The next fighter after the F.E.2 in the F.E. line was the F.E.8 of 1915. Resembling the D.H.2, but designed before the de Havilland fighter, the F.E.8 was another two-bay pusher biplane. Designed under the direction of John Kenworthy, the F.E.8 was the first single-seat fighter evolved at Farnborough.
Of pusher configuration to allow an uninterrupted forward field of fire for the 7.7mm Lewis gun, the F.E.8 was a two-bay equi-span biplane with a short fuselage nacelle to accommodate the gun, the pilot and a 100hp Gnome Monosoupape nine-cylinder rotary engine, and four slender booms to carry the cruciform tail unit. Construction of the nacelle was of welded steel-tube with aluminium sheet covering; the wings and tail unit used conventional wooden spars and ribs with fabric covering.
The prototype F.E.8 had a 100-hp Gnome Monosoupe engine and was armed with a remote controlled Lewis firing through the nose of the all-metal nacelle. This installation proved troublesome, however, and production of F.E.8s had the gun mounted at eye level. The first of two prototypes was flown on 15 October 1915 at Farnborough.
The prototype's service trials, beginning in December 1915, were successful, but production F.E.8s did not appear until May 1916. Trials with the second prototype in France in late 1915 led to a change in the gun installation, which was mounted within the nacelle nose and could be moved through a limited range by means of a control in the cockpit. Production F.E.8s, which began to appear in May and June 1916 from the factories of Darracq Motor Engineering at Fulham and Vickers at Weybridge, had a more practical gun mounting on the nose immediately ahead of the cockpit.
Production totalled 220 by Darracq and 50 by Vickers.
147 were sent to France from August 1916 and only two RFC squadrons, 40 and 41, were fully equipped with F.E.8s. The second of these did not arrive in France until October 1916, by which time, in spite of some early successes, the type was completely outclassed by contemporary German fighters: the first production F.E.8 was shot down within a week of its arrival on June 22.
Trial installations of the 110hp Le Rhone and 110hp Clerget engines were made, but the Monosoupape remained the standard fit.
On March 9, 1917, nine F.E.8s of 40 Squadron were attacked by Manfred von Richthofen's Jasta 11. Four were shot down, another four forced to land, and the pilot of the ninth was wounded and crash landed. In spite of this disaster, the last F.E.8s were not withdrawn until July 1917, one of their final operational uses being in ground strafing during the battle of Messines in June of that year.
Engine: 1 x 100-h.p. Gnome Mono
Span: 9.6 m (31 ft 6 in)
Length: 7.21 m / 24 ft 8 in
Height: 2.79 m / 9 ft 2 in
Wing area: 20.25 sq.m / 217.97 sq ft
Gross weight: 610.5 kg (1346 lb)
Empty weight: 406 kg / 895 lb
Maximum speed: 151 kph (94 mph)
Ceiling: 4636 m / 15200 ft
Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.8