The Royal Aircraft Factory FE (Fighter Experimental) 8 was developed in 1915 as a single seat fighter. In the absence of synchronisation gear to permit forward firing through the propeller disc, it followed the conventional Farman-style “pusher” layout adopted for the FE2 and Airco DH2. Designed by a team under John Kenworthy, the first aircraft made its maiden flight on 15th October 1915 with Frank Gooden at the controls.
Soon after a second prototype was sent to No 5 Squadron RFC for evaluation towards the end of December 1915, the aircraft’s endurance was deemed insufficient for operational service and an increase in fuel capacity demanded for the production version. The FE8 proved only a slight improvement on its competitor, the Airco DH2; although a little faster, it was found to be less manoeuvrable. Nevertheless, it was ordered into production.
Powered by a Gnome Monosoupape nine-cylinder rotary engine of 100 hp, the FE8 was armed with a single .303 in Lewis machine gun and, could, in extremis carry a small bomb load. Some production models equipped No 29 Squadron on a temporary basis in the early summer of 1916 and it entered operational service with No 40 Squadron on 2nd August of that year. A second unit, No 41 Squadron, arrived in France two months later.
After a relatively quiet start on the Western Front, it became apparent towards the end of 1916 that the machine was no match for the German fighters and disaster finally struck on 9th March 1917 when nine aircraft of No 40 Squadron were intercepted by five Albatrosses led by Manfred von Richthofen. Four FE8s were shot down, four were badly damaged and the ninth caught fire on landing. The unit was almost immediately re-equipped with Nieuports, leaving No 41 Squadron to soldier on in the ground attack role until July 1917 – the last “pusher” used in France.
A total of 295 FE8s were built and there are no known survivors. Two reproductions were constructed during in the 1970-1980s period and flew for some years before being retired to museums.