Bristol Beaufighter

The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter, often referred to as simply the Beau, was a British long-range heavy fighter derivative of the Bristol Aeroplane Company's earlier Beaufort torpedo bomber design. The name Beaufighter is a portmanteau of "Beaufort" and "fighter".

Unlike the Beaufort, the Beaufighter had a long career and served in almost all theatres of war in the Second World War, first as a night fighter, then as a fighter bomber, eventually replacing the Beaufort as a torpedo bomber. A variant was built in Australia by the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP) and was known in Australia as the DAP Beaufighter.

Bristol Beaufighter
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Bristol Aeroplane Company
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1939
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Australia View
Canada View
Dominican Republic View
Israel View
Poland View
Portugal View
South Africa View
Turkey (Ottoman Empire) View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1940 View
United States of America View
Norway View
New Zealand View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Bristol Aeroplane Company 5928 View


Variants

  • Beaufighter Mk IF : Two-seat night fighter variant.
  • Beaufighter Mk IC : The "C" stood for Coastal Command variant; many were modified to carry bombs.
  • Beaufighter Mk IIF : However well the Beaufighter performed, the Short Stirling bomber programme by late 1941 had a higher priority for the Hercules engine and the Rolls-Royce Merlin XX-powered Mk IIF night fighter was the result.
  • Beaufighter Mk III/IV : The Mark III and Mark IV were to be Hercules and Merlin powered Beaufighters with a new slimmer fuselage carrying an armament of six cannon and six machine guns which would give performance improvements. The necessary costs of making the changes to the production line led to the curtailing of the Marks.
  • Beaufighter Mk V : The Vs had a Boulton Paul turret with four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns mounted aft of the cockpit supplanting one pair of cannon and the wing-mounted machine guns. Only two (Merlin-engined) Mk Vs were built. R2274 when tested by the A&AEE was capable of 302 mph at 19,000 ft.
  • Beaufighter Mk VI : The Hercules returned with the next major version in 1942, the Mk VI, which was eventually built to over 1,000 examples. Changes included a dihedral tailplane.
  • Beaufighter Mk VIC : Coastal Command version, similar to Mk IC.
  • Beaufighter Mk VIF : Night Fighter equipped with AI Mark VIII radar.
  • Beaufighter Mk VI (ITF) : Interim torpedo fighter version.
  • Beaufighter Mk VII : Proposed Australian-built variant with Hercules 26 engines, not built.
  • Beaufighter Mk VIII : Proposed Australian-built variant with Hercules XVII engines, not built.
  • Beaufighter Mk IX : Proposed Australian-built variant with Hercules XVII engines, not built.
  • Beaufighter TF Mk X : Two-seat torpedo fighter aircraft, dubbed the Torbeau. Hercules XVII engines with cropped superchargers thus improving low-alt performance. The last major version (2,231 built) was the Mk X. The later production models featured a dorsal fin.
  • Beaufighter Mk XIC : Coastal Command version of the Mk X, no torpedo gear.
  • Beaufighter Mk XII : Proposed long-range variant of the Mk 11 with drop tanks, not built.
  • Beaufighter Mk 21 : The Australian-made DAP Beaufighter. Changes included Hercules CVII engines, four 20 mm cannon in the nose, four Browning .50 in (12.7 mm) in the wings and the capacity to carry eight 5 in (130 mm) High Velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVAR), two 250 lb (110 kg) bombs, two 500 lb (230 kg) bombs and one Mk 13 torpedo.
  • Beaufighter TT Mk 10 : After the war, many RAF Beaufighters were converted into target tug aircraft.
  • Beaufighter Australian Experimental classes : twin Merlin engines; 40mm Bofors gun fitted

By fighter standards, the Beaufighter Mk.I was rather heavy and slow. It had an all-up weight of 16,000 lb (7,000 kg) and a maximum speed of only 335 mph (540 km/h) at 16,800 ft (5,000 m). Nevertheless, this was all that was available at the time, as further production of the otherwise excellent Westland Whirlwind had already been stopped due to problems with production of its Rolls-Royce Peregrine engines.

The first Beaufighter was delivered to RAF Tangmere for trials with the Fighter Interception Unit on 12 August 1940, and the first operational machines were received by 29 Squadron and 604 Squadron on 2 September.

The Beaufighter came off the production line at almost exactly the same time as the first British Airborne Interception (AI) night fighter radar sets. With the four 20 mm cannon mounted in the lower fuselage, the nose could accommodate the radar antennas, and the general spaciousness of the fuselage enabled the AI equipment to be fitted easily. Even loaded to 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) the aircraft was fast enough to catch German bombers. By early 1941, it was an effective counter to Luftwaffe night raids. The various early models of the Beaufighter soon commenced service overseas, where its ruggedness and reliability soon made the aircraft popular with crews although it was heavy on the controls and not easy to fly, good landings being a particular challenge.

A night-fighter Mk VIF was supplied to squadrons in March 1942, equipped with AI Mark VIII radar. As the faster de Havilland Mosquito took over in the night fighter role in mid to late 1942, the heavier Beaufighters made valuable contributions in other areas such as anti-shipping, ground attack and long-range interdiction in every major theatre of operations.

In the Mediterranean, the USAAF's 414th, 415th, 416th and 417th Night Fighter Squadrons received 100 Beaufighters in the summer of 1943, achieving their first victory in July 1943. Through the summer the squadrons conducted both daytime convoy escort and ground-attack operations, but primarily flew defensive interception missions at night. Although the Northrop P-61 Black Widow fighter began to arrive in December 1944, USAAF Beaufighters continued to fly night operations in Italy and France until late in the war.

By the autumn of 1943, the Mosquito was available in enough numbers to replace the Beaufighter as the primary night fighter of the RAF. By the end of the war some seventy pilots serving with RAF units had become aces while flying Beaufighters.

At least one captured Beaufighter was operated by the German Luftwaffe – a photograph exists of the aircraft in flight, with German markings.

Role Heavy fighter / strike aircraft
Manufacturer Bristol Aeroplane Company
First flight 17 July 1939
Introduction 27 July 1940
Retired 1960 (Australia)
Primary users Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Produced May 1940 – 1946
Number built 5928
Developed from Bristol Beaufort


General characteristics

  • Crew: 2: pilot, observer
  • Length: 41 ft 4 in (12.6 m)
  • Wingspan: 57 ft 10 in (17.65 m)
  • Height: 15 ft 10 in (4.84 m)
  • Wing area: 503 ft²[32] (46,73 m²)
  • Empty weight: 15,592 lb (7,072 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 25,400 lb (11,521 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Bristol Hercules 14-cylinder radial engines, 1,600 hp (1,200 kW) each

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 320 mph (280 kn, 515 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3,050 m)
  • Range: 1,750 mi (1,520 nmi, 2,816 km)
  • Service ceiling: 19,000 ft (5,795 m) without torpedo
  • Rate of climb: 1,600 ft/min (8.2 m/s) without torpedo

Armament

  • Guns
    4 × 20 mm Hispano Mk II cannon (240 rpg) in nose
    1 × manually operated .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning for observer
  • External loads
    2× 250 lb bombs or
    1× British 18 inch torpedo or
    1× Mark 13 torpedo or
    8 × RP-3 "60 lb" (27 kg) rockets (underwing)

End notes