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Bristol Beaufighter - Ten Gun Terror

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Published on Aug 18, 2007

The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter, often referred to as simply the Beau, was a British long-range heavy fighter modification of the Bristol Aeroplane Company's earlier Beaufort torpedo bomber design. The name Beaufighter is a portmanteau of "Beaufort" and "fighter". Unlike the Beaufort, the Beaufighter had a long career and served in almost all theatres of war in the Second World War, first as a night fighter, then as a fighter-bomber and eventually replacing the Beaufort as a torpedo bomber.

Design and development

The idea of a fighter development of the Beaufort was suggested to the Air Ministry by Bristol. The suggestion coincided with the delays in the development and production of the Westland Whirlwind cannon-armed twin-engined fighter. By converting an existing design the "Beaufort Cannon Fighter" could be expected to be developed and produced far quicker than starting a completely fresh design from scratch. Accordingly the Air Ministry produced specification F.11/37 written around Bristols suggestion for an "interim" aircraft pending proper introduction of the Whirlwind. Bristol started building a prototype by taking a part-built Beaufort out of the production line. This prototype first flew on 17 July 1939, a little more than eight months after the design had started and possible due to the use of as many of the Beaufort's design and parts. A production contract for 300 machines had already been placed two weeks before the prototype flew, as F.17/39.

In general, the differences between the Beaufort and Beaufighter were minor. The wings, control surfaces, retractable landing gear and aft section of the fuselage, were identical to those of the Beaufort, while the wing center section was similar apart from certain fittings. The bomb-bay was dispensed with, and a forward-firing armament of four Hispano 20 mm cannons was mounted in the lower fuselage area. (These initially were drum-fed cannon, necessitating the radar operator having to manually change the ammunition drums—an arduous and unpopular task, especially at night and in the midst of a chase with a bomber target.) The areas for the rear gunner and bomb-aimer were removed, leaving only the pilot in a smoother, fighter-type cockpit. The navigator/radar operator sat far to the rear in a small bubble where the Beaufort's dorsal turret had been located.

The Bristol Taurus engines of the Beaufort would not be sufficient for a fighter and were replaced by the more powerful Bristol Hercules. This extra power presented problems with vibration. In the end they were mounted on longer, more flexible struts, which stuck out from the front of the wings. This had the side effect of moving the centre of gravity (CoG) forward, generally a bad thing for an aircraft design. It was then moved back into place by cutting back the nose area, which was no longer needed for the bomb-aimer in the fighter role. This put most of the fuselage behind the wing and moved the CoG back to where it should be, leading to the Beaufighter's famous stubby appearance.

Production of the Beaufort in Australia, and the highly successful use of British-made Beaufighters by the Royal Australian Air Force, led to Beaufighters being built by the Australian Department of Aircraft Production (DAP), from 1944 onwards. Australian-built examples are generally known as the DAP Beaufighter. The DAP's variant was an attack/torpedo bomber, known as the Beaufighter Mark 21: design changes included Hercules CVII engines, a dihedral tailplane and enhanced armament.

By the time British production lines shut down in September 1945, 5,564 Beaufighters had been built in England, by a number of manufacturers as well as Bristol: Fairey Aviation, (498) MAP (3336) and Rootes Securities Ltd (260).

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