Profile Publications No. 137 The Bristol Beaufighter I & II

Tlie Bristol Beaufigliter I&II b y P h i lip J.R .Mo yes Beaufightcr IF X7583, a product o f the “shadow factory" at MOld ixon, near Weston-super-Mare, seen with test pilot Ronnie Ellison in 1941. (Photo: The Aeroplane) “ I pulled the hutch open, dropped down onto the ground, and walked uround to the front o f the aircraft. She was good, whichever way you looked at it, sturdy and aggressive, although perhaps a hit heavy. But the two gigantic Hercules engines with which she was powered, air cooled and close cowled, with their huge propellers, sweeping through a wide arc, could surely lift anything. From the tip o f that forked aerial at the nose to her shapely rudder she was a beauty. /knew thut somehow, as gunner, powder monkey, operator, or stowaway, it did not matter which, I ju s thad to fly in her." (The late C.F. (Jimmy) Rawnsley, famous wartime navigator to John Cunningham, in “Night Fighter ”first published by Collins, London, 1957). Routed by Hurricanes and Spitfires in the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe turned tonight bombing. Defeat again overtook it. A principal agent in this second reverse was the Beaufighter which, armed with four cannon and six machine-guns, and carrying radar “eyes” that could penetrate the darkness, took atoll of the raiders heavier than they could sustain. Night interception was but the first of the Beau's successes. It later defended bombers on anti­submarine patrol, made day and night intruder raids, harassed retreating enemy columns in North Africa and Italy, became fighter-bombcr, rocket fighter (“Rockbeau”) and finally torpedo aircraft (“Torbeau”)—spearhead of the paralysing attacks on German shipping which marked the closing months of the war in Europe. The Japanese too knew the Beaufighter. Because of its near-silent, low-level approach they called it “Whispering Death”. The Beaufighter was first conceived during the 1938 Munich Crisis when the Bristol Aeroplane Company recognised the R.A.F.'s obvious and urgent need for a long-range fighter of decisive striking power. Tests on the Beaufort torpedo-bomber proved it to have so great a reserve of structural strength and stiffness that it was immediately seen that the wings, nacelles, undercarriage and tail would be suitable for an aircraft of much greater speed and manoeuvrability in fact in the fighter class. Accordingly, the Bristol design team under Mr. L.G. Frise, produced, as a private venture, a cannon­ armed fighter derivative which could be assembled on the same jigs so that production could be switched, at short notice, from one to the other. This fighter, of course, required more powerful engines than the 1,000 h.p. Bristol Taurus of the Beaufort and these were already in production in the 1,500 h.p. Bristol Hercules. These bigger engines required larger diameter propellers, and to obtain the necessary ground clearance they were mounted centrally on the wing instead of underslung as were the Beaufort's Taurus engines. And initially they were mounted on the standard Beaufort nacelles and undercarriages. The use of large propellers also meant that the nose of the new fighter had to be shortened until it was behind and clear of them. The same pick-up fittings as for the Beaufort were used to bolt the new fuselage on the wings, above which the fuselage was narrowed off to the well-known Beaufighter shape. The rear of the fuselage tapered down to make use of the identical stern end of fuselage complete with retractable tail wheel and identical tailplane, fin and rudder of the Beaufort. Although it was felt in some quarters that this new fighter was unnecessarily large, the proposition was well received by the Air Staff and Bristol's were authorised to build four prototypes detail design began on 16th November, 1938. At the same time 3
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