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Royal Aircraft Factory BE.9

Armed Scout Biplane Prototype [ 1915 ]

Of peculiar design, the Royal Aircraft Factory BE.9 was proposed with a gunners nacelle ahead of the spinning propeller blades - just one prototype was completed.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 10/23/2020 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The proposed Royal Aircraft Factory BE.9 biplane armed scout prototype attempted to remedy the ability of British fighters to engage forward targets without synchronization gear (which still had to be perfected for British fighters in 1915). Synchronization allowed weapons to be fired through spinning propeller blades, giving a considerable advantage to combatants against less flexible designs. The Royal Aircraft Factory's work in the field resulted in a rather unorthodox arrangement in which the gunner was sat in a separate nacelle ahead of both the engine (including spinning propeller!) and pilot (his position aft of the engine proper).

The end-product proved too ungainly to be taken seriously and the design did not materialize beyond a single prototype.

In the early years of the war, there proved no effective means of firing bullets through spinning propeller blades for the allies despite countless experiments and the optimal arrangement, therefore, became the "pusher" prop style in which the engine and propeller were positioned aft of the pilot, allowing the pilot (or accompanying gunner/observer) to engage forward targets with front-mounted weaponry. This was effective up to a point but, as tractor/puller technology eclipsed performance of trailer/pusher types, the need grew for a more effective gunnery solution - hence the BE.9 prototype.

Engineers of the Royal Aircraft Factory took an existing twin-seat (tandem), single-engine BE.2c multirole biplane and added a unarmored, boxey structure ahead of the propeller. At this position was added the machine gun and seating for a dedicated machine gunner. The original observer's position in the fuselage was deleted, the engine now taking its place.

The two of crew sat a considerable distance away from one another, no doubt reducing verbal (and even visual) communications between the two. The pilot's open-air cockpit was near midships with the gunner's position at the extreme nose of the aircraft. The tail used a single rudder fin approach with low-mounted horizontal planes. For ground-running, a tail-dragger configuration was used that included braced, wheeled main legs under the forward mass of the aircraft and a simple, pivoting skid under the tail.

The biplane wing arrangement was a simple over-under arrangement of equal-span and twin-bay design. Struts were forward-angled pairs with applicable cabling for support. The lower wing members were attached at the sides of the fuselage (about mid-mount) with the upper wing member elevated above the fuselage and pilot. A section of the trailing edge over the pilot was cut-out to aid in vision out-of-the-cockpit.

As designed, the aircraft was given a length of 29 feet, a wingspan of 40.10 feet, and a height of 11.4 feet. Power was from a single RAF 1a series V8 air-cooled engine of 90 horsepower used to drive a four-bladed propeller unit near the forward end of the fuselage in tractor arrangement. Listed performance specs only include a maximum speed of 82 miles-per-hour as well as a time-to-altitude of 1,000 feet in 4.5 minutes.

Armament was to be a single .303 Lewis Gun on a flexible mounting at the front cockpit (gunner's nacelle).

The prototype went airborne for the first time on August 14th, 1915 as the war raged on. This flight took place at the famous Farnborough field and performance was acceptable despite the aircraft's unique look and shape. The prototype was then delivered to active frontline units in France during September for formal testing which included some general patrolling sorties over France. Results showcased a cumbersome aircraft with little to recommend it - proving more dangerous to its crews than to the enemy - and was thus rejected. In all, No.6, No.8. and No.16 squadrons all took their turn in the BE.9 and none found it worthy.

As such, the BE.9 program was not furthered - though with the arrival of synchronization gear, its lost was well absorbed.©MilitaryFactory.com
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Service Year

United Kingdom national flag graphic
United Kingdom

Development Ended.


National flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom (cancelled)
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.

29.0 ft
(8.85 m)
41.0 ft
(12.50 m)
11.5 ft
(3.50 m)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Royal Aircraft Factory BE.9 production variant)
Installed: 1 x Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF) 1a V8 air-cooled engine developing 90 horsepower driving four-bladed wooden propeller at the nose (ahead of the pilot, aft of the gunner) in tractor arrangement.
Max Speed
84 mph
(135 kph | 73 kts)
7,497 ft
(2,285 m | 1 mi)
149 mi
(240 km | 444 nm)
225 ft/min
(69 m/min)

♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030

(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the base Royal Aircraft Factory BE.9 production variant. Performance specifications showcased above are subject to environmental factors as well as aircraft configuration. Estimates are made when Real Data not available. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database or View aircraft by powerplant type)
1 x 0.303 caliber (7.7mm) Lewis Gun in forward gunner's nacelle.

Supported Types

(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 0

BE.9 - Base Series Designation.

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Image of the Royal Aircraft Factory BE.9
Image from the Public Domain.


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