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

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Royal Flying Corps Arrives in France

The B.E.2, the Most Plentiful of the RFC's Aircraft

In early August 1914 a rather eclectic collection of British aircraft left Dover, England, in four squadrons to aid the defense of France and Belgium along the front lines near Amiens, France. No. 2 and No. 4 Squadrons flew Blériot Experimental 2s (B.E.2s).

No. 3 Squadron flew a mixture of Blériots and Henri Farmans, while No. 5 Squadron had Henri Farmans, Avro, and B.E.8s, the latter nicknamed “Bloater” for its resemblance to the fish.


Two of the types, the B.E.2 and B.E.8 were products of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, present-day site of the biennial international air show. Originally established as His Majesty’s Balloon Factory, it became the Royal Aircraft Factory in 1911 and attracted some of the best aviation pioneers in England, including Geoffrey de Havilland and Henry Folland.

The Royal Aircraft Factory created some useful aircraft early in the war and was responsible for what many consider to be the best RFC/RAF fighter of the period, the S.E.5a.

An Avro 504

Most of the aircraft sent to France in August 1914 were B.E.2s, a fragile looking biplane powered by a 70-hp Renault engine. Its sole original design requirement was to create “a stable aircraft,” and no one envisioned that it would enter combat. With a maximum speed of 70 mph, it could carry a load of 224 pounds of bombs. Its stall speed was just over 40 mph, providing a 30-mph envelope in which to maneuver. Despite this limited performance, the aircraft was continually improved and served until 1918. The B.E.8 was essentially a B.E.2 powered by an 80-hp Gnome rotary engine. It was built in much smaller numbers than the B.E.2 and, as a result, killed fewer British pilots than the B.E.2 did.

The Blériots of the Royal Flying Corps were essentially similar to the Channel-crossing type and had a top speed of 59 to 61 mph.

Only a few Avro 504s were available for the initial operation, despite their superior 82-mph top speed. An Avro 504 of No. 5 Squadron was shot down on 22 August 1914, the first British aircraft lost to enemy fire.

Farmans on Display

The Henri Farmans were a hopeless-appearing collection of wings and struts, powered by an 80-hp Gnome pusher engine providing a blistering 65-mph top speed.

This collection of RFC aircraft was impressive to the French, and the aircraft were soon dispersed to fields around Maubeuge, the French garrison town designated as the forward operating base of the British Expeditionary Force.

Source:  Air Force Magazine, July 2011

1 comment:

  1. "Despite this limited performance, the aircraft was continually improved and served until 1918."

    There wouldn't have been too many aircraft that saw service in the first and last years of the war.