Warbirds Online continues its series on the Australian Flying Corps.(AFC) machines of WWI with a feature on the famous Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8.
The R.E.8 (Reconnaissance Experimental 8), a British two-seat biplane, was the result of a line of aircraft developed by the Royal Aircraft Factory in the UK for use as a reconnaissance type; however it also saw service as a bomber and also as a ground attack aircraft. The aircraft was generally well liked, but was fairly described as “lumbering” in terms of performance. The type served in large numbers in the AFC and RFC and even achieved 3 Royal Flying Corps. (RFC) Aces, which considering its modest performance and purpose was quite an achievement.
The AFC was a large user in relative terms of the R.E.8. The type flew in the Middle East with 1 Sqn AFC where 11 of the aircraft were used over the course of WWI in very difficult circumstances with heat and dust as common enemies. Perhaps the most famous AFC user of the R.E.8 was 3 Sqn AFC on the Western Front, who utilized the nickname “Harry Tates” for the aircraft (nicknamed after a famous music hall performer of the time). No3 Sqn used a total of 103 aircraft of the type according to records researched by Keith Isaacs, in his book Military Aircraft of Australia 1909-1918 and this seems to be borne out through various databases secured from UK official records.
A very hard working aircraft on the Western Front and by all accounts reliable in the Hands of the AFC pilots, the aircraft delivered much valuable reconnaissance information and took part in bombing and ground attack missions. The aircraft was also not always as vulnerable to enemy aircraft with several German and Turkish machines shot down by AFC pilots.
One very tragic and bizarre incident involved an R.E.8 crewed by Lieutenant J L M Sandy (pilot) and Sergeant H F Hughes (observer) of 3 Sqn AFC. The aircraft was involved in a dogfight with two other R.E.8s of the Sqn when it was attacked by six Albatros D.Va fighters and succeed in damaging one of them which landed in allied lines and is now on display in the Australian War Memorial. Sandy and Hughes appeared to break off the fight and continue their patrol however they did not return to base. The next day the aircraft was found, gently crash landed 80Klm away. Both occupants had died from a single German bullet during the fight.
The last user of the R.E.8 in the AFC was 7 Sqn at Leighterton in Gloucestershire UK as part of 1 Training Wing AFC, where 20 of the aircraft were used to train AFC pilots. In total at least 134 R.E.8 machines were used by the AFC however the records are incomplete and more could have been used. In addition Australians flying in the RFC also flew the type.
Post war, the R.E.8 was not a desirable aircraft and despite over 4,000 being produced they were quickly scrapped and very few survived. In modern times only two original airframes are thought to remain – F3556 at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and a Hispano-Suiza engine version in Belgium at Aviation Militaire Belge. The Vintage Aviator in New Zealand have constructed a number of extremely accurate replicas (believed to be 3 at present), one of which utilized some original parts as patterns and flew for a short time before being placed on display at the RAF Museum Hendon UK.
The Vintage Aviator‘s reproduction Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 ZK-RES2 is apparently in the process of being sold to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook in Victoria. The aircraft is currently located at Point Cook along with The Vintage Aviator’s reproduction SE 5A ZK-SES , both aircraft were flown at the Avalon International Air Show earlier this year.
The Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8. is no “beauty Queen” but an honest workhorse of the Australian Flying Corps.
Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 Specifications
- Country: Great Britain Manufacturer: Royal Aircraft Factory
- Type: Reconnaissance/Bomber
- Entered Service: Autumn 1916
- Number Built: 4,099
- Engine(s): Royal Aircraft Factory 4a, 12 cylinder, air-cooled, inline V, 150 hp
- Wing Span: 42 ft 7 in (12.98 m)
- Length: 27 ft 10.5 in (8.5 m)
- Height: 11 ft 4.5 in (3.47 m)
- Empty Weight:
- Gross Weight: 2,678 lb (1,215 kg)
- Max Speed: 103 mph (166 km/h) at 5,000 ft (1,524 m)
- Ceiling: 13,500 ft (4,115 m)
- Endurance: 4 hr 15 min
- Crew: 2
- Armament: 2-3 machine guns
- 260 lb (112.8 kg) of bombs
B&W images are courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.
© John Parker 2015