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
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