Nieuport 11

Nieuport 11 Raoul Lufbery – Brian Knight

The French Nieuport 11 fighter was an outstanding fast and maneuverable aircraft. The first aircraft exclusively designed for the fighter mission. Called ‘Ie Bebe’ by its pilots, the Nieuport was superior in speed and maneuverability to the Fokker. As the French still lacked synchronized machine-guns, the Nieuport mounted its weapons on its upper wings – which made for difficulty in loading new drums of ammunition – but the aircraft’s other characteristics gave the French considerable advantages over their opponents.

The Nieuport 11, `1256′ of future French-born ace, Gervais Raoul Lufbery who went on to score 17 victories. His aircraft was painted in `Nieuport Dead Leaf Camouflage’ whilst serving with Escadrille Americaine during the spring and summer of 1916.

The “Fokker scourge”—the period when the German fighter wreaked havoc on its French and British opponents— began with the introduction of the E.I. The most numerous of the Fokker Eindecker designs was the E.III.Powered by the Oberursel 100-hp rotary engine, lateral control was by wingwarping, and firepower came in the form of a LMG 108 (Spandau) gun synchronized to fire through the propeller. Between 120 and 150 examples of the type were built.

Operationally, the early Fokker was deployed in ones and twos to the feldflieger-abteilungen (battalions) until several were grouped together in staffeln (squadrons) at Sivry and Vaux. In the hands of pilots like Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke, the Fokker was a powerful weapon, but the Nieuport 11 and the de Havilland D.H. 2 soon surpassed it. By autumn it was disappearing from the force in favor of the Albatros and Halberstädt.

EDOUARD DE NIÉPORT, subsequently changed his surname and established the Societe Anonyme des Etablissements Nieuport in 1910, basing his headquarters at Issy-les-Moulineaux in the suburbs of Paris and forming a flying school at Villacoublay.

The Nieuport 11 was one of the most famous aircraft of World War I. Light and maneuverable, it helped end the “Fokker scourge” and restore Allied control of the air.

In response to the 1914 Gordon Bennett Air Race, Gustave Delage of Nieuport undertook design of a new and relatively small machine. This craft, which he christened the Bebe (Baby) on account of its size, was built in only four months. It featured conventional wood-and-fabric construction with highly staggered, swept-back wings. The lower wing was slightly shorter than the top, possessed only half the surface area, and was secured by distinctive vee struts. The racer was fast and demonstrated a good rate of climb with superlative flying qualities. Because World War I canceled the air race, the Aviation Militaire (French air service) decided to adopt the airplane as the Nieuport 11 scout. For combat purposes it sported a single Lewis machine gun on the top wing that fired above the propeller arc.

The first Nieuport 11s arrived at the front in the summer of 1915-none too soon for the hard-pressed Allies. For six months previously the Fokker E III monoplanes had monopolized air combat over the Western Front, inflicting heavy losses. This latest French fighter could literally fly rings around its opponent and, in concert with the de Havilland DH 2 pusher, recaptured air supremacy for the Allies. The Italians were also singularly impressed by the design, and they obtained rights to manufacture it under license. By 1917 Nieuport 11s formed the mainstay of Italian fighter strength and were also widely exported to Belgium and Russia.

In 1916 Nieuport fitted the Bebe fuselage with a more powerful engine and additional armament. The ensuing Model 16 proved as popular as its predecessor, launching the careers of many French aces, including Georges Guynemer and Charles Nungesser. This model was also unique in being fitted with small Le Prieur rockets for shooting down observation balloons. More than 600 Nieuport 16s were constructed, and they remained actively employed until 1917.

The Nieuport 11 was only operationally active for a short period of the First World War because of the technological advances being made which rendered aircraft obsolete within a few months. Nieuport’s success with the Type 11 was thoroughly exploited and one of the type’s replacements was the equally excellent Nieuport 17 which arrived in March 1917.

The famous Fokker scourge of 1915 was summarily ended by the appearance of the Nieuport 11 and the de Havilland DH 2, and the Germans were hard-pressed to field an effective foil. In the spring of 1916 the Albatros Werke under chief engineer Robert Thelen conceived a fighter design unlike anything that had been seen in the skies of Western Europe. Dubbed the D I, it was extremely sleek and heavily armed, being the first German biplane fighter powerful enough to carry two synchronized machine guns. It debuted with great success that spring before a subsequent version, the infamous D III, appeared. This machine proved even deadlier. The D III combined many aeronautical refinements and incorporated features of the heretofore unbeatable Nieuport 17, including vee struts and a smaller lower wing. In the hands of aces like von Richthofen, Boelcke, and Voss, it quickly established superiority over opposing Allied aircraft.

Once the threat from the Fokker monoplanes was contained by the availability of allied fighters such as the Airco D.H.2, Nieuport 11 and Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2, B.E.2c losses over the Western Front dropped to an acceptable level, with official records indicating that in the second quarter of 1916, the B.E.2 actually had the lowest loss rates of all the major types then in use. Encouraged by this, the RFC took delivery of large numbers of the BE.2e, which promised improved performance. By the Spring of 1917, however, conditions on the Western Front had changed again, with the German fighter squadrons re-equipped with better fighters such as the Albatros D.III. Although it had been planned to replace the B.E.2 in front-line service by this time with the Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 and Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8, deliveries of these types was slower than hoped. This culminated in what became known as “Bloody April”, with the RFC losing 60 B.E.2s during that month.


Nieuport 11 C.1

    Single-seat fighter/scout biplane. Also known as the Nieuport Bébé or Nieuport Scout although these were used for any Nieuport fighter.

Nieuport-Macchi 11000 or 11.000

    Variant built under licence in Italy with some detail modifications.

Nieuport 16 C.1

    Improved version powered by a 110 hp (92 kW) Le Rhone 9J rotary piston engine.

Specifications (Nieuport 11 C.1)

General characteristics

    Crew: 1

    Length: 5.500 m (18 ft 1 in)

    Upper wingspan: 7.520 m (24 ft 8 in)

    Upper Chord: 1.200 m (3 ft 11.2 in)

    Lower wingspan: 7.400 m (24 ft 3 in)

    Lower Chord: 0.700 m (2 ft 3.6 in)

    Wing sweep: 3° 30′

    Height: 2.400 m (7 ft 10 in)

    Wing area: 13.3 m2 (143 sq ft)

    Airfoil: Type N

    Empty weight: 320 kg (705 lb)

    Gross weight: 480 kg (1,058 lb)

    Undercarriage Track: 1.600 m (5 ft 3.0 in)

    Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône 9C nine-cylinder air-cooled rotary engine, 60 kW (80 hp)

    Propellers: 2-bladed Levasseur 450 wooden fixed-pitch propeller


    Maximum speed: 162 km/h (101 mph, 87 kn) at 2,000 m (6,600 ft)

    Range: 250 km (160 mi, 130 nmi)

    Endurance: 2.5 hours

    Service ceiling: 5,000 m (16,000 ft)

    Time to altitude:

        8 minutes 30 seconds to 2,000 m (6,600 ft)

        15 minutes 25 seconds to 3,000 m (9,800 ft)


    1 × .303″ Lewis or Hotchkiss machine gun

    8 × air to air Le Prieur rockets for use against observation balloons (optional)

Nieuport 11 Bebe