Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2
|RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT, BOMBER||Virtual Aircraft Museum / United Kingdom / Royal Aircraft Factory|
The B.E. designation at first indicated 'Bleriot Experimental', Louis Bleriot being credited with having originated the tractor-engined aeroplane. With the appearance of aircraft from the Royal Aircraft Establishment it was taken to mean 'British Experimental'.
The original B.E. was designed by and built under the supervision of Geoffrey de Havilland, later Capt de Havilland of the RFC and chief designer for the Air raft Manufacturing Company. A later type of the same general design was the B.E.2, a tandem two-seat biplane with incredibly stable flying characteristics which, in several versions, was employed throughout World War I as a reconnaissance aircraft.
The first version to enter service with the RFC was the B.E.2a, built in very small numbers and the first aircraft to reach France at the outbreak of World War I. Flying alongside a Bleriot monoplane, a B.E.2a made the first RFC reconnaissance over German lines on 19 August 1914. The first version built in reasonable numbers was the B.E.2b (which introduced ailerons) followed by the mass-produced B.E.2c which superseded earlier versions from April 1915. Power was provided by a 67kW RAF 1a engine and wing dihedral was introduced. It was also the first armed version, carrying a machine-gun in the forward cockpit. This gun arrangement greatly restricted the observer's field of fire, which was reversed on the B.E.2d but reintroduced on the final and most numerous version, the B.E.2e.
With the B.E.2d/e in service, the B.E.2c (and earlier versions) was flown as a training aircraft, and a number were employed successfully at home in attacking airships and used on other fronts. Throughout its career the B.E.2 performed very useful work but was over-stable and slow. With the deployment of fighter aircraft, it proved a sitting duck and was the main victim during the so-called 'Fokker Scourge' which lasted the winter of 1915-16 and again during 'Bloody April' in 1917. In total more than 3,200 B.E.2s were built.