Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What Was the World's First Armed Aircraft?

At the London air show of February 1913 the first-ever armed aeroplane, the EFB-1 "Destroyer", a two-seat biplane, was unveiled by Vickers, Ltd. The designers seemed to fully understand the significance of their new aircraft. 

From the event program: "This design makes it possible for the biplane to be used as a machine for offence purposes. On the machine that will appear at the show, it will be seen that Messrs. Vickers have mounted a Maxim [machine] gun, which can be swiveled through an angle of 30 degrees. . .arranged in the cockpit at the centre of gravity of the machine, will be stored 1,500 rounds of ammunition."

The aircraft was the developmental prototype of the Vickers FB.5 "Gunbus", which was deployed on the Western Front with 11 Squadron in July 1915.


  1. Was the EFB-1 actually "the World's first armed aircraft"? Woodman in "Early Aircraft Armament" suggests that at least it may have to share the laurels: at the 1913 Aero Show there were, he states, "several aeroplanes specifically designed for military purposes". Does anyone have an Aero Show catalogue to share?? Specifically, Woodman refers to a Grahame-Wright Type VI pusher armed with a 1904 Colt-Browning 0.30 gun that was also being exhibited. He goes on to remark that the EFB-1 evolved up to the EFB-5, which then morphed into the FB5 - better known to history as the 'Vickers Gunbus'. By this time it had been recognised that even Vicker's lightened version of the Maxim just wouldn't do in aeroplanes of the day, being still too heavy and too cumbersome. Happily, Colonel Lewis's gun appeared on the scene just in time to save the situation - though the RFC, at least, was a bit slow to grasp the opportunity.

  2. Looking at the reconnaissance of Germany, it seems as though hand weapons were the only use in August 1914. That is all I have found so far.

  3. "On June 7, 1912 the first airplane armed with a machine gun was flown by Lt. Thomas de Witte Milling at College Park, Maryland. The gunner, who was armed with a Lewis gun, was Capt. Charles de Forest Chandler of the US Army Signal Corps." With picture: "Capt Charles de Forest Chandler holding a Lewis machine gun in a Wright flyer piloted by Lt. Thomas de Witte Milling June 7, 1912."