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

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

World War One's Greatest Aircraft Design Fail

Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.9

This is one man's opinion, of course, but this is the plane I would least wish to pull observer duty in.  Designed as a replacement for the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c reconnaissance aircraft, which was considered a "sitting duck," its observer position seems to provide a nice view, but:

A.  He's inches away from getting sliced up by the propeller at any time. (By the way, is this a pusher or a tractor design or both?)

B.  If there's a crash landing he seems be in serious jeopardy from both the propeller and the engine sitting just behind the propeller.

C.  Just how does he communicate with the pilot?

D.  Speaking of the pilot, he seems to be sitting more to the rear than normally, putting him farther out of touch with the observer.

Anyway, one of the B.E.9s was deployed to the Western Front where three RFC squadrons gave it a test ride and said "No, thanks".

Please list your nominees for biggest design fail in the comments section below and I'll see what I can find out about them. Being ugly is not sufficient basis for a  nomination, however.


  1. Does the propeller actually turn through an opening in the wing as it appears in the photo? If so, I would add that to your list. What could go wrong?

  2. A better example would be the French Spad A2, which also had the observer in front of the propeller in a "pulpit". This aircraft actually went into service with the French "Aviation Militaire" and the Imperial Russian Military Aviation Service. It was not terribly successful for all the reasons mentioned. The Royal Aircraft Factory BE9 was only a one-off; a British copy of the Spad A2 concept just to see if there might possibly be any merit in it.

  3. Here is a gaggle of god awful Great War aeroplanes: