Bristol F-2B Fighter, A7194, Capt. Arthur H Peck & Capt. John JL Williams, No.111 Squadron, Egypt, October 1917.
With the aeroplane becoming such a vital weapon during the Great War and with the Royal Flying Corps' Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c reconnaissance aircraft suffering so badly at the hands of the German Fokker Eindecker, an effective replacement in the armed reconnaissance/fighter role was desperately needed. At the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Chief Designer Frank Barnwell was determined that he was going to produce such an aircraft and he was uniquely qualified to deliver on his promise. A qualified Royal Flying Corps pilot with combat flying experience over the Western Front, he knew what qualities the new aircraft must possess and perhaps of even greater importance, what RFC crews would need from it. The new aircraft must be capable of effectively defending itself from enemy attack, but also to possess the ability to turn the tables in such circumstances and make any Luftstreitkräfte pilot regret their decision to tangle with the new British aircraft.
The prototype Bristol Type 12 (F.2A) made its maiden flight on 9th September 1916 and powered by the new 190hp Rolls Royce Falcon I engine, posted impressive performance from the start. A relatively large and purposeful aircraft, suitably impressed War Office officials placed an order for further development aircraft and 50 production aircraft for RFC training units, all of which would eventually be assigned to No.48 Squadron. Following training in the UK, this unit would take their Bristol Fighters across the Channel and make their combat debut in April 1917 at the Battle of Arras.
The new Bristol Fighter, or Brisfit (as it would be referred to by everyone in the Royal Flying Corps) underwent early improvement and modification and would quickly lead to the production of the most capable and ubiquitous version of the aircraft, the F.2B variant. This latest version featured the new, more powerful Rolls Royce Falcon III engine, a 285hp unit which gave the Bristol Fighter and impressive top speed of 123 mph and significantly greater climbing capability, making this an exceptionally capable fighting aeroplane. It would go on to make a significant contribution towards wrestling superiority of the air from the Germans and would remain a competitive combat aircraft for the remainder of the war.
A relatively large aeroplane when compared with such enemy types as the Albatros series and Fokker Dr.1, the Bristol F.2B Fighter was surprisingly nimble for its size, possessing both the speed and heavy armament needed to claim a significant number of aerial victories for its crews. With well trained and experienced F.2B crews working as one, this nimble gunship could keep its guns pointed at an enemy aircraft during any engagement, resulting in many an unwary Luftstreitkräfte pilot quickly finding themselves starting as the hunter, only to quickly become the hunted. Rather than adopting effective defensive tactics, the Bristol Fighter was so good that RFC pilots actively went looking to tangle with the enemy.
By November 1918, orders had been placed for over 5,500 Bristol Fighters, and whilst some of this number would eventually be cancelled due to the end of hostilities, by the time the production lines were finally closed in September 1919, no fewer than 4,747 aircraft had been produced. Bristol Fighters would serve on many fronts during the Great War and in a variety of operational roles, from training and reconnaissance to day and night fighter, with the last examples remaining in RAF service until the early 1930s. One of the most important Allied aircraft of the early twentieth century, the Bristol F.2B Fighter effectively proved the concept of the multi-role aircraft, one which excelled in several different operational situations.
When Turkey declared war against Britain and France on 5th November 1914, the integrity of the Suez Canal, a vital trade route for Britain, was placed in some jeopardy and resulted in the Royal Flying Corps sending a small defending force of aircraft to the region. Initially, this force was made up of a motley collection of ageing aircraft types, however, the importance of this region to the British Empire soon dictated that more modern types would be sent to ensure the Central Powers could not threaten this vital trade route. The arrival of the newly formed No.111 Squadron RFC and their Bristol F.2B fighters in August 1917 was a significant development for forces in the Middle East, who now had access to aircraft which possessed all the attributes to secure mastery of the skies and therefore, maintain the balance of power in the region.
One of the most successful individual aircraft in these desert duals was No.111 Squadron's Bristol F.2B Fighter A7194, an aircraft which would have at least five aerial victories to its name and possibly several more. In the hands of pilot Captain Arthur Hicks Peck and his Observer/Gunner Captain John Lloyd Williams, A7194 would be used to destroy three enemy aircraft between 30th October and 8th November 1917, however for Gunner Williams, this spree would actually bring his personal victory total to five enemy aircraft, as he had claimed a further two earlier in October whilst flying with a different pilot. Captain Arthur Hicks Peck would remain with No.111 Squadron when they converted to SE5a single seat fighters by the end of the year and he would score a further five aerial victories in the Middle East, earning the coveted status of 'Ace'. Bristol F.2B Fighter A7194 would later be transferred to No.1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps, who continued to maintain Allied air supremacy in the Middle Eastern Theatre.
This beautifully presented aircraft sports distinctive (slightly off) white painted upper surfaces over the standard Protective Covering Number 10 dope finish (olive green shade), a scheme it received during its time serving with No.111 Squadron RFC in the Middle East. Several of the unit's aircraft were presented in this manner and whilst there didn't appear to be any officially documented reason for the markings, several theories have been suggested over the years. It could have been to make the aircraft visible to other Allied units during combat, or to confuse the enemy with such a radically different presentation of the feared Bristol Fighter.
Other theories centre around the fact that it may have simply been an attempt to combat the heat of the desert sun, or even the fact that with air superiority secured, there was more possibility of losing an aircraft due to a technical issue than during combat and should a crew have to set their Brisfit down in the desert, this scheme would make the aircraft more visible from the air for those sent to rescue them. Whatever the reason, Bristol F.2B Fighter A7194 was a particularly attractive aircraft and when combined with its air combat successes, must have been one of the most popular aircraft on the Squadron at that time.