Although built by the French, the Nieuport 28C-1 was the first aircraft to see service with an American fighter squadron. Sometimes described as the most elegant airplane of World War I, the N28C-1 was the last in a series of lightweight fighters produced by Nieuport.
Interestingly, the N28C-1 was never used by the French because they preferred the SPAD; however, they sold the aircraft to the Americans who had no fighter airplanes of their own. In March 1918, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) purchased 297 of these French-built fighters, each armed with two Vickers machine guns and powered by a 160 hp rotary engine.
The Nieuport 28 design was an attempt to adapt the concept of the lightly built, highly maneuverable rotary engine fighter, typified by the Nieuport 17, to the more demanding conditions of the times. It was designed to carry an armament of a single synchronized Vickers 7.7mm machine gun, had a more powerful engine and a new wing structure – for the first time a Nieuport biplane was fitted with conventional two spar wings, top and bottom, in place of the sesquiplane “v-strut” layout of earlier Nieuport types. Ailerons were fitted to the lower wings only.
It was employed by the 1st Pursuit group consisting of the 27th, 94th, 95th and 147th Pursuit Squadrons from April through July 1918.
This aircraft shot down the first enemy aircraft for the United States in April, 1918, and it also produced the first American fighter aces. On April 14, 1918, Lieutenants Douglas Campbell and Alan Winslow of the 94th “Hat in the Ring” Aero Squadron were flying N28C-1s when they each shot down German aircraft; these were the first enemy planes to fall to American airmen. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, perhaps the most famous of America’s airmen, scored 12 of his 26 victories in his Nieuport N28C-1.
In spite of maintaining a favorable ratio of victories to losses during World War I combat, the American squadrons suffered some notable losses. Lt. Quentin Roosevelt of the 95th Pursuit Squadron, son of former president Theodore Roosevelt, fell to the guns of a Fokker D.VII on July 14, 1918. Quentin was not yet 21 when he was shot down.
After the war, 88 Nieuport 28s were shipped to the U.S. for use as pursuit trainers. The U.S. Navy also used some from 1919 to 1921 for shipboard launching trials.
The Museum’s aircraft is in the markings of Ken Marr, commanding officer of the famous 94th “Hat-in-the-Ring” Squadron. The aircraft is an original restoration by George Hunt. Its early history is unknown, but it is known that the plane was one of three owned by stunt pilots Paul Mantz and Frank Tallman, which were used in motion picture work during the 1930s, including the classic WWI flying film “The Dawn Patrol.” It was purchased by the Museum in 1979.