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Note: This is a sub-section of Royal Aircraft Factory.
The F.E.8 was a single-seat biplane designed by John Kenworthy.
Like the DH.2, the F.E.8 was designed as a pusher in order to provide a forward firing machine gun mount at a time when no interrupter gear was available to arm a tractor aircraft in the same way. Although a clean and well designed little aeroplane, it could not escape the drag penalty imposed by its tail structure and was no match for the Halberstadt and Albatros fighters of late 1916.
The nacelle was, most unusually for the time, an all-metal structure – being framed in steel tube and covered with duralumin. The prototypes were initially each fitted with a large pointed propeller spinner, while the Lewis gun was fitted on a movable mount within the nose of the nacelle. For production machines the spinner was omitted, and the gun was mounted directly in front of the pilot, in the manner of the DH.2.
The new fighter was not a great improvement on the DH.2 – although a little faster it did not handle quite so well. Designed by John Kenworthy, it was powered by the 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape, 110 hp Le Rhone 9J or the 110 hp Clerget 9Z engines.
It first flew on 15th October 1915 by Frank Widenham Goodden and was into production from Darracq and Vickers. Neither manufacturer delivered their FE8s particularly quickly, so that it ended up reaching the front in numbers six months later than the DH.2.
Two F.E.8s were issued to No. 29 Squadron RFC, a D.H.2 unit, in June 1916, but it was not until August that No. 40 Squadron became fully operational on the type. The only other unit to fly the type, No. 41 Squadron, arrived in France in October.
After a fairly good start, the F.E.8 units quickly ran into problems with the new German fighters. On the 9th of March 1917 nine F.E.8 of No. 40 Squadron had a dogfight with five Albatros D.IIIs of Jagdstaffel 11, led by Manfred von Richthofen himself. Four F.E.8s were shot down, four others badly damaged, and the survivor caught fire when landing.
After this disaster No. 40 Squadron was re-equipped with Nieuports and No. 41 restricted to ground attack duties. No. 41 actually kept their pushers until July 1917 – becoming the last pusher fighter squadron in France.
Two F.E.8s were sent to Home Defence units in 1917, but the type was not adopted as a home defence fighter.
A total of 295 were built and it remained in service until July 1917.