Kit No. 425
Decals: Six versions – Three Royal Air Force, one Royal Flying Corps, Two Australian Flying Corps
Comments: Highly detailed engine; detailed cockpit with Scarff ring, Lewis machine guns and Vickers gun; good fabric-over-frame effects; no rigging diagram
The Bristol F.2B entered service with the Royal Flying Corps in June 1917. It was developed from the Bristol F.2A, which took its maiden flight on September 9, 1916 and was intended to replace the aging B.E.2 reconnaisance aircraft. The F.2A was armed with a single .303 Vickers machine gun capable of synchronized fire through the propeller arc, and a .303 Lewis gun mounted on a Scarff ring in the rear observer’s position. The first F.2A’s were delivered to No. 48 Squadron in December 1916, and the squadron deployed to France the following March. Their first action against the Germans occurred at the Battle of Arras on April 5, 1917 when a patrol of six aircraft crossed the front lines. They were badly mauled by a flight of five Albatros D.III’s of Jagdstaffel 11 led by Baron Manfred von Richtofen, in part because they were deployed using standard two-seater fighter tactics, which concentrated on getting the plane into a position in which the rear gunner could open fire on the enemy aircraft. The awkward manuevering required to achieve this often exposed the would-be attacker to enemy fire in the meantime, particularly when confronted with mulitple enemy aircraft. The tactic proved fatal for F.2A aircrews on April 5th, when four of the six aircraft sent over the lines did not come back.
Despite the intial poor showing of the new fighter, the War Office increased the initial order of 50 aircraft to 250, with additional orders to come. Modifications were ordered as well; the F.2A’s 150 hp Hispano-Suiza engine was replaced by the Rolls Royce Falcon I or II engine, with the Falcon II machines being fitted with radiator shutters to control the engine temperature. The F.2A’s rudder-mounted tail skid was moved to a point just forward of the tail assembly. With these changes, the Bristol F.2B was born.
Throughout the Summer of 1917, production of the F.2B steadily increased, with five additional squadrons receiving the new fighter. When the F.2B went into combat, the lessons of the disastrous engagement at Arras were taken into account. The F.2B’s entering combat in June 1917 were deployed using traditional single-seat fighter tactics, with the pilot being the primary gunner. This immediately proved successful. Some aircraft were field-modified with additional firepower in the form of one or two Lewis guns being mounted above the top wing, or an additional Lewis gun mounted on the rear observer’s Scarff ring.
Most aces of World War I are associated with single-seat fighters, but the Bristol F.2B was an exception to this rule, with Canadian Air Service pilot Andrew McKeever, an F.2B pilot, taking his place among the Allies’ leading aces. McKeever and his rear gunner between them scored 30 victories during the war, 29 aircraft and one observation balloon. The F.2B was quite effective when properly deployed and pilots were given free reign to use the tactics of their single-seat contemporaries. Bristol fighters saw action in various theatres, including the Western Front, Italy and Palestine. Some served as nightfighters with British Home Defense squadrons, tasked with attacking marauding Gotha bombers, particularly at night. These nightfighting machines were modified with navigation lights, additional machine guns, and Holt flares.
By the time production ended, nearly a year after the end of the Great War in September 1919, 4,747 “Biffs” of all variants had been built.
Roden’s Bristol F.2B is injection molded in beige and consists of 139 parts. The wings and parts for the tail assembly have a very well done stressed-fabric-over-frame effect, and the upper and lower wings have exactly the same dimensions. The inside surface of the fuselage halves bear raised detail for the internal cockpit frame, and their exterior bears meticulous detail representing where the fabric was stiched over the wooden frame. There is an option for four-bladed or two-bladed propellers (although there are two two-bladed propellers for some reason), and the Rolls Royce Falcon engine is highly detailed, consisting of 22 parts, not including the 5 parts for the engine mounts. For armament, there is a detailed Vickers machine gun, accurately nestled above the fuel tank directly in front of the pilot’s position and behind the engine firewall.
Care will have to be taken in mounting the engine to the firewall, and mounting the face of the cowling and separate radiator grill to the front the the engine, as these parts must all align properly, partly because the Vickers gun must fire through the F.2B’s trademark circular opening in the face of the radiator. There is a detailed Scarff ring for the rear observer/gunner’s position, on which on are mounted a pair of even more detailed Lewis guns, featuring separate parts for their drum magazines. Additional drum magazines are to be cemented at designated points on the internal cockpit framing. The cockpit is detailed with a seat, separate seat cushion, control column, and an instrument panel bearing raised detail for the dials. There is a choice of long (Marks II and III) or short (Marks I, IV, V and VI) exhaust pipes for the engine, with the long exhaust pipes extending down past both cockpits to the lower fuselage. One glaring omission in an otherwise beautifully laid out instruction sheet is the complete lack of even a rudimentary rigging diagram. However, the box art is sufficiently detailed to provide modelers with an excellent idea of the rigging required for reasonable accuracy. Illustrations of the six different versions provided by the kit markings show side and top views to help with decal placement and painting. One note on the painting is that the instructions call for the engine cowling to be painted matt gull grey, but this may or may not be accurate. Reference photos of restored aircraft consistently show what appears to be a dark gull grey, which is obviously glossy. The lack of color photos from World War I make settling this question challenging…
There are markings for six versions of the F.2B fighter. Three are Royal Air Force versions (the Royal Flying Corps was renamed the Royal Air Force on April 1, 1918): the first is serial number D8061 attached to No. 48 Squadron on the Western Front based at Mericourt in July 1918, flown by Lt. F.N. Griffiths and observer/gunner A.E. Ansell; the second is serial number C851 attached to No. 141 Squadron, flown by Lt. E.E. Turner and observer/gunner H.B. Barwise in May 1918 — on the night of may 19-20, 1918 they shot down a Gotha bomber G.V 979/16 of Bogohl 3; the third is serial no D8063 attached to No. 139 Squadron, based at Villaverla on the Italian Front, flown by Major W.G. Barker and observer/gunner His Royal Highness Prince Edward of Wales, Summer 1918. All RAF aircraft are painted in a scheme of Matt World War I Green over Matt Linen, with the cowling and nose section painted Matt Gull Grey.
The markings between the RAF versions are largely identical outside of the serial numbers located on tail, with the exception of that the roundels for the machine of No. 139 Squadron are not of the tri-color type, but the simpler red circle on a larger blue circle, which later became standard on the top wings of all RAF aircraft. It also does not bear the standard tri-color on its rudder, but simply blue and red.
The lone Royal Flying Corps machine bears serial number A-7288 and is in the standard paint scheme of Matt World War I Green over Matt Linen. This machine was attached to No. 11 Squadron and flown by Lt. Andrew Edward McKeever and observer/gunner Lt. L.F. Powell, in November 1917.
The two Australian machines are attached to No. 1 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps, based at Palestine in 1918. The first machine, serial number A-7198, bears a paint scheme of a matt white fuselage and horizontal tail surfaces, with Matt World War I green upper surfaces for the wings with matt white ailerons. There is an odd variation in the upper surfaces of the lower wings — the port wing is matt white and the starboard wing is Matt World War I green, as is the vertical tail surface. A-7198 has matt linen under surfaces. The second Australian machine is serial number A-7192, and also bears a paint scheme of a matt white fuselage and horizontal tail surfaces, but with a change in the paint scheme for the wings. The upper surface of the upper wing is Matt World War I green in the center section and the starboard wing, and the port wing is matt white. The upper surface of the lower wing is the exact reverse, white port wing and green starboard wing. Leave it to the Aussies to be different! A-7192 also has matt linen under surfaces.
A great kit of an important World War I fighter and one of the most successful two-seater fighters of the period. Highly recommended.
- Bristol Fighter in Action by Peter Cooksley: Aircraft No. 37, Squadron Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; Copyright 1993
- Roden Bristol F.2B instructions