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Bristol Beaufighter

United Kingdom (1940)
Picture of Bristol Beaufighter Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter Aircraft
Picture of Bristol Beaufighter Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter Aircraft Picture of Bristol Beaufighter Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter Aircraft
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Amazingly, the first production-quality Bristol Beaufighter aircraft flew a mere twelve months after the prototype went airborne.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Bristol Beaufighter Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 5/15/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com

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.


Picture of the Bristol Beaufighter Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter Aircraft
Picture of the Bristol Beaufighter Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter Aircraft


In early practice, the original production mark - Beaufighter Mk I - was far from a success as a fighter due to performance that was inferior to frontline enemy fighters of the day. It was, however, a very capable bomber-interceptor and was used as such when possible. Handling proved a handful to greenhorn pilots but maneuverability was considered good for the aircraft's size. Installation of radar ultimately helped it to serve in the low light / night time hours against marauding enemy aircraft while its sound overall design made it acceptable for service in the desert environments of North Africa and on the Pacific theater. With more experience at the controls, the Beaufighter eventually turned itself into an effective night-fighting platform for the RAF until succeeded in the role by the famous de Havilland DH-98 "Mosquito" twin-engine fighter. When outfitted to carry torpedoes, the Beaufighter was also a useful anti-ship platform which served both the RAF and Coastal Command well during the war.

The Americans took on a stock of Beaufighters and began their service over the Mediterranean during the middle part of 1943. These aircraft were in play until unseated by the homegrown Northrop P-61 "Black Widow" night-fighter from the end of 1944 onwards. Most of the Beaufighter's remembered exploits typically surrounded the African/European theaters of war but the series proved its mettle in the skies over the Pacific and Southeast Asia with equal fervor. Australian air groups utilized the type in the Southwest Pacific area primarily in the anti-ship role and bomber escort.

The Beaufighter became a well-developed fighter-bomber by war's end. Mk IF was the base two-seat night-fighter and Mk IC designated Beaufighter fighter-bombers serving Coastal Command. Mk IIF was a night-fighter with Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engines (over the original Bristol Hercules) and Mk III and Mk IV were heavy fighters with more streamlining added and either Bristol or Rolls-Royce engines. Mk V attempted to seat the four-gunned (4 x 7.7mm machine guns) Boulton Paul powered turret but these failed to produce much promise in testing. Mk VI then appeared during 1942 and added slightly revised tail units through some 1,000 production aircraft (Mk VIC was the Mk VI for service with Coastal Command). Mk VIF became a night-fighter outfitted with AI Mark VIII series radar and Mk V (ITF) was a converted torpedo-carrying bomber. TK Mk X served in the torpedo bomber role as well and witnessed production reaching several thousand. MXIC was another Coastal Command mark. Mk XII was a proposed long-endurance variant supported by jettisonable fuel tanks but never realized in production. TT Mk 10 designated post-war converted Beaufighter target tugs.

Mk VII, Mk VIII, and Mk IX were marks reserved for Australian service (each with variable engine installations) though none of these was serially produced. Mk 21 was a local Australian service mark with Bristol Hercules CVII engines, support for aerial rockets or conventional drop bombs under the wings, and a standard armament of 4 x cannon and 4 x machine guns. It could also serve in the torpedo bomber role. The Australians also experimented with a Beaufighter variant armed with 40mm Bofors cannons and Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.

Into the post-war years, the Beaufighter continued its service career and saw some combat action during the Greek Civil War (March 1946 - October 1949). Beyond that, the Beaufighter enjoyed a rather quiet retirement.

Total Beaufighter production was 5,928 units.




Cockpit picture from the Bristol Beaufighter Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter Aircraft
Bristol Beaufighter Cockpit Picture


Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 400mph
Lo: 200mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (333mph).

    Graph average of 300 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Graph showcases the Bristol Beaufighter VIF's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units
5928
5928


  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.


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Origin: United Kingdom
Year: 1940
Type: Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Night-Fighter Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Bristol Company - UK
Production: 5,928
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Global Operators:
Australia; Canada; Dominican Republic; Israel; New Zealand; Norway; Poland; Portugal; South Africa; Turkey; United Kingdom; United States
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Bristol Beaufighter VIF model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.

Operational
CREW


Personnel
2


Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
41.34 ft


Meters
12.6 m


Dimension
WIDTH


Feet
57.91 ft


Meters
17.65 m


Dimension
HEIGHT


Feet
15.88 ft


Meters
4.84 m


Weight
EMPTY


Pounds
14,619 lb


Kilograms
6,631 kg


Weight
LOADED


Pounds
21,627 lb


Kilograms
9,810 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
2 x Bristol Hercules VI 14-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines developing 1,635 horsepower each.

Performance
SPEED


Miles-per-Hour
333 mph


Kilometers-per-Hour
536 kph


Knots
289 kts


Performance
RANGE


Miles
1,479 mi


Kilometers
2,381 km


Nautical Miles
1,286 nm


Performance
CEILING


Feet
26,519 ft


Meters
8,083 m


Miles
5.02 mi


Performance
CLIMB RATE


Feet-per-Minute
1,923 ft/min


Meters-per-Minute
586 m/min

Supported Weapon Systems:

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircrat automatic cannon
Graphical image of aircraft aerial rockets
Graphical image of an aircraft aerial torpedo
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Armament - Hardpoints (3):

MODEL DEPENDENT:

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

OPTIONAL:
2 x 250lb conventional drop bombs
1 x Mark 13 / British 18" torpedo under the fuselage
8 x RP-3 60lb rockets underwing
Variants: Series Model Variants
• Type 156 - Based on the Type 152 Beaufort torpedo bomber with new fuselage and Hercules powerplants.
• R2052 - Prototype Model Designation; four 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 examples produced.
• Mk IIF - Fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin XX inline engines developing 1,280 horsepower 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; 693 produced.
• Mk VI (ITF) - "Interim Torpedo Fighter"; fitted with 8 x rockets in place of 6 x 7.7mm machine guns in wings; 60 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 produced.