The SPAD S.XII or SPAD 12 was a French single-seat biplane fighter aircraft of the First World War developed from the successful SPAD 7 by Louis Béchereau, chief designer of the Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD).
The SPAD 12 was inspired by the ideas of French flying ace Georges Guynemer, who proposed that a manoeuvrable single-seat aircraft be designed to carry a 37 mm cannon, a weapon which had previously been mounted only in large two-seat aircraft such as the Voisin III. Béchereau took his own SPAD 7 design as the starting point, but the many major and minor changes incorporated into the SPAD 12 made it a quite different aircraft.
The gun chosen for the SPAD 12 was not the old Hotchkiss cannon but a new 37 mm cannon developed by SAMC for which 12 shots were carried, firing through the propellor shaft, necessitating the use of a geared Hispano-Suiza aviation engine to mount the new moteur-canon. The SPAD 12 also carried a single 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun mounted on the starboard side of the nose. In order to carry the heavy cannon the airframe was lengthened and the wingspan and wing area increased. The wingtips were rounded rather than squared off and the wings given a slight forward stagger. To provide the necessary hollow propeller shaft for the cannon to fire through, and power the resultingly heavier airframe, 587 kg compared to the 500 kg of the SPAD 7, the 180 bhp Hispano-Suiza 8 direct-drive Ab engine was replaced by the geared 220 bhp model 8Cb.
Flown by Guynemer, the early production models of the SPAD 12 were highly successful. Other aces had equal success with the new model. However, deliveries were slow, the SPAD 7 and later SPAD 13 having top priority, and even the modest total of 300 aircraft which were ordered were not all completed. Average pilots found the SPAD 12 a difficult aircraft to master, and Davilla and Soltan note that the cannon was "difficult to aim and fire", while reloading was difficult. The cannon's breech mechanism protruded into the cockpit and prevented the use of a conventional stick to control the aircraft, adding to the difficulties encountered by ordinary pilots.
No units were entirely equipped with SPAD 12s. The unknown number of aircraft produced were issued in small numbers, intended for use only by the most skilled pilots. Few were delivered to combat units, 8 being recorded on strength in April and again in October, this may be contrasted with the thousands of SPAD 7s and SPAD 13s in service. Single examples for testing were delivered to the Royal Flying Corps and one to the Aviation Section of the American Expeditionary Force, and reportedly the AEF's 13th Aero Squadron got the aircraft, which was painted red, given the number "0", and primarily flown by the 13th's Charles John Biddle , who ended up with a total of seven confirmed victories in World War I.
Six or more are said to have been held by the Red Army.
Data from The Complete Book of Fighters
Published - July 2009
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