Bristol F2B Fighter/Bristol Tourer

Designed by Captain Frank Barwell in 1916 and manufactured by the British & Colonial Aeroplane Company Ltd at Filton, the Bristol F2A Fighter entered service with the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. Early operations with 48 Squadron were less than successful as the true fighter qualities of the aeroplane had not been understood. Adopting the defensive tactics of earlier two seat machines (the BE2C for example) the 48 Squadron aircraft fell prey to the Albatross D.IIIs of von Richtofen’s Jagdstaffel 11.

By April 1917, the crews began to adopt new tactics which recognised the fighter qualities of the F2A using the forward firing Vickers gun to good advantage and the rear Observers gun for defensive protection. This effective teamwork turned the tide and by the summer of 1917, 48 Sqn had claimed 93 enemy aircraft to their own losses of 17 aircraft and 36 crew.

Eventually, the Bristol Fighter was fitted with a more powerful engine to be designated the F2B and was a relatively large fighter for its day when compared with the ubiquitous Sopwith Camel and SE5A. An open cockpit, bi-plane design, it had a wingspan of 32 feet, an overall length of 26 feet and was powered by a reliable Rolls Royce Falcon III engine. In its original design, the engine was started by hand with three groundcrew linking arm to arm. Eventually this was superseded by the Hucks starter, a motorised device consisting of a Model T Ford chassis and associated gear which engaged and turned the engine over at the propeller hub. With the RR Falcon III, it had a top speed of 123 mph, a service ceiling of 20,000 ft and an endurance of 3 hours.

Armament consisted of a forward firing 0.303 inch Vickers machine gun and associated interrupter gear and a single or twin 0.303 Lewis guns mounted on a Scarff rail and fired by the Observer. The Observer became adept at picking off enemy aircraft which failed to identify the Bristol Fighter and many Observers became Aces in their own right. In keeping with their multi-role reputation, the F2Bs were able to carry four 25lb Cooper bombs or two 112 lb bombs on the lower wing mounting points. Cockpit instrumentation was rudimentary with airspeed indicator, altimeter, inclinometer, clock and compass. No radios or navigation aids were fitted in these early days of flight although radios were being introduced towards the end of the war.

The Bristol Fighter, known affectionally as the “Brisfit” or “Biff” went on to become what was later described as the original multi-role combat aircraft due to its versatility and it served with the Royal Force until the 1930s.


Following the end of WWI, a new era of civil aviation beckoned and a number of F2Bs were acquired by the Aircraft Disposal Company (ADC) and completely overhauled for sale to civilian customers. The fictional airline in Dark Treaty, Ferris International Airlines, acquired two of these machines which would have sold for about £800. A real airline at the time, Handley Page Ltd did indeed buy these aircraft. It is not clear if any of these machines were converted to the 3-seat configuration with rear canopy as in the Dark Treaty story but the author reserves the right for just a little poetic licence.

The basic Bristol Fighter design was developed extensively for civilian use with several different configurations and powerplants. These aircraft continued in service often bearing little resemblance to the original F2B design and faded from active flying by mid-1935 when the last surviving machines were written off.


If you want to see the Bristol Fighter in the flesh, do visit the Shuttleworth Collection in the UK which continues to display one of these wonderful aeroplanes as shown in the accompanying photograph.



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