About two years after it dispensed with the services of Dunne and Cody, the War Office began to realise that it might be cheaper to build its own aeroplanes than to buy them. So it renamed the Balloon Factory the Army Aircraft Factory (later Royal Aircraft Factory) and began by rebuilding crashed aircraft. Some of the "rebuilds" were rather ex-tensive, under the influence of young designers like Geoffircy de Havilland. From the B.E.1 in 1912, was developed the very similar B.E.2, with 70 h.p. Renault. Several were built and Geoffirey de Havilland took one along to Salisbury Plain to measure its performance against the machines entered for the Military Trials. It was clearly the best aircraft there, but was not allowed to compete officially, being an official Product. This made little difference, for it was ordered just the same and led to the whole B.E.2 series.
The B.E. designation at first indicated 'Bleriot Experimental', Louis Bleriot being credited with having originated the tractor-engined aeroplane. With the appearance of aircraft from the Royal Aircraft Establishment it was taken to mean 'British Experimental'.
The original B.E. was designed by and built under the supervision of Geoffrey de Havilland, later Capt de Havilland of the RFC and chief designer for the Airraft Manufacturing Company. A later type of the same general design was the B.E.2, a tandem two-seat biplane with incredibly stable flying characteristics which, in several versions, was employed throughout World War I as a reconnaissance aircraft.
Established a British altitude record of 10,560 ft at Lark Hill (Salisbury Plain) piloted by de Havilland. In August 1912 de Havilland's BE.2, basically the B.E.1 with a more powerful engine, bettered the per-formance of Cody's 120 h.p. Austro-Daimler--engined biplane, the official winner of the War Office Military Aeroplane Competition.
The first version to enter service with the RFC was the B.E.2a, built in very small numbers and the first aircraft to reach France at the outbreak of World War I. Flying alongside a Bleriot monoplane, a B.E.2a made the first RFC reconnaissance over German lines on 19 August 1914.
The first version built in reasonable numbers was the B.E.2b. It was produced by outside contractors from 1914. It had an improved fuselage giving the crew a little more 'comfort' and the arrangement of the elevators and rudder controls was revised. Wing warping was retained for lateral control and the 70hp Renault engine was kept as standard. Development continued and eventually wing warping was replaced by ailerons.
In August 1914 three squadrons equipped with this reconnaissance and light bomber were immediately sent to France on the outbreak of the First World War. The early BE2a and 2b aircraft remained in operational service into 1915. When withdrawn from squadron service they were transferred to flying training establishments.
It is impossible to say how many BE2, 2a and 2b aircraft were built because of the early practice of rebuilding damaged aircraft but it is thought to be in the order of 150.
With modifications to enhance the inherent stability of the basic design, the B.E.2c was developed in 1914 and many of the 1,216 of this variant built were to serve with various ad hoc armament installations from April 1915. The B.E.2c was a two-bay biplane with unstaggered equispan wings, a conventional tail unit with separate fin, rudder, tailplane and elevators, and an undercarriage incorporating skids to help prevent nose-overs. Wing dihedral was introduced. The 70hp Renault eight-cylinder Vee-type engine powered early production aircraft, but the 90hp RAF la eight cylinder Vee-type soon became standard. Construction of the B.E.2c was of wood throughout, with fabric covering. A variety of mounts was evolved for a single 7.7mm Lewis machine gun in the observer's (front) cockpit, primarily for self-defence.
More specifically to serve as a fighter with Home Defence squadrons of the RFC and the RNAS, numerous B.E.2c's were modified as single-seaters, armament comprising a single Lewis gun mounted to fire upwards behind the wing centre section or, in some cases, on the side of the fuselage alongside the cockpit, angled outwards to clear the propeller disc. Flying by night, despite a lack of nocturnal flight aids, B.E.2c's shot down five raiding Zeppelins over the UK during 1916. B.E.2c's were also used for a number of armament experiments.
About 1300 were built, 111 sub-contracted to Blackburn in Leeds.
First flown in February 1916 and destined to be built in larger numbers than the B.E.2c, the B.E.2e differed from the former in having single bay wings of unequal span and a new tailplane. Provision was made for extra fuel in a tank under the port upper wing and for dual controls, but the former was seldom fitted. The large upper wing overhang was braced from inverted-Vee kingposts above the interplane struts, and the standard engine remained the 90hp RAF la, as the 105hp RAF lb that was intended to be used in the B.E.2e did not reach production. From production totalling 1,320 aircraft (plus some B.E.2c and 2d conversions), B.E.2e's were issued to 11 Home Defence squadrons of the RFC (as well as many units on the Western Front and elsewhere). Like the B.E.2c, the 2e often carried a single Lewis gun in the front cockpit, for which assorted mountings were available. An alternative armament tried by some of the Home Defence aircraft for anti-Zeppelin patrols comprised a quartet of Le Prieur rockets, the launching rails for which were attached to the interplane struts, two each side and angled upwards.
With the B.E.2d/e in service, the B.E.2c (and earlier versions) was flown as a training aircraft, and a number were employed successfully at home in attacking airships and used on other fronts.
Little success was achieved by the B.E.2e as a fighter, its performance being inadequate for aerial combat by 1916, and heavy losses were suffered by the RFC squadrons flying the type in France. Retroactively, the designations B.E.2f and B.E.2g were applied to distinguish, respectively, between those B.E.2e's converted from 2c's and those built as 2e's or converted from 2d's, as their fuel systems and capacities were significantly different.
1,793 B.E.2a, b, c and d and 1,801 B.E.2e aircraft were built by over 20 contractors including Vickers and Ruston,Proctor & Co Ltd, in a variety of models with few visible differences. The last model was about 5km/h faster than the first. They were, used for reconnaissance and bombing throughout most of the 1914-18 War. Unfortunately, the quality that made them safe and easy to fly-their inherent stability-helped to make them death -traps for their crews, because they lacked the manoeuvrability to dodge enemy fighters. It proved a sitting duck and was the main victim during the so-called 'Fokker Scourge' which lasted the winter of 1915-16 and again during 'Bloody April' in 1917.
The Vintage Aviator Ltd / TVAL Be.2
Engine: 1 x 70-h.p. Renault
Span: 38 ft 7.5in
Length 29 ft. 6.5 in.
Wing area 374 sq. ft
Weight empty about 1,300 lb
Loaded wt: 1,650 lb
Speed: 72 mph
Endurance: 3 hrs
Engine: 1 x 70-h.p. Renault
Span: 38 ft 7.5in
Loaded wt: 1,600 lb
Speed: 70 mph
Engine: 1 x 70-h.p. Renault
Span: 38ft 7.5in
Engine: 1 x 90-h.p. R.A.F. la.
Wingspan: 11.23 m / 37 ft 10 in
Wing area: 36.79 sq.m / 396.00 sq ft
Length: 8.30 m / 27 ft 3 in
Height: 3.45 m / 11 ft 4 in
Max take-off weight: 972 kg / 2143 lb
Empty weight: 621 kg / 1369 lb
Max. speed: 116 km/h / 72 mph at 6500 ft
Service ceiling: 10,000 ft
Climb to 6500 ft: 20 min
Endurance: 3 hr 15 min
Armament: 1 x Lewis gun
Engine: 1 x 90-h.p. R.A.F.1a
Span: 36ft 10in
Loaded wt: 1,950 lb
Speed: 89 mph
Engine: 1 x 90-h.p / 67kW R.A.F.la.
Max take-off weight: 953 kg / 2101 lb
Empty weight: 649 kg / 1431 lb
Wingspan: 12.42 m / 41 ft 9 in
Length: 8.31 m / 27 ft 3 in
Height: 3.66 m / 12 ft 0 in
Wing area: 33.44 sq.m / 359.94 sq ft
Max. speed: 145 km/h / 90 mph
Ceiling: 2745 m / 9000 ft
Armament: 1 x 7.7mm machine-gun
Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c