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Bristol Scout

Biplane Fighter / Fast Reconnaissance Scout

United Kingdom | 1914

"The Bristol Scout biplane might have had a better war time record if it had been armed properly at an earlier date."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 05/16/2016 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The Bristol Scout was born from a racing aircraft and was, therefore, based upon an excellent performance pedigree. However, since the type was not designed for combat from the outset, as a militarized fighter during The Great War, it would never live up to expectations. At its core, the Bristol Scout was a single-engine, single-seat fighter "scout" development intended to supply ground commanders with an advantageous "eye in the sky". Its major limitation throughout its career was its lack of integrated machine gun armament, finally made possible by the British development of a suitable interrupter gear to allow the weapon to fire through the spinning propeller blades - but much too late for the outgoing Scout series. The Bristol Scout formed some of the first "true" fighter squadrons in aviation history.

Design of the Bristol Scout was regarded as very streamlined while still functional with the initial prototype "Scout A" unveiled in 1913. The aircraft consisted of a well-contoured fuselage with the engine set to the front and a conventional tail section to the rear. The engine powered a two-bladed wooden propeller and was housed under a lightly armored compartment. The wings were of a biplane configuration for maximum lift and handling while being situated over and under the forward fuselage. Each wing side sported parallel struts with single bays and applicable wiring. The open-air cockpit was held just under and aft of the upper wing assembly with generally adequate views from the cockpit save for the forward-set engine and large wing assemblies - though this was typical of all biplane aircraft of the time. The empennage was completed in a traditional fashion through use of a single vertical tail fin coupled with a pair of horizontal tailplanes. The undercarriage was nothing more than a reinforced strutted structure featuring two large main landing wheels with a tail skid to support the rear. Power was provided for by a single rotary piston engine of 80 horsepower. This supplied the mount with a top speed of 100 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 14,000 feet and an endurance of 2.5 hours. Rate-of-climb averaged 10,000 feet in 18.5 minutes. First flight of the Bristol Scout (Scout A) was on February 23rd, 1914.

As a "scout" aircraft, the Bristol Scout was intended for reconnaissance sorties over or near enemy-held territories, recording positions and movements for dissection by warplanners later on. An early militarized evaluation form - the Bristol "Scout B" - was armed rather crudely with side-bolted service rifles angled in such a way as to clear the propeller blades when firing. It was also not out of the realm of possibility for pilots to take with them personal small arms into the cockpit as needed and engage in a primitive form of "dogfighting". It was only later that a 7.7mm Lewis machine gun armament on a newly-designed mount was trialled with success, resulting in the downing of two enemy aircraft, and earning pilot Captain Lanoe Hawker the first Victoria Cross for aerial combat. The Scout B was fitted with a Gnome Lambda rotary piston engine of 80 horsepower.

This result encouraged development of a new mark - the Bristol "Scout C" (also "Type 1 Scout C") - to be armed with a standardized mounting and 1 x 7.7mm Lewis machine gun along the left side of the fuselage away from the spinning propeller arc. Some were also finished with their Lewis guns fielded across the upper wing assembly to clear the propeller (typical of pre-interrupter Allied aircraft). Several attempts were made with early versions of propeller interrupter gear but the technology was never perfected before the end for the Bristol Scout. The Scout C was produced in approximately 50 examples and included an optional Le Rhone rotary piston engine of 80 horsepower over the original Gnome Lambda series during manufacture.

The first combat Bristol Scouts were fielded in February of 1915 and assigned as escort fighters to squadrons fielding the larger, two-man aircraft. Inevitably, both the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy would utilize the Bristol Scout type aircraft in their respective inventories as such was the value of capable flying mounts of the period. Targets for Bristol Scout pilots ran the gamut of enemy aircraft (patrol, escort, interception), bombers, observation balloons, ground-based "targets of opportunity" and even the mighty - though seriously vulnerable - Zeppelins which regularly patrolled airspaces. For the latter, pilots would position their aircraft over the top of the Zeppelin, out of the firing arcs of the various defensive machine guns, and simply drop high-explosive "darts", of flechettes atop the Zeppelin's soft frames, hopefully detonating and destroying the enemy aircraft in the process.

The original Bristol Scout C was followed into production by the improved and definitive Bristol "Scout D" in November of 1915. About 210 examples of this type were produced and encompassed four subvariants known as Type 2, Type 3, Type 4 and Type 5. Changes to the family line included revised wings and tail surfaces as well as redesigned engine cowls. British ace Albert Ball managed four kills over the course of one in one week from a Scout D aircraft and appreciated the type's capabilities in the air.

In all, the Bristol Scout equipped 27 British Royal Flying Corps squadrons while also serving with the Royal Naval Air Service. It was also featured within two Australian squadrons as well as within the inventory of the Greek Navy for a time. The only other notable Bristol Scout production form became a pair of converted two-seat trainers designated as the Bristol S.2A.

Only about 370 Bristol Scouts were produced during a short operational tenure for technology during the war improved at such a pace that newly-minted mounts were quickly outclassed by ever-newer designs - sometimes within weeks of debut. By the middle of 1916, the Bristol Scout was on its way out before falling to the pages of history altogether. Discontinued Bristol Scouts were relegated to training duties thereafter while some survived the war into the 1920s.

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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 Bristol Scout Biplane Fighter / Fast Reconnaissance Scout.
1 x Le Rhone rotary piston engine generating 80 horsepower.
100 mph
161 kph | 87 kts
Max Speed
13,999 ft
4,267 m | 3 miles
Service Ceiling
540 ft/min
165 m/min
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Bristol Scout Biplane Fighter / Fast Reconnaissance Scout.
19.8 ft
6.02 m
O/A Length
27.3 ft
(8.33 m)
O/A Width
8.5 ft
(2.59 m)
O/A Height
761 lb
(345 kg)
Empty Weight
1,250 lb
(567 kg)
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Bristol Scout Biplane Fighter / Fast Reconnaissance Scout .
1 x 7.7mm Lewis machine gun (various small arms also utilized).

Scout D:
1 x 7.7mm Vickers machine synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades.

1 x Hand-Dropped Explosive "Dart" for anti-Zeppelin sorties.
Notable series variants as part of the Bristol Scout family line.
Scout A - Prototype Model
Scout B - Militarized Evaluation Model
Scout C - Initial Production Model; appearing in February of 1915; various personal small arms utilized for attack/defense; later addition of 1 x 7.7mm Lewus machine gun.
Scout D - Improved Bristol Scout; appearing in November of 1915; fitting 1 x 7.7mm Vickers machine gun in sychronized mounting.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Bristol Scout. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 370 Units

Contractor(s): Bristol - UK
National flag of Australia National flag of Greece National flag of the United Kingdom

[ Australia; Greece; United Kingdom ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 120mph
Lo: 60mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (100mph).

Graph Average of 90 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
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
1 / 2
Image of the Bristol Scout
Rear left side view of the Bristol Scout at rest
2 / 2
Image of the Bristol Scout
Right side view of the Bristol Scout biplane fighter

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 Bristol Scout Biplane Fighter / Fast Reconnaissance Scout appears in the following collections:
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