Although the F.E.2b became obsolete as a day-fighter it's rugged and reliable design found a new niche as a tactical night bomber and as a home defence night fighter to combat the "Zeppelin" bombing raids becoming an increasing problem over Britain. The main conversion needed for night operations was to paint the aircraft black as pictures above, although successful as a night bomber lack of power resulted in the F.E.2b taking too long to reach interception altitude, trials were initiated using the 250hp Rolls Royce Eagle engine as the F.E.2d the newer single seat "Tractor" fighters proved better in this role, whoever the F.E.2b remained successful as a night bomber until the end of WW1 at which time the aircraft was retired from RFC service.
Although the F.E.2 series aircraft were designed by the Royal Aircraft Factory they only built a small number of the aircraft, the vast majority of the 1,939 aircraft built were built by various British contactors and most of these as day-fighters. Although most F.E.2s were operated by the RFC in WWI a small number were operated by the Australian Flying Corps and the American Expeditionary Force. After WW1 Vickers sold 35 modified F.E.2 aircraft to China as trainers in 1919.
It is of note that Flight Sgt. Mottershead was awarded the only V.C. awarded to a non-commissioned RFC officer during the First World War. This occurred following an engagement with German fighter ace Walter Göttsch.
"For most conspicuous bravery, endurance and skill, when attacked at an altitude of 9,000 feet; the petrol tank was pierced and the machine set on fire. Enveloped in flames, which his Observer, Lt. Gower was unable to subdue, this very gallant soldier succeeded in bringing his aeroplane back to our lines, and though he made a successful landing, the machine collapsed on touching the ground, pinning him beneath wreckage from which he was subsequently rescued. Though suffering extreme torture from burns, Sgt. Mottershead showed the most conspicuous presence of mind in the careful selection of a landing place, and his wonderful endurance and fortitude undoubtedly saved the life of his Observer. He has since succumbed to his injuries."
Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b Specifications:
- Crew: Pilot & observer
- Length: 32 ft 3 in (9.83 m)
- Wingspan: 47 ft 9 in (14.55 m)
- Height: 12 ft 8 in (3.85 m)
- Wing area: 494 ft² (45.9 m²)
- Empty weight: 2,061 lb (937 kg)
- Loaded weight: 3,037 lb (1,380 kg)
- Engine: Single 120 hp (89 kW) or 160 hp (119 kW) Beardmore straight 6 liquid-cooled piston engine
- Maximum speed: 80 knots (91.5 mph, 147 km/h)
- Service ceiling: 11,000 ft (3,353 m)
- Rate of climb: 39 minutes 44 sec to 10,000 ft (3,048 m)
- Endurance: 3 hours
Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b Armament:
- One or two .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns for observer one front mounted and optionally another firing aft over the top wing
- One or two .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun could be mounted for the pilot's use in the F.E.2d
- Bombs: Maximum of 517 lb (235 kg) of bomb