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SPAD S.XIII in the colors and markings of Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, U.S. 94th Aero Squadron. This aircraft is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.
Role biplane fighter
National origin France
Manufacturer SPAD
Designer Louis Béchéreau
First flight 4 April 1917[1]
Primary users Aéronautique Militaire
Royal Flying Corps (Royal Air Force from April 1918)
US Army Air Service

The SPAD S.XIII was a French biplane fighter aircraft of World War I, developed by Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD) from the earlier highly successful SPAD S.VII. It was one of the most capable fighters of the war, and one of the most-produced, with 8,472 built and orders for around 10,000 more cancelled at the Armistice.[2]

Design and development

The SPAD S.VII was a single-seat fighter aircraft powered by a 150 horsepower (110 kW) Hispano-Suiza 8A water cooled V-8 engine and armed with a single synchronised Vickers machine gun. It demonstrated excellent performance for the time, and entered service with the French Aéronautique Militaire in August 1916.[3] By early 1917, however it had been surpassed by the latest German fighters, leading French flying ace Georges Guynemer to lobby for an improved version telling the SPAD designer Louis Béchereau that "The 150 hp SPAD is not a match for the Halberstadt ... More speed is needed."[4] An initial solution was to increase the compression ratio of the Hispano-Suiza engine, increasing its power to 180 hp (130 kW), which gave significantly improved performance, allowing the SPAD S.VII to remain competitive,[5] but Hispano-Suiza were developing a geared version of the 8A engine, which would produce greater power, and this engine was chosen by Béchereau for two new fighter aircraft. First to fly was the S.XII, armed with a 37 mm cannon firing through the propeller shaft. This saw limited use, but was followed into production by the more conventionally armed S.XIII.[6]

The S.XIII was of similar layout to the S.VII, i.e. a single engined biplane [nb 1] of mainly wooden construction with fabric covering,[8] but was generally larger and heavier. Armament was two Vickers machine guns with 400 rounds per gun replacing the single gun of the earlier aircraft.[9] Powerplant was a geared Hispano-Suiza engine, at first a 8Ba giving 200 hp (150 kW),[9] but in later aircraft a high-compression 8Bc or 8Be delivering 220 hp (160 kW).[10] The sum of these improvements was a notable improvement in flight and combat performance. It was faster than its main contemporaries, the British Sopwith Camel and the German Fokker D.VII, and its relatively higher power-to-weight ratio gave it a good rate of climb. The SPAD was renowned for its speed and strength in a dive, although the maneuverability of the type was relatively poor and the aircraft was difficult to control at low speeds: needing to be landed with power on, unlike contemporary fighters like the Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5 which could be landed with power off.[7]

While giving the Spad XIII outstanding performance, the geared engines proved to be unreliable, suffering from poor lubrication and vibration. This significantly and severely affected serviceability, with it being stated in November 1917, that the Spad S.XIII was "incapable of giving dependable service". Even in April 1918, an official report stated that two-thirds of the 200 hp SPADs were out of use at any one time due to engine problems.[11] At least one US observer believed at the time that the French were giving the US SPAD XIII squadrons lower quality engines from their least favored manufacturers while keeping the best for themselves.[citation needed] The problems with the engine were considered a worthy price to pay for the improved performance, however,[12] and as time went by, improved build quality and changes to the engine design led to increased serviceability.[13]

In the last few months of the war, fearing a shortage of Vickers guns, US Spad XIII squadrons began replacing their Vickers .303 machine guns with .30/06-calibre Marlin M1917 and M1918 aircraft machine guns.[14][15] By the end of the war about one half of the aircraft in US service had been converted.

Operational history

The SPAD S.XIII first flew on 4 April 1917,[9] with deliveries to the French Air Service starting in the next month.[16] The new fighter played an important part in the French plans for its fighter force, being expected to replace the SPAD S.VII, as well as the few remaining Nieuport fighters in front line service. Deliveries were much slower than expected, however, with 764 delivered by the end of March 1918 compared with a planned 2,230.[17] The S.XIII eventually equipped virtually every French fighter squadron, 74 Escadrilles using the SPAD during the First World War.[18] At the end of the war plans were underway to replace the S.XIII with fighters using the 300 hp (220 kW) Hispano-Suiza 8F, such as the Nieuport-Delage NiD 29, the SPAD S.XX and the Sopwith Dolphin II,[19] however the SPAD S.XIII remained in service with France as a fighter until 1923.[14]

Other Allied forces were quick to adopt the new fighter as well, with SPAD XIIIs equipping 15 of the 16 operational U.S. pursuit squadrons at the Armistice. Nearly half of the 893 purchased for the United States Army Air Service were still in service in 1920. After the war, it was also exported to Japan, Poland and Czechoslovakia. In the United States, some SPAD XIIIs were re-engined with 180 hp Wright-Hispano engines to improve reliability and to prepare pilots for the new Thomas-Morse MB-3 fighter (which used SPAD type wings in its construction) in 1922.

The S.XIII was flown by famous French fighter pilots such as Georges Guynemer and Rene Fonck, and also by Italian ace Francesco Baracca. Aces of the United States Army Air Service who flew the Spad XIII include Eddie Rickenbacker (America's leading World War I ace with 26 confirmed victories) and Frank Luke (18 victories).

In December 1917, No 23 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps equipped with the SPAD S.XIII, retaining them until April 1918 when it re-equipped with the Sopwith Dolphin, while No. 19 Squadron (officially equipped with the earlier S.VII) also operated at least one SPAD S.XIII.[20]



Spads, 1930s magazine illustration

(Two aircraft)
(One aircraft)
 Kingdom of Italy
 Empire of Japan
Poland Second Polish Republic
 Russian Empire
 Kingdom of Serbia
 Soviet Union
Thailand Siam
Spain Kingdom of Spain
United Kingdom United Kingdom
 United States

Specifications (SPAD S.XIII)

Data from Fighter: The World's Finest Combat Aircraft - 1913 to the Present Day[2][22]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 6.25 m (20 ft 6 in)
  • Wingspan: 8.25 m (27 ft 1 in)
  • Height: 2.60 m (8 ft 6.5 in)
  • Wing area: 21.1 m² (227 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 566 kg (1,245 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 856 kg (1,888 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 845 kg (1,863 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Hispano-Suiza 8Be 8-cylinder vee-type, 220 hp (164 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 218 km/h (117 knots, 135 mph) at 2,000 m (6,560 ft)
  • Service ceiling: 6,650 m (21,815 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 2 m/s (384 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 40.56 kg/m² ()


See also



  1. Although the Spads actually had single-bay wings, they were fitted with tie struts to support the bracing wires halfway along the wing, which gave the appearance of a two-bay wing.[7]


  1. Winchester 2006, p. 23.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sharpe 2000, p. 272.
  3. Bruce Air Enthusiast Fifteen, pp. 58–60.
  4. Bruce Air International May 1976, p. 240.
  5. Bruce Air Enthusiast Fifteen, pp. 61–62.
  6. Bruce Air International May 1976, pp. 240–242.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Andrews 1965, p. 6.
  8. Andrews 1965, pp. 7–8.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Bruce Air International June 1976, p. 289.
  10. Bruce Air International June 1976, p. 292.
  11. Bruce Air International June 1976, p. 291.
  12. Bruce Air International June 1976, p. 293.
  13. Bruce et al. 1969, p. 9.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Bruce Air International June 1976, p. 312.
  15. Maurer 1978, pp. 146–147.
  16. Bruce Air International June 1976, p. 280.
  17. Bruce Air International June 1976, pp. 290–291.
  18. Bruce Air International June 1976, pp. 293–294.
  19. Bruce Air International June 1976, p. 310.
  20. Bruce 1982, pp. 561–563.
  21. Bruce 1982, pp. 561—564.
  22. Winchester 2006, p. 18.


  • Andrews, C.F. Profile No 17: The SPAD XIII C.1. Leatherhead, Surry, UK: Profile Publications, 1965.
  • Bruce, J.M. The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps (Military Wing). London: Putnam, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-X.
  • Bruce, J.M. "The First Fighting SPADs". Air Enthusiast, Issue 15, April–July 1981, pp. 58–77. Bromley, Kent: Pilot Press. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Bruce, J.M. "Spad Story: Part One". Air International, Vol. 10, No. 5, May 1976, pp. 237–242. Bromley, UK: Fine Scroll.
  • Bruce, J.M. "Spad Story: Part Two". Air International, Vol. 10, No. 6, June 1976, pp. 289–296, 310–312. Bromley, UK: Fine Scroll.
  • Bruce, J.M., Michael P. Rolfe and Richard Ward. AircamAviation Series No 9: Spad Scouts SVII–SXIII. Canterbury, UK: Osprey, 1968. ISBN 0-85045-009-8.
  • Maurer, Maurer, ed. The U.S. Air Service in World War I: Volume I: The Final Report and a Tactical History. Washington, D.C.: The Office of Air Force History, USAF, 1978.
  • Sharpe, Michael. Biplanes, Triplanes, and Seaplanes. London: Friedman/Fairfax Books, 2000. ISBN 1-58663-300-7.
  • Winchester, Jim. Fighter: The World's Finest Combat Aircraft - 1913 to the Present Day. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. and Parragon Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0-7607-7957-0.

External links

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