The Bristol M.1 military fighter aircraft appeared at a time in aviation history where there still stood a bias against monoplane-winged designs. Despite its excellent showing of straightline speed, the fighter was not widely accepted by the British Air Service during World War 1 (1914-1918) and, instead, relegated to service over the Middle East, the Balkans and at the Homefront (the latter utilized as trainers). One hundred thirty of the type were delivered by Bristol Aeroplane Company before the end.
Design work on the aircraft began in 1916 as a private venture headed by chief engineer Frank Barnwell of Bristol Aeroplane. Instead of following the traditional route of a biplane wing arrangement, a monoplane wing arrangement was coupled with a "puller" engine layout - the entire design wrapped around a well-contoured, rounded fuselage which tapered elegantly to the empennage. The unit consisted of a small-area vertical fin and low-set horizontal planes. The wing mainplanes were shoulder-mounted along the fuselage sides and strengthened by a pair of semi-circular steel hoops acting as the cabane (cage) structure, this seated over the cockpit. The cockpit was of the open-air variety consistent with the period and the wheeled undercarriage (tail dragger style) was fixed. The engine, fitted to the nose, drove a two-blade wooden propeller and a large aerodynamic spinner was added to it to complete the aircraft's look. Overall construction was primary of wood with fabric skinning. Power was had from a Clerget rotary engine of 110 horsepower output.
A prototype completed a first-flight on July 14th, 1916 and proved the design sound. The British War Office saw enough value in it to purchase the aircraft for extended evaluation and formal testing produced speeds reaching nearly 130 miles per hour. One of the design's noted deficiencies was its wing mainplane placement which reduced forward and downward vision for pilots - critical viewing angles in air-to-air combat and landing actions.
Several physical changes greeted the subsequent M.1B models of which four were ordered. These had a cut-out section along the right wing mainplane to offer better ground vision for the pilot. Additionally, the semi-circular steel hoops over the cockpit were done away with and replaced by a pyramidal cabane. At the left wing mainplane was installed a .303 Vickers machine gun. Various engine fits were trialed during this time.
Even with the changes in place, the M.1 was a hard sell to the British Air Ministry who continually favored the biplane due to past issues with fielding viable monoplane types. Monoplanes were still largely viewed as unstable, dangerous creatures with lethal landing speeds when compared to contemporary biplanes and their added drag / control. This did not stop an order for 125 production-quality models to be had in August of 1917 - these under the M.1C designation. Chief changes included the .303 Vickers machine gun now set over the nose and a Le Rhone rotary engine for power.
The M.1C exhibited a length of 20.4 feet, a wingspan of 30.8 feet and a height of 7.8 feet. Empty weight was 900lb against a MTOW of 1,350lb. Maximum sped reached 130 miles per hour - one of the faster fighters of the war - with a service ceiling 20,000 feet and a mission endurance window of 1 hour, 45 minutes.
In service, the M.1 series was sent to the Middle East Theater before the end of 1917 and some fought over the Balkans Front while the rest of the stock was retained at home for training of British airmen. In practical combat, the fighters acquitted themselves quite well and were a match for even the best the enemy had to offer but - again - prejudices against monoplanes persisted and this limited the series to the grand total of 130 aircraft.
At least a dozen were shipped to Chile before the end of 1918 as payment for two warships under construction in British shipyards prior to the war and intended for the Chilean Navy. The vessels were confiscated by the Royal Navy to shore up its fleet shortages as it headed to war with Germany.
M.1 fighters served with RAF squadron Nos. 14, 47, 72, 111 and 150. A one-off design, the M.1D, was fitted with an in-house Bristol "Lucifer" radial piston engine and used as a high-speed testbed. Following the war, in its bright red color scheme, the aircraft raced into the early 1920s but as ultimately involved in a fatal crash during 1923.