Notes on Bishop's Aircraft

Fri, 25 Aug 1995 00:38:57 EDT

I originally had written this for our IPMS newsletter in Edmonton. I
think it is appropiate to publish it here as well.

When I was in Ottawa for the IPMS CANADA National Convention in 1992
I attended a lecture by Philip Markham, a noted aviation historian.
He has had a long career in aviation, starting with Airspeed in his
native England. He then went to the RAF, then the RCAF and then to
the National Research Council. He talked first about the markings of
Billy Bishop's aircraft, then about his theory on the death of von
Richthofen, and then on the markings of the combatants on April 21,
1918, the day the Red Baron
died. His lecture called The Day The Red Baron Died was first
presented at the "Over The Front" seminar of the Society of WW I
historians in San Diego on June 13, 1992. I have added some other
material to these notes from the references given at the end.

Bishop's most famous Nieuport 17 is of course B1566. First he
touched on the others that he flew though their markings are unknown.
These are:

A274-----Bishop flew this aircraft only once, on March 17, 1917, his
first flight with 60 Squadron. It was a
two hour flight and hostile aircraft were seen but not engaged.

A306-----Mr. Markham indicated that he flew this one on March 23 and
24, 1917. Reference 2 indicates that the patrol on the first date
returned due to poor weather. On the 24th two afternoon patrols

A6693---Bishop flew this plane on March 25, 1917 to get his first
victory at about 5PM after taking off at
4:15PM. Immediately after his victory he had to make a forced
landing with an oiled up engine.
Bishops own combat report states A306 but Markham and Reference 2 say
A6693. Above The
Trenches states A306 but this is likely based on the combat report.
Bishop also did a short 15 minute
flight on the morning of March 25 according to Reference 2, the
aircraft not specified.

A6769---Bishop flew this aircraft from March 28 to April 10, 1917.
In it he made his second victory on
March 31, his 3rd and 4th on April 7, and his 5th, 6th and 7th on
April 8, 1917. It was destroyed
when 2nd/Lt. Kimbell was shot down in it according to Reference 2,
date not specified.

B1539---Bishop flew this one from April 11 to 14, 1917 with out

B1598---Flown on June 6, 1917 with out success.

B1606---Flown on June 9, 1917 with out success.

Then to B1566, Bishops most famous aircraft and fortunately it was
photographed. Bishop flew it first on April 19, 1917 and last on
July 24, 1917. In between those dates he scored his 8th to 36th
victories with it. Interestingly at least one other victory was
scored in this aircraft by another pilot of 60 Squadron, Lt. William
Edwin Jenkins, on May 11, 1917 while Bishop was on leave. As
mentioned this aircraft was photographed but the famous photo of
Bishop in front of it was taken on August 4, 1917 and his
personal and flight markings had been removed or overpainted by then.
It was on a very good print of this photo that hangs in Ottawa that
Mr. Markham noted faint outlines of a 'C' and a '5' on the fuselage.
In the best reproduction that I have, in The Courage Of The Early
Morning a 'C' is clearly seen on the underside of the right lower
wing. Markham states that the 'C' would be in front of the fuselage
roundel on both sides ie, C*5 on the port side and 5*C on the
starboard side. He also states that the number '5' may have been
carried on the top of the rear fuselage behind the cockpit. This
aircraft also carried a "spinner" which was in fact a nonrotating
hemisphere attached to the crankshaft, which was fixed in a rotary
engine. The French term for this peculiarity of the Nieuport was
cone de penetration. In a letter to his mother he stated that his
mechanics presented him with a red spinner. This would have been on
the 20th or 21st of April. Later in a letter to his sister he stated
he had permission to paint the nose of his
aircraft royal blue and this was done between May 8-24 when Bishop
was on leave. This "spinner" is on display in the Canadian War
Museum in Ottawa and is in fact painted blue over red. Mr. Markham
has corresponded with Bishops mechanic, Simpkin, and learned from
him that the blue paint was applied to the aforementioned "spinner",
the engine cowling, the undercarriage struts, the wheel covers and
the centre wing struts. He also painted a maple leaf in autumn
colors on the portside under the cockpit about 1 foot high. As well
a small blond haired doll was attached to the bottom of the starboard
interplane strut. This doll had been presented to Bishop by Beatrice
Lillie, a famous actress of her time (when he was on leave?). A
personal opinion of my own concerns the aircraft serial number on the
rudder. A careful look at good reproductions of the photo of B1566
shows that on the starboard side of the rudder the 'B', the '1' and
the second '6' are outlined in a lighter color as they are on the red
and blue painted areas of the rudder. The '5' and the first '6' are
on the white middle part of the rudder and the first thing evident is
that their total height is equal to that of the other numbers
including their lighter outline. A more careful look shows that
there is in fact an outline around the '5' and the first '6' as well
and that it is in a color just noticeably lighter than the numbers
themselves ie, a red outline (or blue) around the black
number. On the port side the '1' and the '5' would be the numbers
on the white section.

Interestingly B1566 was later in the Middle East at Aqaba with X
Flight of 14 Squadron, piloted by a Captain F. H. Furness. A photo
(IWM Q51873) shows it with an overall dark uppersurface camouflage.

Turning to 85 Squadron and the S.E.5a's that Bishop flew with it from
May 25 to June 20, 1918 we find that he only flew two machines. The
first was C6490 and no details of its markings or even squadron
number are known. The second is C1904 and photos were taken of this
machine along with the other aircraft and the pilots of 85 Squadron
on June 21, 1918 just after Bishop left. It is in the standard PC10
fuselage (all surfaces) and wing uppersurfaces; and clear doped wing
and tail undersurfaces. The letter
'Z' was carried on the fuselage sides (ahead of the roundel on both
sides), on the upper starboard wing and under the port lower wing.
The squadron symbol, a white hexagon, was carried behind the roundel
on each side of the fuselage. The photos also show a pennant
attached to the rudder and some small indecipherable printing on the
white portion of the upper rudder.


1.The Brave Young Wings by Ronald Dodds. CANADA'S WINGS, INC., 1980.
2.Famous Flyers 2:William Avery 'Billy' Bishop by David Baker.
Outline Press, 1990.
3.The Courage Of The Early Morning by William Arthur Bishop.
McClelland and Stewart, 1965.
4.Nieuport 17 by J.M. Bruce. Windsock Datafile 20, Albatros
Productions, 1990.
5.S.E.5a in Action by John F. Connors. Squadron/Signal Aircraft
Number 69, 1985.
6.Windsock International Volume 7, No.2, pp.9-11
7.Windsock International Volume 7, No.4, pp.10-11
8.The Sopwith Fighters by J.M. Bruce. Vintage Warbirds No.5, Arms
and Armour Press, 1986.

There you have it. Any comments or corrections are welcomed. I hope
this is the kind of articles my fellow WWI types want.

Doug Faulder