On looking through past issues of Motor Sport regarding the performance of the A.B.C. engines, I noticed reference was made to an early light aeroplane incorrectly called the “Sopwith Kitten” by Mr. H. Nevil Blow and a correspondent who conceals himself behind the pseudonym of “Old Tom.”
There is no published record of a Sopwith machine fitted with the A.B.C. “Gnat” 35-h.p. engine being built in 1917 so far as I know, and having a past association with Sopwith. I do not recollect any aircraft ever called the “Sopwith Kitten” produced by the company, but in the early part of 1917 the Marine Experimental Aircraft Depots at the Isle of Grain and Eastchurch were asked by the Air Department to build two small scouts able to fly from the decks of a T.B.D. and other such confined space. Both these aircraft were designed for the 45-h.p. A.B.C. engine but since these were not available at the time the designs were altered to take the smaller 35-h.p. “Gnat” motor.
When in early 1917 Commander Busteed left Eastchurch depot to take command of Grain he brought the partly-built “Eastchurch” with him and both were completed side by side at Grain. Correctly entered as “P.V.7” and “P.V.8” these machines were commonly called the Grain and Eastchurch “Kittens”; the Grain design was finished first and the performance in the air was not up to expectations, although when fully loaded it weighed only 495 lb. and flew at over 75 knots. The wing section was suspected at fault and new ones made but I believe she was never flown again.
The P.V.8, Eastchurch, design was also completed in 1917 and had a greater total weight of 595 lb. with pilot, machine-gun, ammunition and fuel, a lighter wing loading, equal chord with very large stagger, and single Sopwith triplane type of interplane struts. The span was 19 ft. and total length about 15 ft. 6 in. After some small alterations the Eastchurch Kitten was most successful, flew at around 85 knots, climbed to 10,000 ft. in 20 minutes, and was very light and easy to handle in the air and on the ground, and the A.B.C. motors gave very fair performance and steady running, and I do not recollect hearing of any tendency to cut out on one cylinder, the high speed of the P.V.8 proving this unlikely.
The Sopwith-like empennage and Sopwith triplane type struts of the P.V.8 was most likely the reason these machines were often called “Sopwith Kittens” by the lay Press and the uninitiated. The credit of the design was due to the late Captain G. H. Miller, who was Busteed’s Chief Designer at Grain in 1917.
An effort is being made to try to construct a replica of the P.V.8 if the many difficulties can be overcome, and I would be most grateful if I could hear from anyone who was at Port Victoria or Eastchurch and remembers it or who has any drawings, photographs or accurate data still available on this aircraft, which was surely the first successful light plane in the then modern sense of the word to fly.
W. L. Jennings.