Sopwith Aviation School

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Founder T. O. M. (Thomas Octave Murdoch) Sopwith; learned to fly a balloon at age 18; by age 22 (1910), had taught himself to fly an airplane, earning Britain's 31st aviator certificate; raised money for his airplane manufacturing company by stunt flying. SD says formed late 1911 but other sources seen say 1912. Company began as Sopwith Aviation School at Brooklands and, lacking sufficient space at Brooklands for aircraft construction, rented skating rink on Richmond Road, Kingston-on-Thames, in December 1912. Until business grew, Sopwith rented rink to skaters on Saturdays and towed aircraft on their own wheels to Brooklands for assembly and testing or to the Thames River in the case of seaplanes. With him at the beginning were engineer Fred Sigrist, who became works manager, and pilot Harry George Hawker (both Australians); R.J. Ashfield was hired as draftsman. In December 1913, Sopwith Aviation Co. Ltd. registered the business formerly carried on by Sopwith Aviation Co.; first directors were Sopwith, Miss Gertrude M. Sopwith, and Reginald O. Cary.

File:1912.7.4 - Sopwith school.png
Advertisement in The Aeroplane, 4 July 1912.

Sopwith Aviation Co. built numerous biplanes, mostly if not all of the tractor type, and even a triplane, but did not build a monoplane until 1918 when two proto- types were built. Gunston calls the Bat Boat flying boat, introduced early 1913, the first Sopworth of distinction, while Flight Magazine, 1919, called the Tabloid 2-seater, introduced later in 1913 and notable for having more lateral control and speed than thought possible in a biplane, the "beginning of the greatness of the House of Sopwith." Most remembered, however, are its wartime aircraft, particularly the 1 1/2 Strutter bomber and fighters, dating from late 1915, the first British aircraft to carry a synchronized gun firing through the propeller, and the Sopwith Camel land and sea fighters, dating from late 1916, the first to carry two machine guns. Some 6,000 Camels and more than 10,000 other Sopwith military planes were built in WWI either by Sopwith or contractors. While it tried to continue building aircraft postwar, it also diversified, adding the manufacture of A.B.C. motorcycles.

In 1960, Sopwith, Sigrist, and Hawker were credited with designing the 1 1/2 Strutter, Pup, and Camel, the latter being derivatives of the Tabloid; earlier designs are generally credited to Sopwith with Sigrist or to Hawker alone. In Nov 1914, Herbert Smith was put in charge of new design, apparently becoming de facto Sopwith's first chief designer. In early 1919, keeping its works at Kingston-on-Thames, the firm acquired offices and showrooms in London and changed its name to Sopwith Aviation and Engineering Co. Ltd. It built a small twin-float tractor biplane that entered the Schneider Cup Race on 10 Sept 1919. Whether due to business slow down, a large claim from the British Treasury for excess war profits duty, losses on the motorcycle side, or a combination thereof, the firm voluntarily liquidated in Sept 1920. In Nov 1920, Sopwith, Sigrist, and Hawker registered a new company, H. G. Hawker Engineering Co. Ltd., which purchased the Sopwith company patents and took over the old works at Kingston-on-Thames. Smith went to Japan to design for Mitsubishi; Hawker died, 1921.

Name changes: was Sopwith Aviation School; became Sopwith Aviation Company; then became Sopwith Aviation Co. Ltd.; in 1919, became Sopwith Aviation and Engineering Co. Ltd.


  • Gunston, 1993, p287-288
  • Gunston, 2005, p436-437
  • SD268-269
  • RAFM11, 14
  • Sopwith Obit
  • 1912TA307
  • 1912FM1223
  • 1913FM251, 1370; 1416
  • 1919FM163-174; 189; 585, 1154, 1183, 1250-1251, 1574
  • 1919AeronauticsUK247
  • 1920AAW400
  • 1920FM990, 1008
  • 1921FM494
  • 1922FM733
  • 1923FM324
  • 1924FM303
  • 1955FM528-532
  • 1960FM1013
  • HOW Hawker

Names Sopwith Aviation School, Sopwith Aviation Company, Sopwith Aviation Co. Ltd., Sopwith Aviation and Engineering Co. Ltd.
Country Great Britain
City Works on Richmond Road and offices on Canbury Park Road, Kingston-on-Thames; sheds/hangars and use of airfield at Brooklands Aerodrome; seaplanes tested on Thames River; giant wartime factory Richmond Road, Ham; all in Surrey, England.
Started aero 1911 or 1912
Ended aero 1920
Key people Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith, Fred Sigrist, Harry George Hawker, R.J. Ashfield, Gertrude M. Sopwith, Reginald O. Cary, Herbert Smith
Wikidata id