|First flight||January 1916|
|Primary users||Aéronautique Militaire|
Imperial Russian Air Service
Royal Flying Corps
|Developed from||Nieuport 11|
The Nieuport 17 C.1 (or Nieuport XVII C.1 in contemporary sources) was a French sesquiplane fighter designed and manufactured by the Nieuport company during World War I. An improvement over the Nieuport 11, it was a little larger than its predecessors, and better adapted to the more powerful engine than the interim Nieuport 16. Aside from early examples, it would incorporate the newly-developed Alkan-Hamy synchronization gear, permitting the use of a fuselage-mounted synchronised Vickers gun firing through the propeller disc.
At the time of its introduction in March 1916, the type's outstanding manoeuvrability and excellent rate of climb gave it a significant advantage over other fighters on both sides, and was described as "the best pursuit plane of the day". It was widely used by many operators and entered service with every Allied power, not to mention the copies operated by the German air service. In addition to substantial production by several French manufacturers, the Nieuport 17 and its close relatives were built in Italy by Nieuport-Macchi and in Russia by Dux. Unlicenced copies, notably the Siemens-Schuckert D.I and the Euler D.I, were produced in Germany.
Various derivatives and improvements were developed. The Nieuport 21 and 23 represented relatively minor alterations, while aerodynamic refinement led to the Clerget-powered 17bis, and more powerful versions of the Le Rhône rotary engines with additional detail improvements resulted in the Nieuport 24, 24bis and 27.
Gustave Delage's appointment as Nieuport's chief designer in January 1914 was followed by a series of sesquiplane designs. Nieuport had been famous for wire-braced monoplanes, however they had been developed as far as possible and Nieuport had been looking at other ideas. The sesquiplane configuration was adopted by Delage as a compromise between the low drag of a monoplane and the greater strength of a biplane configuration. The first of Delage's sesquiplanes was the two seat Nieuport 10 of 1914, which was followed the next year by the smaller single seat Nieuport 11 which in turn was supplemented by the Nieuport 16, which had a larger engine, which made it nose heavy and increased the wing loading, especially when armed with a synchronised Vickers gun.
Developed in parallel with the low-risk Nieuport 16, the Nieuport 17 was slightly larger with longer wings and fuselage, improved aerodynamic form and better balance. It was at initially fitted with the 110 hp (82 kW) Le Rhône 9J engine, though later examples used 120 hp (89 kW) engines.
The Nieuport 17 featured a narrow, single-spar lower wing that was considerably smaller than the upper wing. This arrangement provided several benefits. As well as improving the pilot's downward visibility, there were aerodynamic gains from the reduction in area of the lower wing, which on a biplane produces far less lift than the upper wing but still produces considerable drag. Reducing its chord reduced the induced drag and weight while providing a more efficient wing with a thick section and a high aspect ratio. The heaviest components of the fighter, such as the rotary engine, the armament and the fuel and oil tanks were concentrated forward which was a contributing factor to the 17's high level of manoeuvrability. The fuselage of the 17 was built around four ash longerons which tapered from the rectangular sheet steel engine mounting to the rudder post, with the upper longerons bowed out around the cockpit, giving most of the fuselage a trapezoid cross section. This was braced with spruce struts held in place with diagonal bracing wires and steel plate joints. The sides and top of the forward fuselage were covered in light molded plywood panels while the rear fuselage sides were covered in fabric. Behind the pilot, a headrest was provided, molded into the plywood top decking, which was supported by longitudinal stringers. The cowling was made of aluminium, and had strengthening ribs and a pair of inset holes to provide ventilation and egress for the engine's exhaust on the underside. It was smoothly faired with the forward fuselage via molded side fairings. A cône de penetration or casserole de helice, which resembled a spinner but didn't spin, was bolted to the front of the rotary engine's stationary crankshaft on some early examples but was generally dispensed with on later machines
The upper wings of the 17 used a typical structure for the period, with widely spaced spars connected with full chord ribs and compression ribs, cross braced internally with wire, and augmented with riblets on the leading edge. The lower wing's spar was directly below the rear spar of the upper wing and was braced with a characteristic Vee strut. The ribs, composed of ash flanges and limewood webs, featured cut-outs to lighten them. The ailerons were fitted on the top wing only and had increased chord towards the wingtips for improved stall response, and were actuated by a pair of push-pull rods that connected torque tubes running to the ailerons to the control column in the cockpit. The Elevator and rudder were built up from welded steel tube and controls for these were provided via conventional cables and pulleys. The angle of incidence on the wings could be adjusted by ground crew via a single pivot joint arrangement, which was originally intended to allow the lower wing to be rotated for low speed flight but was never used. No adjustment was provided for the tailplane.
While the single spar lower wing helped give the type its impressive climb rate, at very high speeds (at what would now be termed its VNE) it was also prone to flutter,[note 1] an aerodynamic phenomenon that was not fully understood at the time. British Nieuports were modified at No 2 Aeroplane Supply Depot in an effort to alleviate this problem. Late in French service, some N.17s had their lower wings replaced with spares taken from newer Nieuport 24s, although this may have had more to do with availability.
Production of the new Alkan-Hamy synchronization gear permitted the wing-mounted Lewis gun used on the earliest examples to be replaced with a synchronised Vickers gun mounted on the fuselage to fire through the propeller arc. However, the standard Royal Flying Corps synchroniser, the Vickers-Challenger gear, was not available and in British service the over-wing Lewis gun was retained. The Lewis gun was installed on the newly-developed Foster mounting, a curved metal rail which allowed the pilot to slide the gun back to change ammunition drums and to clear jams. It also had the advantage of allowing pilots to aim the gun upwards to shoot into the underside of enemy fighters flying above, not an easy tactic, but used to good effect by several ace pilots.
Dating from May 1916 but not designated as such until September, the Nieuport 21 differed from the 17 primarily in the adoption of the lower powered 80 hp (60 kW) Le Rhône 9C or 90 hp (67 kW) Le Rhône 9Ga engine. This increased endurance and reduced wing loading and was useful in the anticipated role as a high altitude bomber escort however due to a change in tactics, it was rarely used for that. In both French and especially Russian service the 21 was commonly used alongside the Nieuport 17, with both types filling the same roles. The 21 has commonly been mistaken for the earlier Nieuport 11 as both lacked headrests and used the same cowling and engines, particularly when some Nieuport 11s were also fitted with molded fuselage sides, however like the 17, the 21 was larger overall, and can be identified by the flying wires, which restrain the upper wings. On the 11 they merged to a single point, while on the 21 they ran parallel to different points on the lower fuselage.
The Nieuport 23 was largely the same as the definitive 17, differing mainly in modifications deriving from the use of a different machine gun synchronizer which caused the gun to be mounted offset to the starboard side which resulted in alterations to the fuel and oil tank arrangement and the center section rigging. Rear spar packing pieces were also redesigned. Nieuport 23 fighters were operated by both French and British squadrons alongside Nieuport 17s until their replacement by Nieuport 24s.
The more powerful 130 hp (97 kW) Clerget 9B nine-cylinder rotary engine was used by the Nieuport 17bis, which first appeared late in 1916. The N.17bis had stringers fairing out the fuselage sides compared to the flat sides on the 17. The major user was the British Royal Naval Air Service, which ordered 32 from Nieuport with 50 more being license-built by the British Nieuport & General Aircraft company. Heavier than the preferred Le Rhône, actual output from the Clerget rotaries quickly fell below their rated power and the performance of the 17bis suffered accordingly. Armament often included a synchronised Vickers gun in addition to the standard over-wing Lewis.
Related to the 17bis, the Nieuport 23bis combined the aerodynamic improvements of the 17bis but reverted to the 17's Le Rhône. A very small number existed, and the Royal Naval Air Service which operated the few identified examples may have been the sole operator.
A pair of triplanes based on the Nieuport 17 were constructed for testing purposes, one for the French and the other for the British. The narrow chord wings were staggered in an unusual manner, placing the middle wing furthest forward and the top wing furthest aft. No subsequent orders came as a result of these tests; Nieuport later trialled the same layout on the Nieuport 17bis, which was tested by the British as well, however this venture also remained a prototype. During flight testing, both types had demonstrated favourable climbing characteristics, but were also found to be relatively tail-heavy.
During March 1916, the new Nieuport 17 reached the French front and began to replace the earlier Nieuport 11 and 16 fighters that had been instrumental in ending the Fokker Scourge of 1915. On 2 May 1916, Escadrille N.57 became the first unit entirely equipped with the new model. During the latter part of 1916 and into 1917, the Nieuport 17 equipped every fighter squadron of the Aéronautique Militaire. Almost all of the top French aces flew the nimble Nieuport during their flying careers, including Georges Guynemer, Charles Nungesser, Maurice Boyau, Armand Pinsard and René Dorme.
The Nieuport 17 was ordered by the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service as it was markedly superior to any of the British fighters available at this time. RFC units that used the Nieuport 17 and 23 as their main equipment include Nos 1, 11, 29, 40 and 60 squadrons, while, Nos 1 3 and 4 Wings of the Royal Naval Air Service operated the 17 and the less satisfactory 17bis. Additional units in both services also had small numbers on strength.
Many British Empire air aces flew Nieuport fighters, including the top Canadian ace Billy Bishop, who received a Victoria Cross while flying it, and Albert Ball, V.C. who often hunted alone in his Nieuport. 'Mick' Mannock VC flew Nieuports early in his career with No 40 Squadron. His VC award reflected his whole combat career – including his time on Nieuports. The top-scoring Nieuport ace was Captain Phillip Fletcher Fullard of No. 1 Squadron RFC, who scored 40 kills between May and October 1917, before breaking his leg in a football match.
Numerous Italian aces, such as Francesco Baracca, Silvio Scaroni and Pier Piccio, all achieved victories while flying Nieuport fighters. In Belgium, the 1st and 5th Belgian escadrilles were equipped with the Nieuport 17 and 23. Belgian aces flying the type included Andre de Meulemeester, Edmond Thieffry and Jan Olieslagers.
The Imperial Russian Air Service operated large numbers of Nieuports of all types, including the Nieuport 17, 21 and 23. Being largely reliant on aircraft procured directly from France, there was pressure within Russia to establish and grow a capacity to support the domestic manufacture of such fighters as well. Accordingly, efforts were made to produce the type under licence in Russia; however the venture struggled due to a lack of experience in the limited availability of experts to assist. Nonetheless, many of these were operated not only during the Eastern Front of the conflict, but continued to be flown for a time following the Russian Revolution that resulted in the creation of the Soviet Union. Russian Nieuport aces include Alexander Kazakov, who flew the type against the Germans and later against the Bolsheviks as well.
By mid-1917, the Nieuport fighters were losing their superiority to German types such as the new Albatros D.III. In response, the 150 hp (110 kW) SPAD S.VII had begun to replace the Nieuport fighters in French front line squadrons. The British continued to operate their Nieuports until early 1918 until enough newer types such as the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s were available to replace them.
Like the other Nieuport types, during its later life the 17 was operated in large numbers as an advanced trainer. The American Expeditionary Forces purchased 75 Nieuport 17s for training purposes, while the French also operated large numbers as trainers. The French Aviation Maritime operated a single Nieuport 21, which was used for carrier training during 1920 and 1921 aboard the Bapaume, a converted French Arras-class aviso, pending the delivery of dedicated carrier aircraft such as the Nieuport-Delage NiD.32RH.
Following its retirement from the European theatre, many examples were exported in small numbers for new Air Forces being formed world-wide, to be used through the 1920s.
So impressive were the Nieuport fighters in early 1916 that Idflieg (the German Inspectorate of flying troops) requested that their own aircraft manufacturers produce a copy. Examples of retrieved aircraft, as well as detailed drawings and sketches were provided. In response, the Siemens-Schuckert D.I was produced. This copy, which differed primarily in some minor details, was deemed to be satisfactory and went into production, although in the event the SSW D.I was outdated by the time it had become available, and was employed mainly as an advanced trainer. Another clone of the Nieuport 17 was produced in the form of the Euler D.I, although development work did not proceed beyond a few prototypes.
Other manufacturers, notably Albatros and Pfalz, instead of producing literal copies of the Nieuport, explored the possibilities of incorporating a sesquiplane configuration in their own fighter designs. The Albatros D.II was enhanced in this way to produce the Albatros D.III and D.V - commonly called 'V-strutters' by the RFC to distinguish them from the earlier Albatros fighters. As well as the advantages of this layout these types also exacerbated the flutter problem,[note 1] which was never satisfactorily contained, in spite of strengthening. The Pfalz D.III was also a sesquiplane version of a previous biplane fighter, although it featured a more substantial lower wing with two spars that avoided the flutter problems encountered by "single spar" sesquiplanes.
- 15 meter Nieuport
- A colloquial description of the type based on nominal wing area.
- Nieuport 17
- The standard single-seat fighter biplane model.
- Nieuport 17bis
- Re-engined variant, powered by a 130 hp (97 kW) Clerget 9B engine and fitted with fuselage stringers.
- Nieuport 21
- A dedicated high altitude escort fighter/trainer variant; equipped with an 80 hp (60 kW) Le Rhône rotary engine, horseshoe cowling and lacking a pilot's headrest.
- Nieuport 23
- Similar to the 17, featuring various structural changes that resulted in the Vickers machine gun being offset when installed. Only other visible difference was alterations to cabane rigging.
- Nieuport 23bis
- Similar to the 17bis, but powered by a Le Rhône and using 24 fuselage with 23 flying surfaces.
- Siemens-Schuckert D.I
- While differing in some details, the D.I was largely a copy of the Nieuport 17.
- B.Kh1 (Fighter type 1)
- The Siamese designation for Nieuport 17 and 21.
Survivors and replicas
A single original example has survived, this being Nieuport 23 "5024", which has been preserved and following a recent restoration, was placed on static display in the Belgian Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels.
The Nieuport 17 has also become a popular aircraft for replica builders. Dedicated kits for the type have been produced, including both 7/8ths scale and full size, and groups of builders have reproduced entire squadrons of aircraft in this manner. Contemporary drawings, sourced from both the original factory and a German technical report on the fighter, have facilitated the construction of various replicas, such as the example on display in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, which was built to the original specifications, while many others have used more modern construction, often using metal tubes to replace much of the wooden structure used on authentic aircraft.
- Letecký sbor (Aviation Corps) – operated at least one Nieuport 17 and several 23s after WW1.
- Lennuvae Rugement (Estonia Aviation Regiment) – operated 2 Nieuport 17s, 1 Nieuport 21 and 1 Nieuport 23
- Ilmailuvoimat (Finnish Aviation Forces) – operated a single Nieuport 17 and two Nieuport 23s.
- Aéronautique Militaire – Only units whose primary equipment were Nieuport 17, 21 or 23 are included as nearly every French Escadrille operated at least a few.
- Escadrille N 23
- Escadrille N 38
- Escadrille N 62
- Escadrille N 68
- Escadrille N 69
- Escadrille N 76
- Escadrille N 77
- Escadrille N 79
- Escadrille N 87
- Escadrille N 88
- Escadrille N 90
- Escadrille N 91
- Escadrille N 92
- Escadrille N 102
- Escadrille N 153
- Escadrille N 311
- Escadrille N 312
- Escadrille N 387
- Escadrille N 392
- Escadrille N 523
- Escadrille N 581
- Escadrille Lafayette
- Group de Combat GC 11
- Group de Combat GC 12
- Group de Combat GC 13
- Group de Combat GC 14
- Group de Combat GC 15
- Group de Combat Chaux
- Escadrille N 49
- Escadrille N 81
- Escadrille N 82
- Aéronautique Navale
- Escadrille de chasse terrestre du CAM de Dunkerque - operated 7 Nieuport 17s
- Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca - operated one Nieuport 21 from 1925 to 1926
- Corpo Aeronautico Militare – operated approximately 150 that were built under licence by Nieuport-Macchi
- 83a Squadriglia 1st Sezione
- 1st Gruppo (3rd Armata)
- 2nd Gruppo (2nd Armata)
- 7th Gruppo (1st and 6th Armata)
- 9th Gruppo (1st Armata)
- 10th Gruppo (Supreme Command)
- Luchtvaartafdeeling (Army Aviation Group) – operated 5 Nieuport 23s as 120 HP Nieuports and 5 Nieuport 21s as 80 HP Nieuports from 1917 to 1925
- Siły Powietrzne (Air Forces) – operated at least five Nieuport 17s and three Nieuport 21s
- Serviço Aeronáutico Militar - operated 8 Nieuport Ni.21 E.1 trainers from 1919.
- Corpul Aerian Romana – operated 25 Nieuport 17s
- Императорскiй военно-воздушный флотъ (Imperial Russian Air Service) – made substantial purchases of Nieuport 17s and 21s from France, with additional aircraft built under licence by Dux
- 1st Fighter detachment
- 2nd Fighter detachment
- 3rd Fighter detachment
- 4th Fighter detachment
- 5th Fighter detachment
- 6th Fighter detachment
- 7th Fighter detachment
- 8th Fighter detachment
- 9th Fighter detachment
- 10th Fighter detachment
- 11th Fighter detachment
- 12th Fighter detachment
- 19th Corps Fighter detachment
- Glavvozduhflot – operated a large number of ex-Imperial Russian Air Service Nieuports
- Kuva-yı Havaiye Müfettiş-i Umumili��i (General Inspectorate of Air Forces) - operated two captured Nieuport 17s serialed K1 and K2 in late 1918. 
- West Ukrainian People's Republic aviation corps – operated at least three Nieuport 17s, two Nieuport 21s, and seven Nieuport 23s.
- Royal Flying Corps – Operated 50 Nieuport 17bis built under licence by Nieuport & General Aircraft, Nieuport 17s, and 80 French built Nieuport 23s
- Royal Naval Air Service – operated Nieuport 17, Nieuport 17bis and five Nieuport 21s
- American Expeditionary Force – purchased 175 Nieuport 17s, one Nieuport 17bis, 197 Nieuport 21s and 50 Nieuport 23s for training purposes.
Specifications (Nieuport 17 C.1)
- Crew: one
- Length: 5.80 m (19 ft 0 in) (Without optional cône de penetration)
- Wingspan: 8.16 m (26 ft 9 in)
- Height: 2.40 m (7 ft 10 in) (Without overwing gun and mounting)
- Wing area: 14.75 m2 (158.8 sq ft)
- Airfoil: Type N
- Empty weight: 375 kg (827 lb)
- Gross weight: 560 kg (1,235 lb)
- Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône 9Ja 9-cylinder rotary engine, 82 kW (110 hp) (nominal rated power, not measured power)
- Propellers: 2-bladed fixed pitch wood Eclair 4 or Levasseur 484 propellers, 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in) diameter 
- Maximum speed: 170 km/h (110 mph, 92 kn) 
- Endurance: 1.75 hours
- Service ceiling: 5,300 m (17,400 ft)
- Time to altitude: 11.5 min to 3,000 m (9,800 ft)
- Wing loading: 37.9 kg/m2 (7.8 lb/sq ft)
- Power/mass: 0.15 kW/kg (0.091 hp/lb)
- Rockets: 8 × Le Prieur rockets (rarely fitted)
- 26 cm camera (some aircraft only)
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- List of fighter aircraft
- List of military aircraft of France
- List of World War I Entente aircraft
- List of aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps
- List of aircraft of the Royal Naval Air Service
- The lower wing's single spar was behind the centre of lift, which at high speeds could cause the lower wing to twist, increasing the angle of attack until the wing stalled, at which point it would return to its normal position, repeating until the wing snapped or the aircraft's speed was reduced. The Nieuport's exceptional climb rate meant power-on dives were rarely the best option during a dog fight and so pilot training was deemed adequate to prevent incidents, however, that was not so with the Albatros V-strutters, whose heavier weight and lower climb rate meant they were more likely to be put into a high speed power dive.
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