In 1917, George Handasyde of Martinsyde designed a single-seat biplane fighter powered by a Rolls-Royce Falcon V-12 engine, the Martinsyde F.3, with a single prototype being built as a private venture without an official order, and had flown at Brooklands aerodrome by October 1917. six being ordered in 1917, with the first flying in November that year. Its performance during testing was impressive, demonstrating a maximum speed of 142 mph (229 km/h), and was described in an official report as "a great advance on all existing fighting scouts", resulting in an order for six pre-production aircraft and 150 production fighters being placed late in 1917. It soon became clear, however, that all Falcon production was required to power Bristol F.2 Fighters, so use of the Falcon for the F.3 would be problematical.
To solve this problem, Martinsyde designed a new fighter based on the F.3, but powered by a 300 hp (224 kW) Hispano-Suiza engine, the F.4 Buzzard. The Buzzard, like the F.3, was a single-bay tractor biplane powered by a water-cooled engine. It had new lower wings compared with the F.3, and the pilot's cockpit was positioned further aft, but otherwise the two aircraft were similar. The prototype F.4 was tested in June 1918, and again demonstrated excellent performance, being easy to fly and maneuverable as well as very fast for the time. Large orders followed, with 1,450 ordered from Martinsyde, Boulton & Paul Ltd, Hooper & Co and the Standard Motor Company. It was planned to equip the French Aéronautique Militaire as well as the British Royal Air Force, and production of a further 1,500 aircraft in the United States of America was planned.
Deliveries to the RAF had just started when the Armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed. Martinsyde was instructed to only complete those aircraft which were part built, while all other orders were cancelled. The Buzzard was not adopted as a fighter by the post war RAF, the cheaper Sopwith Snipe being preferred despite its lower performance.
Martinsyde continued development of the Buzzard, buying back many of the surplus aircraft from the RAF, and producing two-seat tourers and floatplanes. After the bankruptcy of Martinsyde in 1924, these aircraft were obtained by the Aircraft Disposal Company which continued to develop and sell F.4 variants for several years.