WW2 Profile : Bristol Beaufighter
The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter
, often referred to as simply the Beau,
was a British long-range heavy fighter derivative 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.
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-engine fighter. Bristol made proposals of a fixed four cannon version
and a turret fighter with twin cannons; the former was preferred by the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff.
As a torpedo bomber and "general reconnaissance" aircraft the Beaufort had moderate performance
but for fighter-like performance Bristol suggested their new Hercules engines
in place of the Beaufort's Taurus (another Bristol engine).
The first prototype achieved 335 mph (539 km/h) at 16,800 ft (5,120 m), the second prototype
when laden with operational equipment was slower at 309 mph at 15,000 ft. Large orders
were placed with the start of the Second World War but this meant an expected shortage of Hercules engines.
In February 1940, conversion of three aircraft to Merlins was ordered; success with the design
was expected to lead to production aircraft in 1941. The engine installations were the same
as the Avro Lancaster outboard being matched to the Beaufighter wing through an extra section.
The first Merlin powered aircraft flew in June 1940.
The various early models of the Beaufighter soon commenced service overseas,
where its ruggedness and reliability soon made the aircraft popular with crews.
By the time British production lines shut down in September 1945,
5,564 Beaufighters had been built in Britain.Bristol Beaufighter Profiles: