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Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8

Reconnaissance Aircraft / Light Bomber

United Kingdom | 1916

"Over 4,000 of the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 reconnaissance light bombers were produced during World War 1."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 07/17/2016 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The Royal Aircraft Factory's B.E.2 two-seat biplane scout gave exceptional service during World War 1 (1914-1918) despite having originated as early as 1912. About 3,500 of the type were taken into service and the aircraft generally received praise for her part in the war. Her design was such that the last B.E.2 was not retired until 1919 - after the fighting had concluded and despite it being labeled obsolete during the long-running war. It ended its days as a trainer and maritime bombing/spotting platform.

The Royal Aircraft Factory moved on finding a replacement for the B.E.2 series in due time and this became the R.E.8 model of 1916. A first flight was had on June 17th of that year and the line soldiered on through to the end of the war in 1918 - though it was retired even before the B.E.2. About 4,077 of the new aircraft series were produced and these saw considerable combat exposure though the design would never live up to its hype - the stability inherent in the B.E.2 was not to be found in the R.E.8 and therefore its combat exploits were not as fondly remembered.

For the new aircraft a two-seat, biplane form was once again used. The crew (pilot and observer/gunner) were seated in tandem across two individual open-air cockpits. Dimensions included a length of 8.5 meters, a wingspan of 13 meters and a height of 3.5 meters. Empty weight was 820 kilograms against a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 1,300 kilograms. Power was served from a single Royal Aircraft Factory 4a series V12 air-cooled engine delivering 140 horsepower and driving a two-bladed wooden propeller at the nose. This provided a maximum speed of 103 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 13,500 feet and an endurance window of 4.25 hours.

The biplane wing arrangement was set far ahead of midships and over and ahead of the pilot's cockpit. The top wing assembly was of considerable span when compared to the lower unit and dihedral was featured on both assemblies. A single-bay structural arrangement was used that featured parallel strut-works. The tail unit relied on a single, large-area vertical fin and low-mounted horizontal planes. The undercarriage was a fixed, two-wheeled configuration with a skid supporting the tail section when on the ground.

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Armament was led by 1 x 0.303 caliber (7.7mm) Vickers machine gun in a fixed, forward-firing position on the forward fuselage and operated by the pilot. The rear gunner managed 1 or 2 x Lewis machine guns on a trainable mount. In addition to these standard fittings, the aircraft was cleared to carry up to 225 lb of bombs.

Compared to the B.E.2, the R.E.8 was faster, could fly higher and given more base power. By these factors it should have impressed more than it did but the Grand War became the ultimate testbed for all military aircraft of the period and any weaknesses in a given design were to come through eventually.

Service trials were conducted in France through two prototypes during July 1916 and this led to approval for serial production coming that fall - first deliveries to the Front were in November. Due to limitations of certain components (including the intended machine gun fits) early R.E.8 models were given varying arrangements of armament in the early-going. Despite their more powerful engines, the line was still deemed underpowered mainly due to their heavier weight so attempts were made to re-engine the type - a sole model represented the R.E.8a variant with a Hispano-Suiza of 200 horsepower but this design never entered serial production, mainly due to shortage of the engines in question.

In practice, the R.E.8 lacked the stability pilots had come rely on with the B.E.2 series and some, typically greenhorns, paid with their lives. Landing and spinning actions were particularly of concern to new pilots for the aircraft proved unforgiving. Engineers ultimately tried to address the spinning/recovery issue by instituting a larger tail fin but this had limited results in-the-field. Restricted as a direct-combat platform, R.E.8s was eventually operated in reconnaissance and artillery spotting roles before moving on to pilot training.

Beyond the British - who stocked over thirty squadrons with R.E.8s - the Belgian Air Service operated the aircraft line during the war and these featured Hispano-Suiza engines in a revised cowling. British use of the aircraft was given up rather quickly after the Armistice of November 1918 though post-war service saw the R.E.8 utilized in Australia, Estonia and the Soviet Union.

The only other R.E.8 variant of note was the R.E.9 which was an R.E.8 fitted with equal-span wings and enlarged tail fin. However only two R.E.8s were modified in this fashion and proved no better than standard R.E.8 aircraft.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 Reconnaissance Aircraft / Light Bomber.
1 x Royal Aircraft Factory 4a V12 air-cooled engine developing 140 horsepower.
103 mph
166 kph | 90 kts
Max Speed
13,501 ft
4,115 m | 3 miles
Service Ceiling
217 miles
350 km | 189 nm
Operational Range
300 ft/min
91 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 Reconnaissance Aircraft / Light Bomber.
27.9 ft
8.50 m
O/A Length
42.7 ft
(13.00 m)
O/A Width
11.5 ft
(3.50 m)
O/A Height
1,808 lb
(820 kg)
Empty Weight
2,866 lb
(1,300 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 Reconnaissance Aircraft / Light Bomber .
1 x 7.7mm Vickers machine gun in fixed, forward-firing position.
1 OR 2 x 7.7mm Lewis machine gun on trainable mounting in rear cockpit.

Up to 225lbs of bombs.
Notable series variants as part of the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 family line.
R.E.8 - Base Series Designation; initial production models; fitted with RAF 4a engine of 140 horsepower.
R.E.8a - Single conversion of R.E.8 model fitted with Hispano-Suiza engine of 200 horsepower.
R.E.9 - Two modified R.E.8 examples; revised equal-span wing assemblies; enlarged tail rudder for improved control.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 4,077 Units

Contractor(s): Royal Aircraft Factory / Siddeley-Deasy - UK
National flag of Australia National flag of Belgium National flag of Estonia National flag of the Soviet Union National flag of the United Kingdom

[ Australia; Belgium; Estonia; Soviet Union; United Kingdom ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 120mph
Lo: 60mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (103mph).

Graph Average of 90 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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Image of the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8
Image courtesy of the Public Domain.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 Reconnaissance Aircraft / Light Bomber appears in the following collections:
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