The Bristol Bulldog emanated from an Air Staff specification calling for a high-speed biplane fighter capable of both day and night operation. Designed by Frank Barnwell, the prototype Bulldog Mk1 first flew on 17th May 1927 and was one of two contenders for a production contract, the other being the Hawker Hawfinch. Following evaluation, the Bulldog was declared the winner and an order duly submitted. The production Bulldog Mk II took to the air for the first time on 21st January 1928 with Chief Test Pilot Cyril Uwins at the controls and the aircraft subsequently entered RAF service with Nos 3 and 17 Squadrons towards the end of that year.
By 1930, the Bulldog equipped eleven of the RAF’s thirteen home air defence squadrons. Powered by a Bristol Jupiter radial engine, it had a maximum speed of approximately 180 mph, a range of some 300 miles and a service ceiling of 29,300 ft. It was armed with 2 x .303 Vickers machine guns and could carry up to 4 x 20 lb bombs. The machine was praised by pilots for its manoeuvrability and was easy and inexpensive to maintain.
It was whilst attempting to slow-roll a Bulldog shortly after take-off at Woodley airfield in 1931 that one Flying Officer Douglas Bader dug a wingtip in the ground and cart wheeled across the airfield. He was extracted from the wreckage unconscious and the heroic story that follows needs no definition here.
Whilst enjoying a peacetime career with the RAF until 1937, the Bulldog flew on with the armed forces of nine other countries. Bulldogs of the Finnish Air Force were pitted against the Soviet Union in the so-called ‘Winter War’ of 1939-40 and achieved six enemy machines destroyed for the loss of but one of their own. The aircraft also served with Republican forces during the early stages of the Spanish Civil War.
Just two Bulldogs of the 443 aircraft built remain on static display – one at the RAF Museum, Hendon, and the other in Finland.
Although never base permanently at RAF Tangmere, the Bulldog was a frequent visitor for air defence exercises. Of note is an entry in the Station’s Operational Record Book on 29th September 1930 which recounts three such aircraft of No 17 Squadron, Upavon, crashing in Arundel Park whilst airborne from Tangmere.