Farman MF.11 Shorthorn
Reconnaissance / Bomber Aircraft
Just about every major player on the side of the Allies of World War 1 stocked the French Farman MF.11 series in their inventory.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The Farman MF.11 "Shorthorn" was a development of French aeronautical engineering and was essentially an early-war biplane design fielding limited armament and a rear-mounted, rear-facing engine. The MF.11 came about before the Triple Entente (the "allies" of World War 1) had developed the synchronized interrupter gear that allowed machine guns to fire through a spinning propeller. As such, she was fitted with her engine at the rear of the nacelle in what was known as a "pusher" arrangement (in contrast, conventional prop aircraft utilized "puller" engine arrangements) freeing up the frontal area for armament and generally unfettered views. Officially designated as the Farman MF.11 after her designer - Maurice Farman of Farman Aviation Works - she eventually became better known by the nickname of "Shorthorn", this name having been derived from the preceding MF.7 "Longhorn" design though lacking the forward elevator assembly and forward skids of the original. The MF.11 would become the first armed aircraft platform to participate in aerial warfare in World War 1.
Farman Aviation Works was founded by brothers Henri and Maurice and undertook the construction of aircraft from 1908 up until 1936. In 1941, after the French nationalization of aerospace industries, the firm remerged as the Societe Anonyme des Usines Farman (SAUF). By 1944, the company was officially absorbed by Sud-Ouest. Despite Marcel Farman's (Maurice's son) attempt to resurrect the family firm in 1952, the new company was deemed a failure by 1956.
The MF.11 featured a centralized, open-air nacelle housing the engine compartment and positions for two crew seated in tandem as well as placement for defensive armament and applicable flight control systems. The nacelle sat suspended within the network of interplane parallel struts and necessary cables with the upper wing assembly overhead of the crew and the lower wing assembly running under. The nacelle itself was slab-sided with a rounded front end topped by a small windscreen. Construction was typical of the time with a wood frame covered over in tight canvas. Struts extended out from the upper and lower wing assemblies to generate rudimentary support for the empennage (tail section) to which was affixed a large-area horizontal plane mounting a pair of vertical tail fins. The engine was situated ahead of the tail system and aft of the crew, powering a simple two-bladed wooden propeller. The undercarriage of the airframe was typical World War 1 - a collection of double-tired, bicycle-type wheels held in place by a network of reinforced struts, these supports attached to the underside of the lower wing assembly. Each landing gear "leg" was afforded a ski-type structure to help prevent "nose-over" accidents while on the ground. There was no tail wheel, rear support being provided by a simple tailskid. This gave the MF.11 a noticeable "nose-up" appearance when at rest.
In her early production form, the MF.11 sat the pilot at the front of the aircraft with the observer to his rear. While this afforded the pilot unobstructed and unsurpassed views of the upcoming terrain, this severely restricted defensive options and viewpoints for the observer who sometimes doubled as a machine gunner when his position was armed as such. It was only in the revised MF.11bis that the seating arrangement was reversed, giving the observer/gunner a better view with a better field-of-fire at the front of the nacelle while relocating the pilot and the flight controls to the rear. Machine guns generally ranged in the 7.5mm caliber but were often the model and make of the respective operating country (Hotchkiss, Lewis and Fiat types were known to be used).
Like many other aerial implements of World War 1, the rickety MF.11 led a relatively short life on the Front, quickly being outclassed and outmoded by the new German Fokker monoplane in 1915. Once her period of usefulness as a frontline system was over, the MF.11 - and all her family - was generally relegated to trainer duties for upcoming aviation personnel. Nevertheless, the Farman design was an important contributor to early operations for both France, Britain, Italy and Russia in the early stages of the air war over Europe.
Entering operational service in 1914, the MF.11 was a regular participant of reconnaissance and light bombing sorties with numerous squadrons during her tenure. At one point, some 37 French escadrilles (squadrons) were formed with the MF.11 as the showcase weapon where she undertook bombing duties in day and night as needed (the MF.11 was capable of fielding a payload of 18 x 16lb bombs). In practice, her crews recounted her as a stable mount displaying solid flying qualities even in choppy skies. The Royal Navy operated at least 80 examples and several were stationed at Dardanelles and Mesopotamia. MF.11s in Belgium service were used to bomb German Zeppelin air bases and U-Boat submarine pens. Her first bombing mission was recorded on December 21st, 1914 when a British MF.11 attacked German artillery positions at Ostend, Belgium. One MF.11 crew was later credited with the downing of an airborne German Zeppelin by machine gun fire. The MF.11 continued frontline operational service up until 1915 before being relegated to second-line duties and ultimate retirement.
License production of the MF.11 outside of France was handled by companies in the United Kingdom, Russia and Italy. While only subtle changes existed between these types, such large-scale production ensured that the MF.11 would entertain a lengthy reach within the inventories of non-French operators.
The British took to designating the MF.11 as the "S.11" but this proved a lesser known identifier. She flew with the Royal Flying Corps in No.2, No.3, No.4, No.9, No.14, No.16, No.19, No.23, No.24, No.25, No.29, No.30 and No.65 squadrons as well as with flying elements of the Royal Naval Air Service. By default, British Commonwealth Australia further fielded the type within their Australian Flying Corps as part of squadrons No.5, the Mesopotamian Half Flight (the first Australian Flying Corps to see operational service) and the Central Flying School AFC, the latter based out of Point Cook, Victoria. Australia purchased their initial systems in 1916 to be used for training of pilots and crew and utilized them as such until better alternatives became available in 1919.
Across Europe and beyond French usage there existed squadrons in Belgium, Italy, Greece, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland and the Ukraine service. Far to the East, the MF.11 was also operated by the Russian air service for a time. In the post-war years, at least two MF.11s were purchased by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from Italy sometime in 1921.
Italy itself produced additional MF.11 variants under license and attempted to better the design by implementation of different engine types of varying horsepower. This included the SAI 5 powered by a Fiat A.10 series engine of 100 horsepower and the Farman Columbo (MF.C) powered by a Colombo D.110 series engine of 110 horsepower. The latter also featured a revised, oval-shaped nacelle. Italian producers of the MF.11 were Savoia, Fiat, Macchi, Zari and Vickers Terni and many of the Italian-born MF.11s were appropriately armed with Italian Fiat-brand machine guns.
The Farman MF.13 (also known as the MF.130hp) was another side development of the MF.11, this featuring a 130 horsepower engine - hence its designation. The MF.14 (Model 1914) designation was collectively assigned to MF.11 and improved MF.11bis designs with their 100 horsepower engines.