Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wood and Wires

Another image generously provided by Mojave Transportation Museum Director Cathy Hansen.


The Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a was one of the most successful fighters of World War I, with over 5,200 built. It was considered an extremely stable aircraft, easily flown by novice pilots, and yet quite rugged and durable, able to withstand high dive speeds. While the Sopwith Camel was more agile and able to turn tighter in a dog fight, the S.E.5a was considered a safer airplane by its pilots.

When I first wrote this post, I said that there was no detailed information about this particular airframe (in fact, the back of the photo was even incorrectly labeled "S.E.5e", the American-built version). How wrong I was! Thanks to reader Bry, whose comments you can see below, the plane has been identified as one of the mounts of British multi-ace 2nd Lieutenant James "Mac" McCudden. McCudden's amazing skills as a fighter pilot led him to count 57 enemy kills, along with with three more unconfirmed. Seven of the kills, plus two of the unconfirmed, were achieved in this aircraft, B4863, between 19 September and 21 October 1917, during which time he served with 56 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. For his gallantry and success in battle, McCudden was awarded the Military Cross, the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Order. By the age of 22, McCudden was the most decorated pilot in the RFC. His career came to an abrupt end, however, in July, 1918, when his aircraft stalled and crashed during takeoff. The Washington Post's coverage of the incident read:

"The whole air service feels great grief over the loss of Maj. James McCudden. His death due to an inexplicable accident. He was on his way from Scotland to take a new command, flew over from England in his favorite single seater landed successfully at an aerodrome in northern France where he had business and after a short stay set off again to join his squadron.

"While he was still only a few hundred feet from the ground his machine sideslipped and crashed among trees in the neighborhood of the aerodrome and was killed instantly. The official record of his victories is 45 enemy planes brought down and 13 driven down. The quality of his flying was cool judgment. He would maneuver patiently for position and keep it with astonishing skill and pertinacity until the enemy was shot down. No man worked harder to make maintain the espirit de corps of his squadron. It was the squadron record, not his own that he chiefly cared for."

A detailed biography of McCudden and a listing of his achievements can be found on the website The Aerodrome.

Only five original S.E.5a's have survived, one of which is flyable. An American-assembled S.E.5e has been preserved, and there have been a number of reproduction aircraft built over the years. Additional info on the S.E.5a can also be found on this page at The Aerodrome.

Special shout-out to reader Bry for connecting the dots!


  1. That's Victoria Cross winner James McCudden's S.E.5a during his time in No. 56 Squadron.


  2. Here's a forum thread about it:


  3. Bry...Huge thanks for pointing out the significance of the plane...I'll be digging into this more!

  4. A pleasure to be of service :-)

  5. It is a replica though, not the original.