Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY’S SIMANAITISSAYS outlined the reasons for World War I fighter planes of pusher configuration, a primary benefit being its forward-facing armament not shooting off the aircraft’s aft-spinning propeller.

Each of these spindly craft had this advantage, but also disadvantages.

For Britain’s Royal Aircraft Factory, the F.E. 2a, b, and d were of “an entirely new type, specifically designed as a fighting [i.e., not just observation] aeroplane.”

Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2b. Span: 47 ft. 9 in., top and bottom wings; 81 mph at 6500 ft. This, other images following, and all quotes are from Fighter Aircraft of the 1914-1918 War, compiled by W.M. Lamberton, edited by E.F. Cheesman, Aero Publishers, 1964.

The F.E. 2 was a two-place fighter. “At first a Lewis gun was carried on a bracket in front of the observer’s cockpit; later, a second Lewis on a telescopic mounting was fitted to fire backwards over the top plane. The observer, without a parachute, had to stand with only his feet inside the cockpit to do this. Both guns had leather bags to catch the ejected cartridge cases, which otherwise would have smashed the propeller.”

Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2.

“The F.E.s were easily outclassed by the new German fighters of 1916–1917, but they were not withdrawn from the front until the autumn of 1917. When attacked, their crews learned to form a ‘defensive circle’ and thus protected the ‘blind spot’ under their tails.”

The Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 8 shared features with the De Havilland D.H. 2, “… providing the pilot with an unrestricted field of fire in a forward direction, but without the performance of a tractor aeroplane.”

Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 8. Span: 31 ft. 6 in., top and bottom wings; 81 mph at 6500 ft.

At first, the F.E. 8 also shared the De Havilland D.H. 2’s reputation for being spin-prone. Then, “Major Goodden, the Factory test pilot, therefore demonstrated how to bring an F.E.8 out of spin, and thereafter the machine became popular.”

Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 8.

However, wartime evolution was swift: “The F.E. 8 was a good design which unfortunately was already obsolete when it started its flying career.”

The Vickers Ltd. F.B. 5 and F.B. 9 were two-place pusher fighters. Indeed, the company built 50 F.B. 5s even before the war broke out.

Vickers Ltd. F.B. 5. Span: 36 ft. 6 in., top and bottom wings; 70 mph at 5000 ft.

What with one thing and another (see Aerial Superiority), “The ‘Gun Bus,’ as it was called, did not reach France until February 1915…. Throughout the summer, 11 Squadron did good work with their pushers, shooting down a considerable number of German aircraft. By November 1915, however, it could no longer be classed as a first-rate fighter….”

Vickers Ltd. F.B. 5.

“The F.B. 9 was an improved Gun Bus which came out in December 1915…. There is some doubt whether the F.B. 9 was used operationally; it saw considerable service at training units.”

WWI aircraft superiority was measured in months, sometimes weeks. But the spindly pushers, with their unimpeded forward-firing armament, had their day—and their aircrews displayed valor. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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