The Bristol Scout was designed in 1913 by Frank Barnwell and the company’s chief test pilot, Harry Busteed, and the first flight of the prototype took place on 23rd February 1914 with Busteed at the controls. Two subsequent aircraft, completed shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, were requisitioned by the Royal Flying Corps and allocated to Nos 3 and 5 Squadrons for evaluation. Powered by a Le Rhone rotary engine generating 80 hp, the Scout’s performance impressed the War Office and, in November 1914, an order was placed for 36 machines.
Initial trials to provide RFC aircraft with guns used the Scout as a test-bed. One early attempt involved strapping a rifle to each side of the fuselage – both aiming outwards to clear the propeller. This quickly gave way to a Lewis .303 machine gun attached to the port side and it was in this configuration that Captain Lanoe Hawker, a pilot on No 6 Squadron, shot down two German aircraft and forced down a third on 25th July 1915, an action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Captain Hawker also enjoyed the distinction of becoming the first British fighter ‘ace’.
No RFC squadron was equipped solely with the Scout. Rather, it was deployed as an escort fighter to larger 2-man aircraft in which role it saw action against enemy fighters, bombers and even Zeppelins. It soon became obsolete as far more capable aircraft came off the production line, however, and was withdrawn from front line service in the summer of 1916. Thereafter, some Scouts were used by training units with others being retained by senior officers as personal transport.
Despite its short tenure on the front line, the Bristol Scout equipped no fewer that 27 RFC squadrons; it was also used by the Royal Naval Air Service, the Australian Flying Corps and the Hellenic Navy. A total of 374 machines were built and there are no known survivors. A replica Scout is on display at the Shuttleworth Collection and another, incorporating genuine parts, is presently being constructed in Shropshire with a maiden flight planned for early summer this year.