In memory of the Centenary of the commencement of WWI and the Gallipoli campaign Warbirds Online celebrates some very famous Australian Flying Corps (AFC) aircraft and today we recognize the efforts of those who fought in the AFC Bristol Fighters, F.2Bs or “ Brisfit” as it was known.
The Bristol F.2B was first flown on 25 October 1916 and was a development of an earlier F.2A (of which only 52 were built).
The Bristol F 2B was designed to operate as a two-seat fighter armed with forward firing Vickers and rear facing Lewis machine guns, however fragmentation bombs could also be fitted.
Initial operational service deliveries were commenced in April 1917 and over 5,329 Bristol Fighters were built during the 1914-18 war, and production continued into 1919.
The Bristol initially failed spectacularly on its first RFC mission on the Western Front with the loss of 5 of the six F.2As being shot down. However pilots and tactics rapidly developed and the Brisfit was from then on a potent and respected aircraft. Although a 2 seater, the aircraft, was best flown like a single seater with the pilot firing the forward gun in the same way as most single seaters and the observer in the rear seat using his single or twin Lewis guns to protect if the aircraft was attacked from the rear.
The AFC utilized a total of 66 Bristol Fighters in No’s 1, 3 and 7 (Training Sqn UK). The aircraft of No 1 Sqn were the most numerous with a total of 49 aircraft believed utilized. In particular one very famous Brisfit, B.1229 of No1 Sqn AFC (Also known as 67 Sqn RFC at one stage) serving in the Middle East. B1229 was a “presentation” aircraft meaning that it was procured for 2,700 Pounds from a donation by the Macintyre Kavuga Estate of NSW and was the 11th such aircraft NSW donors had provided. The aircraft carried the inscription “N.S.W. No. 11, The Macintyre Kavuga Estate “under the rear cockpit.
This aircraft was at one stage flown by Captain Ross Smith, later Sir Ross Smith, K.B.E., M.C. and Bar, D.F.C. and two Bars, A.F.C. Smith scored 11 of his 12 enemy victories in this machine in the Middle East between Sept 1917 and October 1918. Smith served in No1 Squadron AFC and whilst there flew as Lawrence of Arabia’s pilot on several occasions in the F.2B. He (also a Gallipoli veteran) survived the war and took part in several record flights (For which he and his brother Keith were knighted) however he was killed in crash in the UK in April 1922.
Fortunately color photos exist of AFC No1 Sqn F.2B’s and even one of Smith in front of an F.2B although not B1229, as seen in this article.
Smith’s 12 victories in AFC No1 Sqn were:
B1229 was also flown by several other Australians and is said to have a total record of 20 Victories. Pilots flying this aircraft are said to have achieved 17 decorations.
The mystery surrounding the eventual fate of B1229 is unresolved. In a circa 1930 book “Aces and Kings” it states the aircraft was to be in the collection of the Australian War Memorial, however there is no record of it since. Another F.2B B1284 was also brought back to Australia post war with two German aircraft but all of these machines have also disappeared over time. It was not unknown for the AWM and the RAAF to dispose of surplus historic material.
At least 7 and possibly 9 Australian Aces flew the Bristol Fighter and it was a very effective type and highly regarded by the AFC and the opposing German pilots.
Most No 1 Squadron Bristol Fighters were equipped with 4 blade propellers as they worked better than the two blade units in the desert environment. All of the operational aircraft of 1 and 3 Sqns flew with the Rolls Royce Falcon, an aero engine developed in 1915. It was a smaller version of the Rolls-Royce Eagle a liquid cooled V-12 of 867 cu in (14.2 L) capacity. The versions used were the Mk1 and Mk111.
No 7 Training Sqn based at Leighterton, Gloucestershire, UK utilized 11 F.2Bs mostly powered by the 200hp Sunbeam Arab engine.
The Bristol Fighter was also fitted with 2 alternate engines as supplies of the Rolls Royce Falcon were scarce:
- 200 hp (150 kW) Sunbeam Arab piston engine
- 200 hp (150 kW) Hispano-Suiza engine
Australia surrendered all its Bristol Fighters at wars end and none joined the RAAF in Australia although a number came to Australia as the civil Bristol Tourer passenger aircraft operated by Western Australia Airways. Two replica flying Bristol Tourers were constructed for film work in Australia in the 1980s and both survive – one at Oakey Queensland, restored as a F.2B, painted to represent one of the aircraft operated by the Army’s No. 1 Squadron in Palestine – C4623 and one still in Bristol Tourer state in a Western Australian Museum.
Recently a F.2B flying replica has been imported into Australia from New Zealand and it was announced that it will operate at Caboolture Queensland with the colors of AFC B1229.
A number of original and replica Bristol Fighters fly globally as well as a few in museums including:
- The Shuttleworth Collection contains one airworthy F.2B Fighter, identity D8096
- The Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Rockcliffe, Ontario, D-7889
- The New Zealand film director Peter Jackson owns D-8084, which flies from the Hood Aerodrome in Masterton, New Zealand. The Aviation Heritage Centre in Omaka, N.Z holds a second original fuselage (although this may have been rebuilt into a replica recently).
On Static display:
- A Bristol F.2B Fighter preserved at the Imperial War Museum Duxford
Substantially original aircraft are on static display at the:
- Royal Air Force Museum London
- Imperial War Museum Duxford
- Museo del Aire, Madrid
- VAF, Old Kingsbury, Texas
- Musée Royal de l’Armée, Brussels
- Polish Aviation Museum, Krakow
In addition, there is a large portion of wing structure of F.2B in storage at the RAF Museum London.
Engineers at Rolls-Royce, Airbus and GKN Aerospace-Filton have also built a full-scale replica F.2B in celebration of 100 years of aircraft manufacture at Filton Bristol, where the original fighters were designed and built.
So the Bristol Fighter was a great success for Australia and served us well in WWI and has an enviable record.
© John Parker 2015