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Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8

 

The Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 was a British two-seat biplane reconnaissance and bomber aircraft of the First World War designed and produced at the Royal Aircraft Factory. It was also built under contract by Austin Motors, Daimler, Standard Motors, Siddeley-Deasy and the Coventry Ordnance Works.

The B.E.2 had already been subject to considerable criticism and a deliberate effort was made to address each of the earlier type's failings. In particular, the more powerful motor was intended to improve the feeble speed and climb of the B.E.2 and to allow a better payload; this permitted the type to operate as a true two-seater, since the observer no longer had to be left at home when bombs or a full fuel load were carried, there was no need for his seat to be at the centre of gravity as a result, he could now be seated behind the pilot, in the proper position to operate a defensive machine gun. Another consequence of the additional engine power was the possibility of fitting a forward-mounted gun for the pilot.

On 17 June 1916, the first R.E.8 test flight was conducted by F.W. Goodden. Goodden would perform all of the early flights with the type; on 1 July 1916, Sefton Brancker was flown by Goodden in the type to Hounslow, London. On 16 July 1916, the second prototype, furnished with a different design of propeller, performed its first flight. During late July 1916, the second of two prototypes was dispatched to France for service trials, the results of which were largely successful, with aircrew being generally quite favourably impressed. During August 1916, the second prototype returned to Farnborough, Hampshire, where it underwent modification based upon its experiences in France.

The R.E.8 adopted a set of single bay, unequal span wings, identical to those of the earlier B.E.2e; although the span (and thus the wing area) had been increased slightly by the use of a wider upper centre section, and lower stub wings to match. On the B.E.2e, these wings functioned to maintain the stability of the B.E.2c while providing the aircraft with superior levels of manoeuvrability; although the long extensions on the upper wing gave rise to fears they would be prone to collapse if the aircraft was dived too sharply, which in turn did not help to build trust in the aircraft. Several other features, such as the tailplane, were also identical to those previously used upon the B.E.2e.

In total, 4,077 R.E.8s were constructed; a further 353 aircraft that had been on order were cancelled as a consequence of the armistice. Only a handful of production aircraft were actually completed by the Royal Aircraft Factory; instead, the bulk of the work was issued out to several private companies, who were responsible for the type throughout its production life, including Austin Motors, Daimler, Standard Motors, Siddeley-Deasy and the Coventry Ordnance Works.

The Royal Aircraft Factory conducted spinning tests on the type, concluding that the R.E.8 was quite hard to spin and recovered easily; but the fin was redesigned with slightly increased area to improve spin recovery. The modification resulted in the production version being no less stable than the B.E.2e; and while this was an advantage for artillery observation and photography it gave the R.E.8 little chance to out-manoeuvre enemy fighters. An even larger fin was fitted to some R.E.8s used as trainers. Some pilots flew the R.E.8 with an empty reserve fuel tank (or even filled the tank with fire extinguisher fluid) to avoid a perceived tendency of R.E.8s to burn on crashing. None of these measures would have made the aircraft any "safer", if the problem was one of poor stalling characteristics. Several pilots who flew the type mentioned that they had no problems but were careful to keep the airspeed well above stalling point.

The Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon has a full size replica R.E.8, which was built by The Vintage Aviator Ltd ( TVAL ) in New Zealand in 2011. It is fitted with a "new build" RAF 4a engine and was successfully test flown at Masterton, NZ, on 1 January 2012, with the registration ZK-TVC. Crated and shipped to England, it was reassembled at The Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden Airfield in June 2012 and undertook a number of flights painted as 'A3930' of No. 9 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, before being sent by road to Hendon in November 2012. It is now on static display in the Grahame-White Factory.

Missouri Civil War Museum