Bristol F.2 Fighter

Bristol F.2B Fighter E2581
Bristol F.2B Fighter - E2581
Design and Development

The Bristol fighter's basic design originated from design studies done by Frank Barnwell in March 1916 for an aircraft in the same class as the R.E.8 and the F.K.8, (the Type 9 R.2a with the 160 hp Beardmore engine and the R.2b, powered by the 150 hp Hispano Suiza). Neither type was built as the new 190 hp (142 kW) Rolls-Royce Falcon I inline engine became available, and Barnwell designed a new aircraft around the Rolls-Royce engine. This, the Type 12 F.2A was a more compact design, intended from the outset as a two-seat fighter, which first flew on 9th September 1916. The F.2A was armed in what had by then become the standard manner for a British two-seater. One synchronised fixed, forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun, and one flexible .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis Gun mounted in the observer's rear cockpit.

Only fifty two F.2a's were produced before production switched to what was to became the definitive Bristol Fighter, the Bristol Type 14 F.2b, which had first flown on 25th October 1916. The first 150 were powered by the Falcon I or Falcon II engines but the remainder were equipped with the 275 hp (205 kW) Falcon III engine and could reach a maximum speed of 123 mph. The F.2b was over 10 mph faster than the F.2a and was three minutes faster at reaching 10,000 ft (3,000 m). A second Lewis gun was often added to the rear cockpit. The Bristol M.R.1 is often described as an "ll-metal version of the F.2b. In fact it was a totally new design, although it shared the characteristic of having the fuselage positioned between the upper and lower wing. Two prototypes were built, with the first flying on 23rd October 1917, but the M.R.1 never entered mass production.

Postwar developments of the F.2b included the Type 14 F.2b Mk II, a two-seat army co-operation biplane, fitted with desert equipment and a tropical cooling system, which first flew in December 1919. The Type 96 Fighter Mk III and Type 96A Fighter Mk VI were structurally strengthened aircraft built between 1926-27. Surplus F.2b's were modified for civilian use. The Bristol Tourer was an F.2b fitted with a Siddeley Puma engine in place of the Falcon and with the cockpits enclosed by canopies. The Tourer had a maximum speed of 128 mph.

The United States Army Engineering Division had plans to develop and build an American version of the Bristol Fighter. But efforts to start production in the United States foundered against the mistaken decision to power the type with the 400 hp (300 kW) Liberty L-12 engine, a totally unsuitable engine for the Bristol, as it was far too heavy and bulky, the resulting aircraft being nose heavy, with only 27 of the planned 2,000 being built. Efforts to change the powerplant of American Bristol Fighters to the more suitable Liberty 8 or the 300 hp (220 kW) Hispano-Suiza came up against political as well as technical problems, with one each of the Hispano-engined Engineering Division USB-1A and the Liberty L-8-engined Engineering Division USB-1B built.

Operational History

When initially deployed, aircrews were instructed to maintain formation and use the crossfire of the observers' guns to meet any threat from enemy fighters. This was standard procedure at the time, and worked well for such types as the F.E.2b. For the Bristol, these tactics were flawed and did not withstand the first contact with the enemy. The F.2a arrived on the Western Front in April 1917 as the British launched the Battle of Arras. The very first F.2a patrol of six aircraft from No.48 Squadron RFC, led by Victoria Cross recipient William Leefe Robinson, ran into five Albatros D.IIIs from Jasta 11 led by Manfred von Richthofen. Four out of the six F.2a's were shot down, including Robinson, who was captured and a fifth was badly damaged.

More flexible, aggressive tactics soon proved that the new Bristol was by no means as ineffective in air-to-air combat as its first encounter with the enemy seemed to indicate. In fact it was eventually realised that the type was fast and manoeuvrable enough to be flown in combat more or less like a single-seat fighter. The pilot's fixed forward-firing gun served as the principal weapon, with the observer's flexible gun serving mainly as an additional "sting in the tail". Flown in this manner the Bristol Fighter was a formidable opponent for any German single-seater.

In September and October 1917, orders for 1600 F.2b’s were placed and by the end of the WWI, the RAF had 1583 F.2b’s in operation. A total of 5,329 aircraft were eventually built, mostly by Bristol but also by Standard Motors, Armstrong Whitworth and even the Cunard Steamship Company. After the war, F.2b's continued to operate in army cooperation and light bombing roles throughout the British Empire, in particular the Middle East, India and China. The F.2b also served with the New Zealand Permanent Air Force and RAAF as well as with the air forces of Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Greece, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Spain and Sweden. It was not until 1932 that the F.2b was finally withdrawn from RAF service, the last "Brisfit" unit being No.20 Squadron stationed in India. The type lasted a further three years in New Zealand service.

In 1920 Poland bought 107 Bristol Fighters, thus becoming the second largest user of this type (105 with Hispano-Suiza 300 hp/220 kW engines, two with RR Falcon III). It was most numerous Polish aircraft type at that time. Forty were used during the Polish-Soviet war from July 1920, among others in battle of Warsaw, for reconnaissance and close air support. The rest became operational only after hostilities. Two were shot down by ground fire, one was captured by the Soviets and several were lost in crashes. They served in Poland for reconnaissance and training until 1932.

Production Summary
R.2a1 Prototype
R.2b1 Prototype
F.2a52 built
F.2b3,101 built
F.2b Mk II435 built (tropical version)
F.2b Mk III30 built (reinforced variant)
F.2b Mk IV20 converted MII's
F.2c? (experiment engine variant)
XB-11 Prototype built (American)
XB-1A1 Prototype built (American)
Specifications(Bristol F.2b Fighter)
Length:25ft 10in (7.87m)
Width:39ft 3in (11.96m)
Height:9ft 9in (2.97m)
Empty Weight:2,145lb (975kg)
MTOW:3,243lb (1,474kg)
Max Speed:123mph (198 km/h)
Max Range:369miles (593km)
Rate-of-Climb:889ft/min (4.5 m/s)
Service Ceiling:18,000ft (5,500m)
Engine:1× Rolls-Royce Falcon III liquid-cooled V12 engine, 275 hp (205 kW)
Armament Standard:1× .303 in (7.7 mm) forward-firing Vickers machine gun in the upper fuselage
or 2× .303 in Lewis Guns in the observer's cockpit
240lb (110kg) bombs
Armament Optional:N/A