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Bristol Beaufighter Nightfighter (1939)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 1/7/2011

The first production Beaufighter flew a mere 13 months after the prototype.

Serving until the 1960s with the Royal Air Force, the Bristol Beaufighter (or simply "Beau") became a national hero through her service in the Battle of Britain, World War Two and beyond. The Beaufighter became the world's first and foremost dedicated nightfighter, armed to the teeth and carrying sophisticated radar equipment. The Beaufighter would become one of the best Bristol designs of the war and a superb nightfighting platform that would see combat throughout the war and on every front.

The Beaufighter was original proposed by the Bristol company and sold to the Royal Air Force to fulfill a need it required (though the RAF never officially approached the Bristol company about design any such aircraft). The twin-engine fighter utilized a crew of two men and was initially fitted with an impressive array of 4 x 20mm cannon and 6 x 7.7mm machine guns. Since the Beaufighter utilized many components of the already-in-production Beaufort torpedo plane, the implementation of the Beaufighter was quick and painless.

The first operational Beaufighter flew in just thirteen months from when the first prototype was designed. Crews were quick to learn the finesse handling required during take off and the learning curve needed in operating and reading the radar - not to mention engaging targets in the darkness. With the Battle of Britain in full swing, the Beaufort saw extensive action. Some had their machine guns removed in order to supply Spitfires and Hurricanes should the need arise during wartime. Nonetheless, the Beaufighter system achieved stellar success rates against incoming German aircraft. The successes of the Battle of Britain behind them, Beaufighter aircrews now faced German and Italian forces throughout Northern African and the Mediterranean. Bomber and torpedo-carrying variants ensued and the Beaufighter would continue in service through the 1950s, by then relegated to a target towing tug aircraft.

Incidentally, the United States utilized the Bristol Beaufighter platform for a time as their primary nightfighter until an American-made alternative could be produced.

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Specifications for the
Bristol Beaufighter

Focus Model: Bristol Beaufighter VIF
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Manufacturer: The Bristol Company - UK
Initial Year of Service: 1939
Production: 5,805

Crew: 2

Length: 41.34 ft (12.6 m)
Width: 57.91 ft (17.65 m)
Height: 15.88ft (4.84 m)
Weight (Empty): 14,619 lb (6,631 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 21,627 lb (9,810 kg)

Powerplant: 2 x Bristol Hercules VI 14-cylinder air-cooled sleeve radials generating 1,635hp.

Maximum Speed: 333 mph (536kmh; 289 kts)
Maximum Range: 1,479 miles (2,381km)
Service Ceiling: 26,519 ft (8,083 m; 5.0 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,923 feet-per-minute (586 m/min)

Hardpoints: 2
Armament Suite:
4 x 20mm cannons in under nose position
6 x 7.62mm machine guns in wings

Type 156 - Based on the Type 152 Beaufort torpedo bomber with new fuselage and Hercules powerplants.

R2052 - Prototype Model Designation of which foursuch examples produced.

Mk IF - Initial production models fitted with Hercules XI radials and nose radar; 4 x 20mm cannon armament (nose) plus 6 x 7.7 machine guns (wing); 553 such models produced.

Mk IIF - Fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin XX inline engines generating 1,280hp each; 597 produced.

Mk VIF - Fitted with either Hercules VI or XVI powerplants; redesigned nose with improved radar system.

Mk IC - Anti-Ship Model Designation of which 397 produced.

Mk III - Experimental Aircraft

Mk IV - Experimental Aircraft

Mk V - Experimental Aircraft

Mk VIC - Anti-Ship Model Torpedo Carrier of which 693 were produced.

Mk VI (ITF) - "Interim Torpedo Fighter"; fitted with 8 x rockets in place of 6 x 7.7mm machine guns in wings; 60 such produced.

TF.Mk X - Fitted with search radar; provision for torpedo, bombs and rockets; 2,205 produced.

TF.Mk XI - Similar to TF.Mk X models; 163 produced.

TF.Mk 21 - Australian-produced variant based on the TF.Mk X British model; 364 such produced.

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