Sopwith Pup: 1916

Elliot Kane

Senior, Aeronautics Concentration

For my art creation project I drew a Sopwith Pup, a single-seater biplane from the First World War. My passion for aerospace lies in the realm of aviation, particularly with an emphasis on its history. When choosing to do this art project, I immediately knew that I would draw an airplane, it was only a matter of deciding which one. I quickly narrowed it down to aircraft from the First World War. The Sopwith Pup emerged as the final candidate for two reasons: its clean and pleasing lines and the availability of several excellent reference pictures from which I felt comfortable drawing the plane. Incidentally, my sources are the cover image from the book Classic Aircraft of World War I by Melvyn Hiscock, and an image from the internet.

Delving into the meaning of this artwork, it is simply a celebration of humanity’s achievement of flight. It is also a celebration of the courage of the first generation of pilots, who braved the skies in spite of manifold risks and inconveniences, both large and small; ranging from fatal design flaws to the blinding spray of castor oil from the engine. Moreover, these early aircraft seem to me to be the ultimate symbol of human freedom. They were crude, practical, and unencumbered by the trappings of modern aviation and for these reasons they are beautiful in their own, unique way—even if they look clumsy in comparison to the streamlined shapes of later aircraft. It is my hope that my drawing will convey some sense of this sentiment to the viewer.

Though I chose a combat aircraft from the First World War as the subject, there is no outward indication of war in this drawing. This is intentional. The artwork is not meant to glorify the aerial combat of World War I, which is often depicted as a romantic endeavor. In fact, it was just as brutal and demanding as the fighting that occurred on the ground. 

“The pilots of World War I were, on average, in their early twenties, although some were younger. James McCudden was just 22 when he died in July 1918, and Manfred von Richthofen only 25. They had to fly these aeroplanes, which today are treated so kindly, to the limites in bad weather up to heights of over 20,000 ft without oxygen, wearing just a layer of Goose grease to protect them from frostbite. Many pilots sat on, or next to, fuel tanks that were unarmoured and pressurized so that a single shot could incinerate them. They were not allowed parachutes to enable them to have a chance of life should this happen, and many chose to fall to their deaths rather than burn. Others took their service revolver with them to hasten the end in the event of a fire.” Hiscock 91.

To make this drawing I first sketched an outline on the drawing board in pencil. I did this by hand i.e. without tracing. Once I was satisfied with the lines, I then began shading in the colors with colored pencils. I decided not to include a background as I did not feel confident in my ability to draw one. Nevertheless, I am pleased with the outcome of this drawing considering I have not drawn anything this serious in a number of years.