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Bristol Beaufighter Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter (1940)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 9/3/2015

Amazingly the first production Bristol Beaufighter flew a mere twelve months after the prototype went airborne.

The twin-engine Bristol Beaufighter (known simply as "Beau") heavy fighter became a national wartime hero for the British with stellar service during the pivotal Battle of Britain and many other conflicts dotting the history of World War 2 (1939-1945). It saw an extended operational existence during the subsequent Cold War years that followed - not retired from notable use until 1960. Other operators went on to include Canada, Dominican Republic, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States. The Beaufighter became one of the best aircraft designs emerging from the Bristol concern during the war where it was fielded over every major front of the conflict.

The Beaufighter was originally proposed directly by Bristol to the RAF as a heavy fighter offering during a time when much focus fell to twin-engined, heavily-armed, long endurance gun platforms that could also serve in a limited ground strike role. While there was no formal need or specification drawn up for the new aircraft, it proved promising enough for the RAF to shore up its limited air arm. The RAF believed that the new fighter could favorably complement the existing stock of single-engine types and twin-engine medium bombers quite well. Due to the British commitment to World War, the need for any capable aircraft was great and the Beaufighter quickly joined RAF ranks. First flying on July 17th, 1939, the aircraft was introduced on July 27th, 1940 - some twelve months after the first prototype flew - a rarity for newly-developed war machines even by 1930s / 1940s standards. Serial production was underway in May of 1940 and would last until after the war in 1946. Since the new Beaufighter utilized many components of the existing Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber (detailed elsewhere on this site), the implementation of the Beaufighter into RAF service was relatively quick and painless.

Due to its Beaufort origins, the "Beaufighter" name was formed from the words "Beaufort" and "Fighter".

The twin-engine heavy fighter featured a crew of two and was initially outfitted with an impressive armament array of 4 x 20mm Hispano cannons found under the nose and 6 x 7.7mm machine guns mounted in the wings. This armament was quite a powerful installation when compared to many other fighters of the war. The streamlined fuselage carried the cockpit, avionics, and other mission critical components while being set between the radial piston engines - these fitted to the leading edges of the wings and driving three-bladed propellers. The tail unit was highly conventional with a single rudder and low-set horizontal planes in play.

Beaufighters were delivered in time for September 1940 though most lacked their intended machine gun wing armament. Nevertheless, the four-cannon arrangement was sufficient enough to tackle any enemy bomber of the day and could serve double-duty in the ground attack strafing role. By the end of the year, more and more Beaufighters were finally seeing their full armament suite installed. The radar equipment, at the heart of any night-fighter, was developed at the same time as the aircraft and managed to be introduced at roughly the same time.

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Specifications for the
Bristol Beaufighter
Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter

Focus Model: Bristol Beaufighter VIF
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Manufacturer: Bristol Company - UK
Initial Year of Service: 1940
Production Total: 5,928

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 radial piston engines developing 1,635 horsepower.

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

Hardpoints: 3
Armament Suite:

4 x 20mm Hispano Mk II cannons under the nose
6 x 0.303 machine guns in wings

2 x 250lb conventional drop bombs
1 x Mark 13 / British 18" torpedo under the fuselage
8 x RP-3 60lb rockets underwing

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.

Australia; Canada; Dominican Republic; Israel; New Zealand; Norway; Poland; Portugal; South Africa; Turkey; United Kingdom; United States