The Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.8 ("FE" = "Fighter Experimental") recorded a first-flight in September of 1915 and adopted for service with the Royal Flying Corps of Britain on August 2nd, 1916. To this point, the British military machine had been committed to total war in Europe for the period of two years and aircraft design was just one part of the very complicated formula to victory. The F.E.8 followed much of the design philosophy seen in the earlier F.E.2 model, continuing the arrangement which sat the engine behind the sole pilot.
As the British still lacked any sort of viable "interrupter" gear for their machine guns when mounted behind a spinning propeller blade, it was required that the engine simply be located behind the pilot. This forced the "pusher" arrangement in which the propeller spun behind the engine itself. The major benefit to this was that the frontal section of the aircraft was now unobstructed for the pilot in both vantage point and firing arcs and her was positioned much further ahead of the center of gravity of his aircraft.
Unlike the earlier R.E.2 of September of 1915, which sat a crew of two to handle the workload, the F.E.8 forced a single crewman to manage the functions of the aircraft as well as the weaponry. This meant the pilot needed to keep his aircraft in the air, scan for targets and engage with accuracy all the while keeping his cool under fire. Problems with this arrangement were further compounded when the machine gun would inevitably jam requiring the pilot to now give the weapon his full attention.
Beyond the excellent visibility given to the pilot, the overall design of the aircraft yielded some very deadly results in some cases as the aircraft required specialized training to recover from a spin. Though the F.E.8 proved a more maneuverable and a lighter aircraft design than the preceding F.E.2 series, it was immediately outclassed by the German Albatros D.I and D.II biplane fighters, putting most F.E.8's at a major disadvantage in direct combat. Baron von Richthofen's group, the famous "Red Baron" of Germany, downed no fewer than nine F.E.8s in a single sortie, showing just how outclassed the type was.
Introduced in August of 1916, the F.E.8 managed a frontline service life up until the middle of 1917 by which point total production yielded just 295 examples. In comparison, the R.E.2 was built in nearly 2,000 examples from 1914 until 1918 (the final year of the war). beyond the Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF), Darracq Motor Engineering and Vickers were involved in the manufacture of the F.E.8.
Operators included Nos. 5, 29, 40 and 41 Squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps. The type was not exported.
The F.E.8 had an overall length of 23.7 feet, a wingspan of 31.5 feet and a height of 9 feet. Empty weight was 960lb against a loaded weight of 1,470lb. Power was from a single French-made Le Rhone 9-cylinder air-cooled rotary engine outputting 110 horsepower and driving a two-bladed wooden propeller. Maximum speed reached over 93 miles per hour and its service ceiling was 14,500 feet. Mission endurance was about 2.5 hours. Beyond its single .303 Lewis Gun (on a trainable mounting over the nose), the aircraft could carry a light load of drop bombs. The wing mainplanes were equal-span showcasing two bays with parallel struts. The main landing gear element sat under center mass with a skid unit seated under the tail. The tail was joined to the wing mainplanes by way of thin booms.
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