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(Blériot Experimental 2c)

The BE2c was built by the Royal Aircraft Factory as a reconnaissance aircraft that seated a pilot and an observer. This plane had both good and bad points but it is mainly its bad points that are remembered today due to its very rough handling by the increasingly sophisticated German fighter aircraft of late 1915 and 1916.

Th eBE2c was powered by a relatively small and unreliable engine which meant that it was a relatively slow plane with a poor rate of climb, low ceiling (maximum operational height) and little or no reserve of power for defensive acrobatics. It also had a limited endurance, especially if heavily loaded. The original BE2c had two cockpits with the pilot sitting behind the observer/gunner. The observer’s position, thus lay under the main (upper) wing giving him a poor field of view and also a poor position to fire a defensive machine gun from.

The BE2c did, however, have some admirable qualities which included its flying characteristics. It was a relatively easy plane to fly and very stable which made it a good reconnaissance/photographic platform. Its stability also meant that a machine gun could also be used from it with a fair degree of accuracy. and also. It was also surprisingly capable of fairly intricate acrobatics, albeit rather sedate. Later in world War I it would become a very useful training aircraft.

Despite being outclassed in the skies over Flanders the BE2c was still to make a name for itself as a night fighter with the home defence forces, which included the flight of 39 Squadron flying out of Sutton’s Farm.. As a night fighter the BE2c flew with only a pilot, the observer’s position being occupied by an extra fuel tank. The changes allowed a modest increase in the aircraft’s top speed and maximum operational altitude which just about allowed it to be able to intercept German airships.

Initially attacks were made on the airships from above using explosive darts or even bombs but with no success. Success only came when the BE2c was fitted with a Lewis machine gun angled upwards and firing incendiary (Pommeroy and Bock) ammunition. Typically an airship would be attacked from below, a tactic that was also to be used to great effect on allied bombers by German night fighter pilots during World War II.

The BE2c’s moment of glory came at the hands of lieutenants Leefe Robinson, Sowrey and Tempest who each shot down a German airship whilst flying one of these aircraft. It’s fame was, however short lived, as by mid 1917 it was totally outclassed by faster, higher flying and more heavily armed German bombers that replaced the airships as the main aerial threat to Britain.

Examples of this type of aircraft can be seen at the Imperial War Museum (Air Collection) at Duxford and at the RAF Museum at Hendon. Miraculously the BE2c in which Frederick Sowrey shot down Zeppelin L32 is also still preserved in Canada.

Type: Reconnaissance and night fighter
Crew: 2 as reconnaissance plane, one as a night fighter
Powerplant 90 hp Royal Aircraft Factory in line
Maximum Speed (Night Fighter) c 90 mph
Maximum Altitude (Night Fighter) c 13,000 feet
Range: c 200 miles
Armament: 1 x .303”/7.7 mm Lewis Gun firing at an upward angle over wing. And/or a selection of bombs or explosive darts.

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