1, serial number A.S. 94099, built by Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, and restored by the 1st Fighter Wing, Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
7 February 1920: Joseph Sadi-Lacointe was the first pilot to set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record after the end of World War I. At Villacoublay, France, Sadi-Lecointe flew an Avion Nieuport—Type Gordon Bennett 1920 ¹ over a 1 kilometer (0.621 mile) course at an average speed of 275.86 kilometers per hour (171.41 miles per hour).²
Sadi-Lecointe’s Ni-D 29V was one of three racing variants of the highly successful single-engine, single-seat Ni-D 29 C.1 biplane fighter, which was the fastest in the world at the time.
Like the chasseur (fighter), the Ni-D 29V was a single-bay biplane. It was 6.200 meters (20 feet, 4.1 inches) long, with a wing span of just 6.000 meters (19 feet, 8.2 inches), shortened from the 31 feet, 10 inch (9.703 meters) wingspan of the standard production airplane. The airplane’s height was 2.500 meters (8 feet, 8.4 inches). It weighed 936 kilograms (2,064 pounds), empty. Maximum fuel capacity was 160 kilograms (353 pounds).
The airplanes were altered over time, with variations in wing span. For example, for one speed record attempt, the engine output was increased to 330 horsepower; the two Lamblin radiators were removed to reduce aerodynamic drag; and fuel capacity was restricted to just 40 kilograms (88 pounds). The resulting speed was 302.313 km/h (187.849 miles per hour).³
The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 18.473 liter (1,127.265-cubic-inch displacement) right-hand tractor Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine with a compression ratio of 5.3:1. The production engine was rated at 300 cheval vapeur at 2,100 r.p.m. The Ni-D 29V engine modified to increase its output to 320 horsepower. This was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed-fixed pitch propeller. The engine was 1.32 meters (4 feet, 4 inches) long, 0.89 meters (2 feet, 11 inches) wide, and 0.88 meters (2 feet, 10½ inches) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).
Engine cooling was provided by Lamblin cylindrical radiators mounted under the lower wing.
The standard airplane had a top speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour), a range of 580 kilometers (360 miles) and a service ceiling of 8,500 meters (27,887 feet).
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe learned to fly in 1910. The Aero Club de France awarded him its license number 431 on 10 February 1910.
He joined the Service Aéronautique (the original form of the French Air Force) as a mechanic in October 1912, and was designated pilote militaire nº375, 20 September 1913. He served as a pilot during World War I, flying the Blériot XI-2, Morane LA and Nieuprt X, then in December 1915 became a flight instructor at l’Ecole de Pilotage d’Avord. Sadi-Lacointe was promoted from the enlisted ranks to sous-lieutenant, 17 September 1917, and was assigned as a test pilot at Blériot–Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, where he worked on the development of the famous SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter.
After the War, he was a test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge, and participated in numerous races and set a series of speed and altitude records with the company’s airplanes.
Sadi-Lecointe returned to military service in 1925 and participated in the Second Moroccan War. Then in 1927, he returned to his position as chief test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge. From 1936 to 1940, he served as Inspecteur général de l’aviation civile (Inspector General of Aviation) for the French Air Ministry. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Lieutenant Colonel Sadi-Lecointe was again recalled to military service as Inspector of Flying Schools.
With the Fall of France, Sadi-Lacointe joined La Résistance française, and operated with the group, Rafale Andromède. He was captured and tortured by the Gestapo at Paris, and died as a result, 15 July 1944.
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe, Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, was awarded the Croix de Guerre in three wars. He was posthumously awarded the Médaille de la Résistance. The Aéro-Club de France awarded him its Grande Médaille d’Or de l’Aéro-Club de France. During his flying career, Sadi-Lecointe set seven World Records for Speed, and three World Records for Altitude.
MORT POUR LA FRANCE
¹ The Avion Nieuport—Type Gordon Bennett 1920 is also known as the Nieuport-Delâge NiD 29V
1 November 1918: At 2:20 p.m., Lieutenant Paul-René Fonck, Escadrille 103, Aéronautique Militaire, shot down a Luftstreitkräfte Halberstadt C, east of Vouziers, France. Its pilot, Gefreiter W. Schmidt of Flieger-Abteilung 297b, was killed.
This was the 75th confirmed enemy aircraft which Fonck had destroyed. (As many as 52 aircraft claimed by Fonck, including another Halberstadt C over Semuy, fifteen minutes later, were not confirmed.) Lieutenant Fonck was the highest-scoring Allied fighter pilot of World War I.¹
The chasseur flown by René Fonck on this date was a Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XVII, Nº. 682. The S.XVII was an improved S.XIII, with stronger wings and fuselage, additional bracing wires and a more powerful engine. Its more closely-spaced longerons gave the fuselage a more circular cross-section and a bulkier appearance.
The S.XVII had the same length, wing span and height as the S.XIII, but was heavier. Its empty weight was 687 kilograms (1,515 pounds) and the gross weight was 942 kilograms (2,077 pounds).
The S.XVII was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 18.473 liter (1,127.265 cubic inch displacement) Société Française Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single-overhead camshaft (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine. This was a right-hand-tractor, direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.3:1, and was rated at 300 cheval vapeur (296 horsepower) at 2,100 r.p.m. The Hispano-Suiza 8Fb was 1.32 meters (4.33 feet) long, 0.89 meters (2.92 feet) wide and 0.88 meters (2.89 feet) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).
The S.XVII had a maximum speed of 221 kilometers per hour (137 miles per hour) at 2,000 meters (6,562 feet). It could climb to 2,000 meters in 5 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 8 minutes, 20 seconds. Its ceiling was 7,175 meters (23,540 feet).
Armament consisted of two water-cooled, fixed Vickers 7.7 mm (.303 British) machine guns above the engine, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. The guns’ water jackets were left empty.
The SPAD S.XVIIs were delivered to Escadrille 103 in June 1918. It is believed that 20 were built.
Paul-René Fonck was born 27 March 1894 at Salcy-de Meurthe, the first of three children of Victor Felicien Fonck, a carpenter, and Marie Julie Simon Fonck. His father was killed in an accident when he was four years old, leaving Mme. Fonck to raise Paul-René and his two sisters. He was sent to an uncle who placed him in a religious boarding school in Nancy. He was a good student. After six years, he returned to live with his mother and finished his education in a public school.
At the beginning of World War I, Fonck joined the French Army. He was assigned to an engineering regiment, building roads and bridges and digging trenches. In February 1915 Corporal Fonck was transferred to flight school at St. Cyr. He received his military pilot rating 15 May 1915 and was assigned to Escadrille C47, an observation squadron, where he flew the twin-engine Avion Caudron Type G. 4.
In 1917, Fonck was transferred to Escadrille 103. He flew the SPAD S.VII, S.XII, S.XIII and the S.XVII.
For his military service during World War I, René Fonck was awarded the Croix de Guerre avec 28 Palmes, Croix de Guerre (Belgium); and Great Britain awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Cross and Military Medal.
René Paul Fonck died in Paris 23 June 1953. He was buried at the Saulcy-sur-Meurthe Cemetery, near the place of his birth.
¹ Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, Luftstreitkräfte, had 80 confirmed victories and was the leading fighter ace of World War I. Captain (Acting Major) William George Barker, Royal Air Force, is credited with 50. Count Maggiore Francesco Baracca, of Italy’s Corpo Aeronautico Militare was officially credited with 34 before being killed 18 June 1918. Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, Air Service, American Expeditionary Force, shot down 20 airplanes and 6 balloons. Alexander Alexandrovich Kazakov was the leading ace of Imperial Russia with 20 confirmed victories (another 12 were not officially credited).