The Bristol Beaufighter 

Great Britain
Great Britain

side view front view under view

Although not as famous as other fighters, this two-engined puppy delivered quite some lead to the Luftwaffe and German targets.
The Bristol development team interpreted the political situation in Europe during 1938 correctly. Using the design of their newly developed light bomber type 152, a.k.a. Beaufort, they started building a heavy fighter to be used for day- and night fighterroles, the first a single-seater, the second a two-seater. The name was derived from the term "Beaufort Fighter".

Versions:

Further pictures:

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Technical data on the Bristol Beaufighter Mk IF
Powerplant 2 × Bristol Hercules XI radials, rated 1,560 hp (1163 kW) each, or 2 × Bristol Hercules III radials, rated at 1615 hp (1203.97 kW) each Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Night-Fighter
  • Long range (attack) Fighter
  • Anti-shipping Aircraft
Length 41 ft 4 inch Height 15 ft 10 inch
Empty weight 14069 lb Operational weight 21100 lb max
Wing Span 57 ft 10 inch Wing Aspect ratio 6.65
Wing Area 503 sq ft Service ceiling 26500 ft
Maximum speed 323 mph at 15000 ft Cruising speed 272 mph at 15000 ft
Initial climb rate 1,850 ft per min at sea level,
Climb to 20,000 ft in 14 min 6 sec
Range 1170 miles typical,
1500 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 550 Imp gal (660 US gal) Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns 6 × 0.303 inch fixed forward firing in wing leading edges: 2 to port and 4 to starboard, 1000 rounds each Cannons 4 × 20 mm Hispano fixed forward-firing in the underside of the nose, 240 rounds each
Bomb load - Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 2: pilot, radio/radar operator Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 17 July 1939 Operational Service July 1940 - 1960
Manufacturer Bristol Aeroplane Co. Ltd. Number produced 5584 total, 553 this version
Metric system
Length 12.6 m Height 4.83 m
Empty weight 6382 kg Operational weight 9571 kg max
Wing Span 17.63 m Wing Aspect ratio 6.65
Wing Area 46.73 m² Service ceiling 8077 m
Maximum speed 520 km/h at 4572 m Cruising speed 438 km/h at 4572 m
Initial climb rate 564 m per min at sea level,
Climb to 6095 m in 14 min 6 sec
Range 1883 km typical,
2414 km max
Fuel capacity internal 2500 liters Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns 6 × 7.7 mm fixed forward firing in wing leading edges: 2 to port and 4 to starboard, 1000 rounds each Cannons 4 × 20 mm Hispano fixed forward-firing in the underside of the nose, 240 rounds each
Bomb load - Torpedoes/rockets -

Technical data on the Bristol Beaufighter TF.Mk X
Powerplant 2 × Bristol Hercules XVII radials, rated at 1770 hp (1319.52 kW) each Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Night-Fighter
  • Long range (attack) Fighter
  • Torpedo Bomber
  • U-boat Destroyer
  • Anti-shipping Aircraft
Length 41 ft 8 inch Height 15 ft 10 inch
Empty weight 15600 lb Operational weight 25400 lb max
Wing Span 57 ft 10 inch Wing Aspect ratio 6.65
Wing Area 503 sq ft Service ceiling 19000 ft
Maximum speed 318 mph at 10000 ft Cruising speed 249 mph at 4000 ft
Initial climb rate 1,600 ft per min Range 1470 miles typical,
1810 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 624 Imp gal (749 US gal) Fuel capacity external 200 Imp gal (240 US gal) in one overload tank carried on torpedo shackles
Machine guns 1 × 0.303 inch trainable rearward-firing in the dorsal position Cannons 4 × 20 mm Hispano fixed forward-firing in the underside of the nose, 283 rounds each
Bomb load Up to 2,450 lb on three hardpoints, generally consisting of 1 torpedo plus 2 × 250 lb bombs or rockets Torpedoes/rockets 1 × Torpedo of 1,650 lb or 2,127 lb. 8 × 90 lb rockets in stead of bombs
Crew 2: pilot, radio operator/radar operator/gunner Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 17 July 1939 Operational Service July 1940 - 1960
Manufacturer Bristol Aeroplane Co. Ltd. Number produced 5584 total, 2205 this version
Metric system
Length 12.7 m Height 4.83 m
Empty weight 7076 kg Operational weight 11521 kg max
Wing Span 17.63 m Wing Aspect ratio 6.65
Wing Area 46.73 m² Service ceiling 5791 m
Maximum speed 512 km/h at 3048 m Cruising speed 401 km/h at 1219 m
Initial climb rate 488 m per min Range 2366 km typical,
2913 km max
Fuel capacity internal 2837 liters Fuel capacity external 909 liters in one overload tank carried on torpedo shackles
Machine guns 1 × 7.7 mm trainable rearward-firing in the dorsal position Cannons 4 × 20 mm Hispano fixed forward-firing in the underside of the nose, 283 rounds each
Bomb load Up to 1111 kg on three hardpoints, generally consisting of 1 torpedo plus 2 × 113 kg bombs or rockets Torpedoes/rockets 1 × Torpedo of 748 kg or 965 kg. 8 × 41 kg rockets in stead of bombs

Here is a quick overview of all different versions, without the full technical specifications:

Different versions of the Bristol Beaufighter 
Bristol Beaufighter Mk IF The Bristol Beaufighter was the result of foresight of Bristol, and based on the Bristol Beaufort bomber. The idea was to create a heavy fighter type, capable of multiple roles. The design succeeded remarkably well, for the Beaufighter turned out to be an excellent plane, able to fulfil it's roles better than expected. The aircraft was desperately needed when it entered service, and instantly showed remarkable results. In the same month that the Beaufighter entered service, the first models were fitted with the AI Mk IV Air Interception radar. For details see above.
Number built: 553
Bristol Beaufighter Mk IC The Beaufighter Mk I was redesignated Mk IF to show it's night-fighter role after the Mk IC entered service. While the Mk IF was primarily meant to act in the night-fighter scene, the Mk IC was meant to act as a long-range day fighter. In order to operate over great distances and the resulting necessity for navigation, the aircraft received a second station to accomodate a navigator, and increased fuel capacity. These additional tanks were first situated in the lower fuselage, but later placed in the vacated room of 2 of the wing based guns.
After the German Night bombing campaign was defeated, the RAF had an abundant number of night fighters. Because of the extension of Germany of their fronts to the Mediteranean, North Africa and Balkan, RAF Coastal command found they needed long-range attack aircraft. Another difference with the Mk IF was the direction finding system in stead of the radar
Number built: 397
Bristol Beaufighter Mk IIF Because the British feared that the Bristol Hercules powerplants needed for the Beaufighter would be in short supply they started on another version, with different powerplants. The result was the Mk IIF, very similar to the Mk I fighters. The powerplants were Rolls Royce Merlin XX inverted-vee, rated at 1,280 hp (954 kW) each. It had the same dimensions as the Mk I, except for the slightly increased length to 13.03 m (42 ft 9 inch). Also the weight was slightly less: 6169 kg (13,600 lb) empty, takeoff typical 9203 kg (20,290 lb).
Number built: 450
Bristol Beaufighter Mk VIF Essentially a Mk I, it was fitted with 2 Bristol Hercules VI radials, rated at 1670 hp. Later models of this version were fitted with the slightly more powerfull Bristol Hercules XVI, rated 1,675 hp (1245 kW). The latter powerplants had a fully automatic mixture carburetor. This plane was a night fighter development, fitted with the AI.Mk VII radar, later even the AI.Mk VIII. It's armament were 4 × 20 mm canons, and 6 wing mounted 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) machineguns. As the German attacks slowly decreased the Mk VIF was more and more used in a Night fighter/attacking role, until relieved by the De Havilland Mosquito and the Northrop P-61 Black Widow.
Number built: 1079
Bristol Beaufighter Mk VIC Like the Mk VIF relates to the Mk IF, the Mk VIC relates to the Mk IC. It's powerplants were the Bristol Hercules VI. Provisions were made to be able to replace the 6 wing mounted machine guns with extra fuel tanks, increasing the range. Later aircraft received hardpoint under the wings, where bombs or rockets could be placed. Especially the rockets were very effective in devasting the German shipping.
Number built: 693
Bristol Beaufighter Mk VIC (ITF) Before the rockets became available anti-shipping duties were carried out using torpedoes. The British Air Ministry asked Bristol to adopt the Beaufighter to replace the Beuafort in this role, because of it's smaller crew and better performance. The torpedo to be used was a standard 18 inch (457 mm) torpedo, weight 1,650 lb (748 kg). The Mk VI ITF (Interim Torpedo Fighter) received Airbrakes to give it a steadier approach to the release point. In just 2 weeks Bristol had modified an existing Mk VI which could also carry the American standard torpedo: 22.5 inch (571 mm), weight 2,127 lb (964 kg)
Number built: 50
Bristol Beaufighter TF.Mk X Although the Mk VI ITF was the perfect replacement for the Bristol Beaufort, crews still felt the engines were not optimally suited for the altitudes the plane was to fly at. Bristol then developed the Bristol Hercules XVII from a VI model, with the supercharger locked in medium state, and cropped impeller blades. Apart from that it received more ammo for their cannons, and a flexible rearward firing 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) machinegun for improved defence. This type was also fitted with radar: the AI.Mk VIII. This radar was able to locate submarines and ships. This model played an important role in the later stages of the War, when marauding groups of Beaufighters attacked German ships in 2 waves: the first wave would destroy any AAA to clear the path for the second wave. Then both waves would complete the task with their cannons and rockets. For further details see above.
Number built: 2205
Bristol Beaufighter TF.Mk 10 Post war redesignation of the Bristol Beaufighter TF.Mk X
Redesignated aircraft
Bristol Beaufighter TT.Mk 10 As an after-war development, Bristol converted some 36 TF.Mk X's for target towing. They were stripped from armament and armour.
Number converted: 36
Bristol Beaufighter Mk XIC Essentially the same as the TF.Mk X, this version had it's hardpoints for torpedoes removed.
Number built: 163
DAP Beaufighter Mk 21 Australian version of the Beaufighter. Concerned with the number of aircraft Britain could deliver, Australia decided to built them theirselves. Because it was feared that also the powerplants would be in short supply, they decided to place the Wright GR-2600-A5B Cyclone. In fact, it turned out that the supply of Hercules powerplants were sufficient. Further developments of the DAP Beaufighter resulted in this version: the 6 × 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) guns were replaced by 4 × 0.50 inch (12 mm) guns, and a provision was made for a Sperry autopilot. The torpedo hardpoints and radar were removed.
Number built: 364

Remarks:

Filling a gap in just the right moment, the Beaufighter saved the day, or rather, night. The German night-bombing campaign was crippled with important help of this aircraft, and never regained it's momentum again. After the Luftwaffe was essentially defeated the Beaufighter extended it's operational role in the way of marauding attack aircraft, hitting the German shipping hard. It never got the name and fame it deserved.

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Weaknesses:

 

 

© by Frans Bonné, 2000
Last revision: 9/20/00