Nieuport Nighthawk

The Nieuport Nighthawk was a British fighter aircraft developed by the Nieuport & General Aircraft company for the Royal Air Force towards the end of the First World War. Although ordered into production before the aircraft first flew, it did not enter large scale service with the RAF owing to unreliable engines. Re-engined aircraft did see service with Greece, serving from 1923 to 1938.

Nieuport Nighthawk
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Nieuport & General Aircraft
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1919
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Greece 1923 1938 View
Japan View
Sweden View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1923 1938 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Nieuport & General Aircraft View

The Nieuport & General Aircraft Co. Ltd. was formed on 16 November 1916 to produce French Nieuport aircraft under licence. During 1917, hiring Henry Folland as chief designer, the company started to design its own aircraft, with the first type, the Nieuport B.N.1 fighter (the designation signifying British Nieuport) flying early in 1918.

To produce a fighter to replace the Sopwith Snipe in service with the RAF, the Air Ministry produced RAF Specification Type 1 for a single-seat fighter to be powered by the ABC Dragonfly engine. This was a radial engine under development which was meant to deliver 340 hp (254 kW) while weighing only 600 lb (272 kg), and on the basis of the promised performance, was ordered into production in large numbers. The design was also projected as a shipboard fighter, although this was considered a secondary role.

To meet this requirement, Folland designed the Nighthawk, a wooden two-bay biplane. An initial order for 150 Nighthawks was placed in August 1918, well before prototypes or flight ready engines were available, with the first prototype, serial number F-2909 flying in April or May 1919. By this time, it was clear that the Dragonfly had serious problems, being prone to extreme overheating (which was so severe as to char propeller hubs), high fuel consumption and severe vibration (inadvertently being designed to run at its resonance frequency). When the engine could be persuaded to work, the Nighthawk showed excellent performance, but in September 1919, it was finally recognised that the Dragonfly was unsalvagable and the engine programme was cancelled, although by this time 1,147 engines had been delivered.

Seventy Nighthawks were completed by Nieuport and the Gloucestershire Aircraft Company, with a further 54 airframes without engines being completed. Small numbers of Dragonfly powered Nighthawks were delivered to the Royal Aeronautical Establishment (R.A.E.) at Farnborough, but in that form did not enter operational service.


Nieuport Nighthawk : Original production version. Powered by 320 ABC Dragonfly engine.

Nieuport L.C.1. : Civil version, appearing in both single and two-seater configurations.

Nieuport Goshawk. : Civil version, one completed as an air racer.

Gloster Bamel (Mars 1) : Racing derivative of Nighthawk. Powered by 450 hp Napier Lion engine. One built

Gloster 1 : Rebuild of Mars 1 with more powerful engine and smaller wing.

Gloster Sparrowhawk (Mars II, III and IV) : Main article: Gloster Sparrowhawk

    Naval fighter for Japan.

Gloster Grouse (I and II) : Nighthawk conversion to a sesquiplane, equipped with 185 hp Siddeley Lynx

Gloster Nighthawk (Mars VI) : Rebuild of Nighthawk with Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar II or Bristol Jupiter III engine.

Nieuport Nightjar (Mars X) : Main article: Nieuport Nightjar

    Naval fighter for RAF, equipped with a 230 hp Bentley B.R.2. 

Nieuport built a sport aircraft, the L.C.1 (Land Commercial) Nighthawk with the first civil registered aircraft, K-151 appearing on 21 June 1919 at the first postwar Aerial Derby at Hendon. An additional Nighthawk prototype (H8553) was fitted with a hydrovane and was tested in a shipboard configuration at the Isle of Grain in 1920.[6] In a vain attempt to work out the problems with the Dragonfly engine, four Nighthawks were also retained by the R.A.E. with experiments carried out in 1920–21. K-151 was further converted into a two-seater with a new cockpit fitted forward of the pilot's position and was sent to India and Malaya in 1920 for a series of sales promotional flights. After completing the first "newspaper" flight from Bombay to Poona in February 1920, delivering newspapers, the sales demonstrator was sold to India in September 1920.

A new civil Nighthawk, registered G-EAJY, again modified into a two-seater, had wingspan reduced by two ft and was flown at the 1920 Aerial Derby where it was placed fourth at an average speed of 132.67 mph (213.51 km/h). After appearing in the 1921 event, the aircraft was privately sold. A much-modified Nighthawk appeared in 1920, designated the Goshawk with the aircraft incorporating a more streamlined fuselage, rounded tips on the upper wings and a tightly cowled engine installation. In testing, the Goshawk reached 166.5 mph (268.0 km/h), a British record at the time. On 12 July 1921 the Goshawk was destroyed when Harry Hawker fatally crashed while practising for the 1921 Aerial Derby.

Role Fighter
Manufacturer Nieuport & General Aircraft
First flight 1919
Introduction 1923
Retired 1938 Hellenic Air Force
Primary users Royal Air Force
Variants Nieuport Nightjar
Gloster Sparrowhawk

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m)
  • Wingspan: 28 ft 0 in (8.54 m)
  • Height: 9 ft 6 in (2.90 m)
  • Wing area: 276 ft² (25.6 m²)
  • Empty weight: 1,500 lb (682 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 2,218 lb (1,008 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 2,529 lb (1,147 kg) ()
  • Powerplant: 1 × ABC Dragonfly I 9-cylinder radial engine, 320 hp (239 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 131 kn (151 mph, 243 km/h) at sea level
  • Range: 310 mi (499 km) ()
  • Service ceiling: 24,500 ft (7,470 m)
  • Endurance: 3 hr
  • Climb to 10,000 ft (3,050 m): 7 min 10 sec


  • Guns: 2 × fixed forward-firing .303 in Vickers machine guns.

End notes