History of the FE.2b
The FE.2 (and subsequent models) was a World War One Royal Aircraft Factory pusher biplane that operated as a fighter and bomber during day and night missions. As a two-seater, armed with up to two machine guns and the ability to carry up to 235 kilograms of bombs, the FE.2 was a formidable aircraft that was instrumental in breaking the dominance of the ‘Fokker Scourge’ over the Western Front in 1915. Although later models were replaced by more advanced aircraft, it saw out service until the end of the war. The FE.2 designation stood for ‘Farman Experimental’, which was a reference to the French aircraft designers the Farman Brothers.
First made in 1911 and designed by Geoffrey de Havilland, some claimed the FE.2 to be a rebuild of the FE.1, which was also designed and built by de Havilland before he was a member of the Royal Aircraft Factory’s staff. The FE.2 was however, an entirely new aircraft with seating for two in a wood and canvas cockpit, no front elevator and designs for a new engine type. With its maiden flight on the 18th of August 1911, the FE.2 soon saw modifications of a more powerful engine with a 70 hp Gnome, a landplane undercarriage and a Maxim machine gun mounted to the nose. After a disastrous 1913 model which spun into the ground and killed its pilot, work begun in 1914 on a new design which became the FE.2a. This time the requirements were for those of a fighter with the ability to carry machine guns and bombs. With the escalation of war in the air, the FE.2 soon branched out with more models, resulting in the FE.2b, c and finally the FE.2d with a Rolls Royce engine, which was to be eventually replaced by the Bristol Fighter.
The FE.2b was one of several models of the FE.2 and became the most popular and most produced of its type during the Great War. Following closely after the FE.2a, the FE.2b was powered by a Beardmore liquid-cooled 120 hp inline engine. This was later upgraded to a Beardmore 160 hp engine. As a fighter and bomber, the FE.2b was very popular. It developed a solid reputation as an offensive aircraft and was well liked defensively as well. Crew felt protected by the rear placed engine and propeller and complained of feeling exposed in other machines.
Although FE.2b’s used for Home Defence were often only one seaters, with the front cockpit covered over, operational aircraft almost always consisted of two airmen. The pilot would sit in the rear, armed with a Lewis gun and the observer in the front with a rear-firing Lewis gun, which required him to stand on his seat in order to fire backwards over the head of the pilot and the aircraft at the attacking enemy. Without belts or harnesses of any kind, let alone a parachute, this was incredibly dangerous for the gunner and needed exceptional skill and daring. Design features of the FE.2b and FE.2d include the “V” undercarriage, which was fitted to reduce drag, small nose wheels to stop the aircraft from nosing-over during landings on soft ground, and the much praised oleo shock absorbers, which greatly assisted in landing on makeshift airfields.
FE.2b, along with other aircraft helped to wrest control of the skies from the German Air Service. In formation, the FE.2b was particularly apt at defending against other single seater fighters. A defensive circle known as the “Luftbery” would be formed in which several gunners could fire on enemy aircraft at once. In 1916 the FE.2b was used as a night bomber and in early 1917 the first squadron was formed. The FE.2b was eventually superseded as a day fighter by superior enemy aircraft but remained a popular option at night for bombing raids. Remembered fondly for its strength, load carrying ability and tractability, the FE.2b including the FE.2c, was produced solidly throughout the Great War numbering almost 2,000 planes.In 1915, during what the British Press called the “Fokker Scourge” the
Crew: Two (pilot & observer)
Length: 32 ft 3 in (9.83 m)
Wingspan: 47 ft 9 in (14.55 m)
Height: 12 ft 8 in (3.85 m)
Wing area: 494 ft² (45.9 m²)
Empty weight: 2,061 lb (937 kg)
Loaded weight: 3,037 lb (1,380 kg)
Powerplant: 1× Beardmore 6-cylinder inline piston engine, 160 hp.
Maximum speed: 80 knots (91.5 mph, 147 km/h)
Service ceiling: 11,000 ft (3,353 m)
Rate of climb: 39 minutes 44 sec to 10,000 ft (3,048 m)
Wing loading: 6.15 lb/ft² (30.1 kg/m²)
Power/mass: 0.053 hp/lb (0.086 W/kg)
Endurance: 3 hours
Guns: 1 or 2x .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun for observer (one mounted in front and one firing back over the top wing) 1 or 2x .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun sometimes mounted for the pilot's use in the F.E.2d
Bombs: up to 517 lb (235 kg) of bombs
William Sponson Read Bloomfield.
Captain William Bloomfield was a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps during World War One. He joined the RFC in 1915 and flew with the Number 2 Squadron as an observer, directing artillery from a BE.2. Captain Bloomfield also operated FE.2’s and flew a FE2d to France with the 57th Squadron to take over a Squadron from Major Patterson. On the 6th of March 1917 whilst flying reconnaissance at 12,000 feet in a FE.2d with three other aircraft, Captain Bloomfield ran into eight of Baron Von Richtoffen’s “Flying Circus” and had his propeller shot way. As he descended he was trailed by a German fighter and could hear bullets ricocheting off his engine while he attempted to land. Captain Bloomfield landed his craft successfully without injuring to himself or to his fellow crewman Lt. Lonsdale. Without time to burn his aircraft, he was swiftly captured by the Germans and made a P.O.W at Karlsruhe. Captain Bloomfield was returned to England on New Years Day 1919.
• Bruce, J.M. "The F.E.2 Series: Historic Military Aircraft, No 3." Flight, 12 December 1952, pp. 724–728.
• Bruce, J.M. The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps (Military Wing). London: Putnam, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-X.
• Bruce, J.M. Warplanes of the First World War: Fighters, Volume Two. London: Macdonald & Co., 1968. ISBN 0-365-01473-8.
* Original reports from The Air Ministry and letters from Capt. Bloomfield, courtesy of Barry Bloomfield, Orewa, New Zealand.