Sopwith Tabloids Drop the First Bombs on Germany

Pilot Howard Pixton flew the Sopwith Tabloid to victory in the 1914 Schneider Cup Trophy Race.

By:       Norm Goyer

The Sopwith Schneider Tabloid was an unique aircraft that had its share of fame. This tiny biplane did not have any ailerons, but used wing-warping for lateral control. It had two-place side-by-side seating, again very unusual in 1913. When used as a float plane, it had three odd shaped pontoons. Other seaplanes used one or two but the Tabloid used three. The Sopwith was used successfully as an observation plane aboard an UK Submarine. It won the 1914 Schneider Cup Race. It was outfitted as a bomber and managed to complete an historical first; it dropped the first bombs on Germany in 1914 destroying a huge hangar at the Zeppelin factory demolishing a dirigible ready for service. All of this from a tiny, almost toy like seaplane with a 80 or 100 hp rotary engine. It was also the first airplane out of the Sopwith factory. Later Sopwiths included the Pup, Camel, 1 1/2 Strutter and other successful World War I aircraft. Snoopy flies a Sopwith Camel, and that has to prove something.

The military version of the Sopwith Tabloid, on floats, was onboard a few English submarines during early years of World War II.

The Sopwith Tabloid was so named because it was a smaller aircraft and was simple to build. (A tabloid is a small sized newspaper)  The Sopwith was built in 1913 for the sole purpose of competing in racing events. The aircraft was constructed of wood and fabric with an odd shaped metal cowling with small slots for cooling  the 80 hp Gnome rotary engine. The fuselage was wider than normal to accommodate the side-by-side seating. The wings were typical wood and fabric with the obsolete feature of wing warping, replacing ailerons for lateral control.   The wing had rakish tips, the landing gear was equipped with twin wood skids to prevent damage to the aircraft in case of nose over. A large number of early British warplanes had skids ahead of the landing gear, the forerunner of the now mandatory nose gear.

The Sopwith, which won the 1914 Schneider, is shown flying over the course.

Test pilot Harry Hawker thought that the Tabloid performed very well when he test few at Farnborough. He was able to climb the Tabloid at 1200 feet per minute and attained level flight speed of 92 mph. Its first air show appearance was caused a sensation and easily out performed the monoplanes which were thought to be unbeatable.  Hawker then took the prototype to Australia and returned to the UK in June of 1914. The Aussies had removed the rear fabric on the fuselage and  a simple “Vee” landing  gear, no more skids. That same year, 1914, pilot Howard Pixton designed a seaplane version of the Tabloid using three floats, one under each wing and one under the tail. He then installed a 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape engine and a plain vertical stabilizer and rudder. Pixton and the Tabloid won the 1914 Schneider Cup Race.

The Sopwith Tabloid used complex landing gear skids to prevent serious damage in the event of a nose over.  These are now known as nose wheels.

Military production soon got underway for both the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy Air Service. Modifications included a single seat, rudders and vertical stabilizers, similar to the Schneider Cup winning aircraft. They also retained the twin-skid undercarriage; some even had extra bracing in the skids. Four of these Tabloids were sent to France right after the outbreak of the World War I to act as fast scouting  aircraft. Lt. Norman Spratt, flying a Tabloid, forced a German aircraft down by circling around it and throwing steel darts at the enemy plane, the only weapons available.  Some Tabloids had a single machine gun over the top wing shooting over the prop while others had a gun on the cowling shooting through the prop which was protected by triangular steel plates to deflect the bullets.  Later version of the Tabloid had ailerons installed to replace the wing warping.

The Sopwith Tabloid will go down in history as the first airplane to drop bombs on Germany in 1914.  Two Tabloids, with small bombs, attacked the Zeppelin Works in Dusseldorf on October 8th, 1914 after taking off from Antwerp, Belgium. Lt. Marix found his target and dropped 20 pound bombs destroying the new Zeppelin Z.IX. Both Tabloids had to land in the area but the pilots managed to make it back to Antwerp. For an inexpensive, small biplane the Sopwith Tabloid made its mark in aviation.


·         Length: 23 ft

·         Wingspan: 25 ft 6 in

·         Height: 10 ft

·         Wing area: 241 ft²

·         Empty weight: 1,200 lb

·         Max takeoff weight: 1,580 lb

·         Engine: Gnôme Monosoupape 9-cylinder rotary engine, 100 hp



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  1. Rob Waring says:

    umm… no tabloids ever flew off submarines, and all were out of service by the start of WWII.