The Royal Aircraft Factory SE-5 was a British airplane that, like the French SPAD XIII and the German Fokker D-VII, epitomized the third generation of fighters (in the day called pursuit planes) in WW1. Compared to its forebears the SE-5 was bigger, heavier and not as nimble, but it was much more stable, easier to fly, faster and a better climber, due largely to the powerful in-line engine which enabled the use of a gear-driven four blade propeller. Although designed to be fighters, unlike their predecessors these aircraft could also carry bombs. The SE-5 entered service in March 1917, first equipping the newly formed No. 56 Squadron RFC, which was created to hunt down German Aces.
The SE-5a had a French or Spanish-made Hispano Suiza liquid cooled V-8 engine (similar to the SPAD XIII engine) which developed 180 hp. while the SE-5b had a British-made Wolsley Viper V-8 which was rated at 200 hp. The range was 300 miles, the ceiling was 17,000 ft., the rate of climb was a pretty impressive 754 ft. per minute and with a top speed of 138 mph the SE-5 could outrun a Fokker D-VII. The powerful engine could also lift the extra weight of a box girder airframe, so the SE-5 was able to pull high-G turns and better survive crash landings. It carried two machine guns, a water cooled Vickers firing through the propeller and an air cooled Lewis mounted on the top wing, which could be rotated upwards as much as 90 ° to fire at a target flying above the pilot.
Thirty squadrons of the RFC/RAF flew SE-5’s, and leading Aces included Maj. William ‘Billy’ Bishop VC (72 victories), Maj. Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock VC (61), Maj. James McCudden VC (57), Capt. Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC (54), Capt. George McElroy (47) and Capt. Albert Ball VC (44).
Post-war some SE-5’s were retro-fitted with the American Liberty V-12 (400 hp.), and they continued in service with Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Poland, South Africa, the UK and the US, with the last one flying until 1932.
There are six original SE-5’s extant, one of which is airworthy. There are also several replicas, most of them also airworthy. One of these is at the Vintage Aero Flying Museum near Ft. Lupton, CO.
Capt. William C. Lambert (1894 – 1982) was a chemist born in Ohio who crossed the border in 1914 to join the Royal Canadian Artillery. He was assigned to the Nobel cordite factory in Montreal, but after several tries, in early 1917 he managed to join the Canadian component of the Royal Flying Corps, trained in Canada and arrived at the Front in November 1917 as a pilot assigned to No. 24 Squadron RFC/RAF, where he flew in the SE-5 and recorded 21 ½ victories. After the war he managed to buy his former aircraft, which today is on static display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, OH.