The prototype S.E.5, A4561, appeared in December 1916; it had the new 150 h.p. Hispano-Suiza engine with a car-type radiator and short exhaust manifolds. The wings had wire-braced spruce spars; in place of compression struts, some ribs were of solid construction. The tail-plane incidence could be changed in flight. A wire-braced wooden box girder, the fuselage was fabric-covered except for plywood sides from the nose to the front spar of the lower wing, with plywood round the cockpit. The main fuel tank was behind the engine, and there was a gravity tank to port of the center section.
In January 1917 the wings of the prototype collapsed in flight, and Major Goodden was killed. The main planes of subsequent machines were strengthened, their span was reduced and blunter tips were fitted. A few of the early production aircraft, however, retained the wing plan of the first two prototypes.
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