The SPAD XIII was designed as an improved version of SPAD VII. While looking externally similar to its predecessor it was a whole new plane. A second machine-gun and a more powerful engine were fitted. Also, an auxiliary fuel tank was placed in the central section of the top wing whle the main fuel tank was located in the lower fuselage section. Left and behind the cockpit was a place for a photo reconnaissance camera or a small bomb load. Its first flight was made on April 4th, 1917. The SPAD XIII plane was manufactured by: Bleriot, Levasseur, Bernard, Kellner, Safca, Borel and Nieuport. 8,472 airframes were built in total.
It first appeared over the frontline in late Summer or early Fall 1917. The plane was first supplied to French squadrons. It was mainly used for engaging enemy planes, escorting bombers, aerial mapping and recon. Although capable, it was rarely used for the bombing of ground targets around the frontline.
French pilots were eager to receive this plane. The second machine-gun increased firepower and the new engine made it fly and climb faster. Controls remained effective even at high altitudes. The only drawbacks were a lack of sensitivity in the controls at low speeds and the thin wing profile decreased maneuverability at low speeds, which often resulted in a stall. In a dive and level flight, the SPAD XIII was one of the fastest of the war. Pilots liked to say, "it dives faster than the wind!" The SPAD XIII participated in battles on all fronts during WWI. The French, British, American and Italian armies were all equipped with it.