Aircraft of the Month
The Bristol F2 Fighter stemmed from design studies by Frank Barnwell in 1916 for an aircraft to succeed the FE2 and Sopwith 11/2 Strutter fighters. A two-seater, the F2A first flew on 9th September 1916 and the F2B, which became the definitive Bristol Fighter, 6 weeks later on 15th October. Powered initially by a 190 hp Rolls Royce Falcon 1 engine, a switch was soon made to the Falcon III which generated 275 hp.
Standard armament was a synchronised forward-firing Vickers .303 in machine gun and a .303 in Lewis gun mounted in the observer’s rear cockpit. F2Bs sometimes carried a second Lewis gun, either forward-firing on the upper wing or in the rear cockpit. The aircraft was capable of carrying a bomb load of 240 lb.
F2As started to arrive on the Western Front in April 1917, just as the Battle of Arras began. It was a baptism by fire in that 4 of the 6 aircraft of No 48 Squadron involved on the first ever patrol were shot down by Albatross DIIIs led by Manfred von Richtofen. Appropriate to type tactics developed apace, however, and the aircraft soon became recognised as a formidable opponent for the German fighters. By the end of the 1st World War, the RAF had some 1,600 F2Bs on its books.
After the war, Bristol Fighters continued to serve throughout the British Empire in army cooperation and light bombing roles with the last aircraft being withdrawn from service in 1932. Some 40 RFC/RAF squadrons operated the aircraft during its lifetime and it found favour with the air arms of other countries with no fewer than 17 operating at least one machine. A grand total of 5,329 Bristol Fighters were built. Three airworthy machines survive today, one of which is owned by the Shuttleworth Collection. Several others are on display in museums, including the RAF Museum, Hendon and Imperial War Museum, Duxford.