Nieuport 17

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Nieuport 17
Nieuport 23 C.1 (colour).jpg
Role Fighter
Manufacturer Nieuport
First flight January 1916
Introduction March 1916
Status Retired
Primary users Aéronautique Militaire
Imperial Russian Air Service
Royal Flying Corps
Number built 3,600
Developed from Nieuport 11/16

The Nieuport 17 C.1 was a French sesquiplane[fn 1] fighter designed and manufactured by the Nieuport company. During its service in the First World War, the type's outstanding manoeuvrability and excellent rate of climb gave it a significant advantage over its contemporaries, the Nieuport 17 was an enlarged and reengined development of the earlier Nieuport 11, being more powerful and slightly larger than its ancestor. It also incorporated a number of recent innovations, such as the newly-developed Alkan-Hamy synchronization gear, which permitted the use of a fuselage-mounted synchronised Vickers gun, which could safely fire directly through the propeller. Production Nieuport 17s often featured different equipment fits, usually as a result of decisions by the operator in question, however, some of the substitutions and alterations were inferior to the originals, such as the Vickers-Challenger gear, which was prone to jamming.

Upon the Nieuport 17's entry to service during March 1916, it enjoyed a considerable advantage over all other fighters on both sides of the conflict as a result of the fighter's comparably high agility and climb rate,[1] as a result of its impressive performance, the Nieuport 17 was widely used and procured by many operators; it was eventually in service with virtually every Allied power, and even adopted by its enemies in the form of the unlicensed Siemens-Schuckert D.I, which had been produced via reverse engineering. In order to meet the buoyant wartime demand from both domestic and foreign customers, the type enjoyed substantial production runs at multiple manufacturing facilities across France, as well as in Italy by Nieuport-Macchi and in Russia at Dux.

Due to the popularity of the Nieuport 17, various derivatives, improvements, and adaptions were developed, the Nieuport 21, which was intended to be used as a fighter trainer or as a high altitude bomber escort, was furnished with a lower powered 80 hp Le Rhône 9C engine. The Nieuport 23 was mostly identical to the standard 17, except for the fitting of an alternative machine gun and fuel tank arrangement, the late-war Nieuport 17bis, powered by the more powerful, 130 HP (95.6 kW) Clerget 9B nine-cylinder rotary engine, represented a step-change in performance but was only produced in small numbers.[2] Further refinement of the fighter, such as a switch to more powerful and lighter Le Rhône rotary engines, resulted in the Nieuport 24 and the 27. In Germany, unlicensed clones of the aircraft, most notably the Siemens-Schuckert D.I, were also produced.



The Nieuport 17 can trace its routes to French aviation company Nieuport's chief designer Gustave Delage. Following Delage's appointment in January 1914, work commenced on a series of sesquiplane designs.[3] According to aviation author C.F Andrews, the sesquiplane configuration offered a compromise between the low drag of a monoplane and the high strength of a biplane configuration,[4] this line of development had benefitted greatly from a number of external factors, such as a series of aircraft losses that had been attributed to structural failure, leading to official scepticism and a distaste in general for the rival monoplane configuration; Britain in particular effectively banned the procurement of monoplane vehicles in favour of multi-winged aircraft. During this era, biplane configurations were normally stronger, being able to apply traditional calculations used in bridge construction by civil engineers to their design, and being easier to brace than monoplanes.[5]

According to Andrews, the sesquiplane approach adopted by Nieuport can be viewed as an attempt to bridge the controversy whether to give preference to biplane or monoplane configurations,[6] the first of the company's sesquiplane designs was the Nieuport 10, a two-seat aircraft that used a tractor configuration with the intention of entering it into the Gordon Bennett speed contest whose conditions for the first time in such a contest required a low minimum speed.[6] The Nieuport 10 shared many elements with the company's pre-war monoplane designs, it was followed the next year by the Nieuport 11, a single seat fighter that was developed following the success of the single seat version of the 10. While the 11 was procured in bulk by the French air services, a further aircraft, the Nieuport 16, was also produced with similar dimensions, the 16 suffered from being nose-heavy; accordingly, the company was keen to address these issues with an improved aircraft.[7]

The Nieuport 17, which would become the most famous member of the family by far, was a slightly enlarged development of the earlier Nieuport 11;[8] in terms of its airframe, it was trimmed to appropriately the heavier powerplant that had been adopted for the Nieuport 16, as well as being furnished with a larger wings and an improved aerodynamic form. It was at first fitted with a 110 hp (82 kW) Le Rhône 9J engine, though later examples used uprated 120 or 130 hp (97 kW) engines.[8] The 17 was intended to be deployed as a fighting scout aircraft.[4]


Russian Nieuport 21 equipped with non-standard Hotchkiss M1909 machine gun

The Nieuport 21 was developed from the 17 and differed from it in several respects, the principal of which being its adoption of the lower powered 80 hp Le Rhône 9C engine; it was intended to function as either a fighter trainer or as a high altitude bomber escort.[9] In both French and Russian service, however, the type was commonly used alongside the Nieuport 17 to perform the normal fighter roles.[9]

Nieuport 17 triplane undergoing evaluation

The Nieuport 23 was largely the same aircraft as the 17, having only a few minor details that differentiated it externally, these being primarily centered on the use of a different machine gun synchronizer — which caused the gun to be offset and the fuel and oil tanks to be rearranged. Rear spar packing pieces were also redesigned;[10] in service use, they were operated by both French and British squadrons alongside Nieuport 17s[10] until their replacement by newer Nieuport 24s.

A pair of triplanes based on the Nieuport 17 were constructed for testing purposes, one for the French and the other for the British, the narrow chord wings were staggered in an unusual manner, placing the middle wing furthest forward and the top wing furthest aft.[11] No subsequent orders came as a result of these tests; Nieuport later trialled the same layout on the improved Nieuport 17bis, which was tested by the British as well, however this venture encountered no more success either.[11] During flight testing, both types had demonstrated favourable climbing characteristics, but were also found to be relatively tail-heavy.[12]

Several of the experimental Berliner Helicopters, named after their German-American inventor Emile Berliner, were manufactured around Nieuport 23 fuselages, including the 1922 and 1923 versions.


The Nieuport 17 was a sesquiplane (literally "one-and-a-half plane"), featuring a narrow, single-spar lower wing that was considerably smaller than the upper wing, this arrangement provided several benefits, as well as being an improvement in pilot visibility over the standard biplane arrangement of the era, there were considerable aerodynamic gains resulting from the relatively wide space in between the two sets of wings. According to Andrews, the wings produced an above average lift-to-drag ratio during flight, which was attributed to the reduction in interplane interference of the sesquiplane format,[4] the heaviest components in the fighter, such as the rotary engine, the armaments, and the fuel and oil tanks were concentrated around the central axis, resulting in the bulk of the aircraft's weight being roughly centered. This was another contributing factor to the 17's high level of maneuverability and climb rate.[4]

The fuselage of the 17 was a rectangular-section girder, featuring diagonal wire bracing, steel tubs and plate joints, which were built up around a series of wooden longerons.[13] Towards the rear of the fuselage, the base narrowed as it took on a trapezoidal shape, while the upper surface behind the pilot's position was faired with light formers and longitudinal stringers; a faired headrest was also provided for the comfort of the pilot. The engine was borne by a thick-gauge steel sheet roughly as wide as the fuselage itself, on top of which the engine itself would overhang,[13] the cowling, composed of aluminium, featured strengthened ribs and a pair of inset holes to provide ventilation and egress for the engine's exhaust; it was smoothly merged with the forward fuselage via a series of curved side fairings. Fabric covered the majority of the fuselage aft of the cockpit, which was strengthened by strategically placed plywood panels in some areas.[13]

The wings of the 17 used a relatively uncommon structure, containing widely spaced spars that gave a good angle for load carrying towards the leading edge and resulted in a high degree of stagger, which in turn reduced interference between the two sets of wings,[14] the ribs, composed of ass flanges and limewood webs, featured cut-outs along their length to lighten them; the ailerons, which were fitted on the top wing alone, increased their chord towards the wingtips for improved efficiency. Elevator and rudder controls was provided via conventional cables and pulleys, while the ailerons were actuated by a series of push-pull rods attached to the control column in the cockpit.[15] Prior to takeoff, the angle of incidence could be adjusted by ground crew via a single pivot joint arrangement, this would be done to optimise performance to match with the specific payload being carried for a given mission.[15]

The Alkan-Hamy synchronization gear installed in a Nieuport 17

While the lower wing has been credited with helping to give the type its impressive climb rate, it was also determined to have been prone to instances of flutter, a aerodynamic phenomenon that was not fully understood at the time. Several Nieuport fighters are recorded as having suffered catastrophic failures of their lower wings as a result of flutter; these failures reportedly had a tendency to occur during recovery from a prolonged dive. As a measure intended to address this issue, British Nieuports were typically strengthened with modifications performed at No 2 Aeroplane Supply Depot;[16][4] In French service, squadrons would often replacing their aircraft's lower wings with those taken from the newer Nieuport 24, both of these measures are believed to have helped reduce the danger of catastrophic failure due to flutter.

Production of the new Alkan-Hamy synchronization gear had permitted the wing-mounted Lewis gun of the 11 to be replaced with a synchronised Vickers gun, which was mounted on the fuselage to fire through the propeller without striking any of the blades.[8][13] However, the standard Royal Flying Corps (RFC) synchroniser, the Vickers-Challenger gear, was found to be relatively unreliable; accordingly, in British service, the over-wing Lewis gun was typically retained. The Lewis gun was installed upon the newly-developed Foster mounting, a curved metal rail which allowed the pilot to slide the gun back to change ammunition drums or to clear jams; it also had the advantage of allowing pilots to aim the gun upwards to strike at the unprotected underside of enemy fighters flying above, a tactic that was operationally deployed by various ace pilots.[17]

Operational history[edit]

Nieuport 17 flown by René Dorme while with escadrille N.3 during the battle of the Somme in late 1916.
RFC Nieuport 23 in 1917

During March 1916, the new Nieuport 17 reached the French front; numbers arrived with such speed that the type was able to quickly begun replacing the earlier Nieuport 11 and 16 fighters in French service that had been instrumental in ending the Fokker Scourge of 1915. On 2 May 1916, the Nieuport 17 entered service with Escadrille N.57. During the latter part of 1916 and into 1917, the Nieuport 17 equipped every fighter squadron of the Aéronautique Militaire.[1][18] Accordingly, almost all of the top French aces flew the nimble Nieuport during their flying careers, including Georges Guynemer, Charles Nungesser, Maurice Boyau, Armand Pinsard, René Dorme, Gabriel Guerin and Alfred Duellin.[19] The type was also used by American volunteers of the Escadrille Lafayette, who transitioned to it from their earlier Nieuport 11s and 16s; Charles Nungesser scored most of his victories while flying Nieuports.

The Nieuport 17 was also ordered by the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service; it was determined to be markedly superior to all of the British fighters available during most of its period of front line service.[18] The RFC in particular still had large numbers of obsolete Airco DH.2s in service nearly a year after having incurred severe losses during the period popularly known as Bloody April. While the majority of aircraft lost were obsolete observation aircraft, such as the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2, the Nieuports had begun to lose their decisive advantage and incur losses as well. British squadrons that used the type include No's 1, 29, 32, 40 and 60 of the Royal Flying Corps and No 6 of the Royal Naval Air Service, during the Battle of Arras, considerable use was made of British Nieuports in balloon-busting attacks to prevent enemy artillery spotting activities. In particular, No 40 Squadron experimented with low level hedge-hopping attacks to reach the balloons, while Nieuports of No 60 Squadron co-operated with F.E. 2bs of No 11 Squadron to carry out massed strafing attacks on German infantry entrenched on both sides of the River Scarpe.

Lineup of Italian Nieuport 17s, built by Nieuport-Macchi

By mid-1917, the Nieuport was losing its superiority over German types such as the new Albatros D.III. In response, the more powerful, 130 HP (95.6 kW) Clerget 9B nine-cylinder rotary engine, along with aerodynamic refinements such as stringers fairing out the fuselage sides, was adopted, resulted in the Nieuport 17bis. However, this model was only produced in very small numbers. Further refinement and a switch to more powerful and lighter Le Rhône rotaries resulted in the Nieuport 24 and the 27 which gradually replaced the 17s, 21s and 23s in service while the 150 hp SPAD S.VII had begun replacing the older Nieuport fighters in French front line squadrons by mid-1917. The British retained their Nieuports until early 1918; it was replaced by the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5.[20]

Lineup of Nieuport 17 trainers at Issoudun Aerodrome, France

Many British Empire air aces flew Nieuport fighters, including the top Canadian ace Billy Bishop, who received a Victoria Cross while flying it, and Albert Ball, V.C. who often hunted alone in his Nieuport.[21] 'Mick' Mannock VC flew Nieuports early in his career with No 40 Squadron. His VC award reflected his whole combat career – including his time on Nieuports, the top-scoring Nieuport ace was Captain Phillip Fletcher Fullard of No.1 Squadron RFC, who scored 40 kills between May and October 1917, before breaking his leg in a football match. Numerous Italian aces, such as Francesco Baracca, Silvio Scaroni and Pier Piccio, all achieved victories while flying Nieuport fighters. In Belgium, the 1st and 5th Belgian escadrilles were equipped with the Nieuport 17 and 23. Belgian aces flying the type included Andre de Meulemeester, Edmond Thieffry and Jan Olieslagers.[2]

The Imperial Russian Air Service operated large numbers of Nieuports of all types, including the Nieuport 17, 21 and 23.[2] Being largely reliant on aircraft procured directly from France, there was pressure within Russia to establish and grow a capacity to support the domestic manufacture of such fighters as well. According, efforts were made to produce the type under licence in Russia; however, according to Andrews, the venture struggled due to a lack of experience in the limited availability of experts to assist.[2] Nonetheless, many of these were operated not only during the Eastern Front of the conflict, but continued to be flown for a time following the Russian Revolution that resulted in the creation of the Soviet Union. Russian Nieuport aces include Alexander Kazakov, who flew the type against the Germans and later against the Bolsheviks as well.[2]

Like the other Nieuport types, during its later life, the 17 was operated in large numbers as an advanced trainer after its effectiveness as a fighter had diminished in the face of enemy advances, the American Expeditionary Forces purchased a force of 75 Nieuport 17s for training purposes, while the French also operated large numbers as trainers. The French Aviation Maritime operated a single Nieuport 21, which was used for carrier training during 1920 and 1921 aboard the Bapaume, pending the delivery of dedicated carrier aircraft such as the Nieuport-Delage NiD.32RH.[22]


Having been suitably impressed upon the emergence of the Nieuport 17 on the Western Front, Germany requested that their own aircraft manufacturers produce a copy the Nieuport. To aid in this ambition, examples of retrieved aircraft as well as detailed drawings and sketches were provided by the German military; in response to the request, the Siemens-Schuckert D.I was produced.[23] This copy, which differed primarily in some minor details, was deemed to be satisfactory and was introduced to service, although in the event the D.I was not widely used operationally as other Allied designs had already surpassed its capabilities by this point, rendering it moot. Pfalz was also inspired by the Nieuport, leading to the development of the Pfalz D.III, a sesquiplane version of a previous biplane fighter, although they fitted it a more substantial lower wing with two spars that avoided the problems encountered by Albatros Flugzeugwerke.[24]

As opposed to producing a slavish copy, Albatros had instead adopted the sesquiplane wing structure upon a pair of in-house designed aircraft, designated as the Albatros D.III and D.V; these were commonly called 'V-strutters' by the RFC to distinguish them from the earlier Albatros D.II. However, the Albatros fighters were considerably heavier than the Nieuport, which aggravated the design flaw that led to the wing failures which a few Nieuports had experienced, despite extra bracing from the vee strut to the lower wing, the Germans were never able to resolve the problem.[fn 2] Another clone of the Nieuport 17 was produced in the form of the Euler D.I, although development work did not proceed beyond a few prototypes.


15 meter Nieuport
A colloquial description of the type based on nominal wing area.
Nieuport 17
The standard single-seat fighter biplane model.
Nieuport 17bis
Re-engined variant, powered by a 130 hp (95.6 kW) Clerget 9B engine and fitted with fuselage stringers.
Nieuport 21
A dedicated high altitude escort fighter/trainer variant; equipped with a 80hp Le Rhône rotary engine, horseshoe cowling and lacking a pilot's headrest.
Nieuport 23
Similar to the 17, featuring various structural changes that resulted in the Vickers machine gun being offset if installed. Only other visible difference was changes in cabane rigging.
Siemens-Schuckert D.I
While differing in some details, the D.I was largely a copy of the Nieuport 17.
B.Kh1 (Fighter type 1)
The siamese designation for Nieuport 17 and 21.

Survivors and replicas[edit]

Replica Nieuport 23 flying with Lafayette Escadrille insignia.

A single original example has survived to the present day, this being Nieuport 23 "5024", which has been preserved and placed on static display in the Belgian Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels. However, the Nieuport 17 has also become a popular aircraft for replica builders; dedicated kits for the type have been produced, including both 7/8ths scale and full size, and groups of builders have reproduced entire squadrons of aircraft in this manner. Original drawings, sourced from both the original factory and a German technical report on the fighter, have facilitated the construction of various replicas, such as the example on display in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, which was built to the original specifications, while many others have used more modern construction, often using metal tubes to replace much of the wooden structure that would have been used on authentic aircraft.


 Hungarian Soviet Republic
 Kingdom of Italy
Replica Nieuport 17 in Imperial Russian Air Service markings

operated at least five Nieuport 17s[25] and three Nieuport 21s[26]

Serviço Aeronáutico Militar - 8 Nieuport Ni.21E1 used as trainers from 1919.[31]
 Russian Empire
  • Imperial Russian Air Service purchased a large number of Nieuport 17s from France, and built under licence by Dux[32] who also built 68 Nieuport 21s under licence.[10]
    • 1st Fighter detachment[33]
    • 2nd Fighter detachment[33]
    • 3rd Fighter detachment[33]
    • 4th Fighter detachment[33]
    • 5th Fighter detachment[33]
    • 6th Fighter detachment[33]
    • 7th Fighter detachment[33]
    • 8th Fighter detachment[33]
    • 9th Fighter detachment[33]
    • 10th Fighter detachment[33]
    • 11th Fighter detachment[33]
    • 12th Fighter detachment[33]
    • 19th Corps Fighter detachment[34]
 Russia White movement (anti-communist reactionary forces)
Thailand Siam (Thailand)
 Soviet Union
West Ukrainian People's Republic West Ukrainian People's Republic
Replica of Billy Bishop's Nieuport 17.
 United Kingdom
 United States

Specifications (Nie 17)[edit]

Nieuport 17 C.1 drawing

Data from Those Classic Nieuports,[38] The Nieuport 17[2]

General characteristics




  • 26 cm camera (some aircraft only)[8]

See also[edit]

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists



  1. ^ A type of biplane in which one pair of wings is markedly smaller than the other.
  2. ^ The bottom wing spars on both designs were behind the wing's center of lift, which, because of aeroelastic bending at high speeds caused the lower wing to twist, increasing the angle of attack until the wing stalled, at which point it would spring back to its normal position, repeating the cycle until either the wing catastrophically failed or the aircraft's speed was reduced. The exceptional climb rate of the Nieuport meant power on dives were rarely the best choice for re-positioning during a dog fight; as such, pilot training was deemed adequate to resolve the problem, however, that was not so with the Albatros V-strutters, whose heavier weight and lower climb rate meant it was more likely to be put into a high speed power dive.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Davilla 1997, p. 383.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Andrews 1966, p. 12.
  3. ^ Andrews 1966, p. 3.
  4. ^ a b c d e Andrews 1966, p. 5.
  5. ^ Andrews 1966, pp. 3-4.
  6. ^ a b Andrews 1966, p. 4.
  7. ^ Andrews 1966, pp. 4-5.
  8. ^ a b c d Davilla 1997, p. 379.
  9. ^ a b Davilla 1997, p. 388.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Davilla 1997, p. 390.
  11. ^ a b Davilla 1997, p. 370.
  12. ^ Sanger 2002, pp. 52–54.
  13. ^ a b c d Andrews 1966, p. 6.
  14. ^ Andrews 1966, pp. 6-7.
  15. ^ a b Andrews 1966, p. 7.
  16. ^ "Nieuport 17". Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Retrieved 16 September 2012. 
  17. ^ Andrews 1966, pp. 5-6.
  18. ^ a b Andrews 1966, p. 8.
  19. ^ Andrews 1966, p. 10.
  20. ^ Andrews 1966, p. 9.
  21. ^ Andrews 1966, pp. 9-10.
  22. ^ Davilla 1997, pp. 388–389.
  23. ^ Andrews 1966, pp. 3, 7.
  24. ^ Andrews 1966, pp. 7-8.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Davilla 1997, p. 384.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Davilla 1997, p. 391.
  27. ^ Davilla 1997, p. 389.
  28. ^ a b c d Davilla 1997, p. 380.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Davilla 1997, p. 381.
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Davilla 1997, p. 382.
  31. ^ Niccoli 1998, p. 20.
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Davilla 1997, p. 385.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Durkota 1995, p. 9.
  34. ^ Durkota 1995, p. 45.
  35. ^ Davilla 1997, p. 392.
  36. ^ Bruce 1982, p. 333.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g Davilla 1997, p. 386.
  38. ^ Bruce 1976, p. 152.
  39. ^ Angelucci 1983, p. 42.


  • Andrews, C.F. The Nieuport 17 (Aircraft in Profile no. 49). Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1966. No ISBN.
  • Angelucci, Enzo (1983). The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, 1914–1980. San Diego, California: Military Press. ISBN 0517410214. 
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  • Bruce, J.M. (1994). Nieuport Fighters – A Windsock Datafile Special Volumes 1 & 2. Herts, UK: Albatros Publications. ISBN 978-0948414541. 
  • Čejka, Zdenek (1998). Československé Nieuporty (Czechoslovakian Nieuports). Prague: Historick Sesity. 
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  • Cooksley, Peter (1997). Nieuport Fighters In Action. In Action Aircraft Number 167. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications. ISBN 978-0897473774. 
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  • Durkota, Alan; Darcey, Thomas; Kulikov, Victor (1995). The Imperial Russian Air Service — Famous Pilots and Aircraft of World War I. Mountain View, CA: Flying Machines Press. ISBN 0-9637110-2-4. 
  • Franks, Norman (2000). Nieuport Aces of World War 1 – Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 33. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-961-1. 
  • Longoni, Maurizio (1976). Nieuport Macchi 11 & 17. Milan: Intergest. 
  • Nicolli, Riccardo (January–February 1998). "Atlantic Sentinels: The Portuguese Air Force Since 1912". Air Enthusiast. No. 73. pp. 20–35. ISSN 0143-5450. 
  • Rosenthal, Léonard; Marchand, Alain; Borget, Michel; Bénichou, Michel (1997). Nieuport 1909–1950 Collection Docavia Volume 38. Clichy Cedex, France: Editions Lariviere. ISBN 978-2848900711. 
  • Sanger, Ray (2002). Nieuport Aircraft of World War One. Wiltshire: Crowood Press. ISBN 978-1861264473. 

External links[edit]