The British biplane fighter Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a (RAF S.E.5a) was one of the most important aircraft of the First World War.

The S.E.5a was inherently stable making it an excellent gunnery platform. It was also one of the fastest aircraft of the war, at 138 mph equal in speed to the SPAD S.XIII. The S.E.5a was not a great dog fighter, lacking the agility of the Camel. The S.E.5a had only one synchronised .303-in Vickers machine gun, however, it did have a wing-mounted Lewis gun which enabled the pilot to fire at an enemy aircraft from below. The S.E.5a entered service in June 1917 and was still in production at wars end.

A thirty-five SE 5as arrived in Australia in 1920 as part of a British 'Imperial Gift' to the newly formed RAAF but because of financial stringency only twenty one were ever uncrated. These aircraft were delivered in khaki green finish but were later re-covered and aluminium doped.

In 1922 a flight of S.E.5a's flew to Sydney and stole the show at one of the RAAF's first aerial pageants. In 1925, S.E.5a's were taken on strength by Nos 1 and 3 Squadrons forming the fighter flights of these composite squadrons. During their seven years of flying, ten of the twenty one SE 5a aircraft were lost due to crashes. The surviving fighters served with distinction, until withdrawn from service in 1928 and one example has survived in the collection of the Australian War Memorial.

General characteristics

Crew:                                                      1
Length:                                                   20 ft 11 in (6.38 m)
Wingspan:                                              26 ft 7 in (8.11 m)
Height:                                                    9 ft 6 in (2.89 m)
Wing area:                                              444 ft² (22.67 m²)
Max takeoff weight:                              1,988 lb (902 kg)
Powerplant:                                            1× Wolseley Viper V8 engine, 200 hp (150 kW)


Maximum speed:                                    138 mph (222 km/h)
Range:                                                    300 miles (483 km)
Service ceiling:                                       17,000 ft (5,185 m)


Guns:                                                      1x .303 in (7.7 mm) forward-firing Vickers machine gun
                                                               1x .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun on Foster mount on upper wing

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