First introduced as a two-seat fighter on the Western Front in late 1915 the Beardmore-engined Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2b and its successor the similar Rolls-Royce engined F.E. 2d were later used extensively in the night bomber role in Europe which is the variant represented by the RAF Museum’s aircraft at Hendon.
When the RAF was formed on 1 April 1918 there were seven squadrons of F.E.2s serving as night bombers and a further four squadrons of the type used for night flying training. The last of the type in front-line service served with occupation forces in Germany until March 1919. The pilot occupied the rear cockpit and the gunner the front giving his one or two Lewis machine guns an unobstructed field of fire of over 180 degrees. Used in offensive patrols over enemy lines to escort unarmed reconnaissance aircraft with a 160hp Beardmore engine giving a maximum speed at sea level of 147km/h/91.5 mph the F.E.2s were generally outperformed by German fighter aircraft by late 1916 which led to their night-time rather than daytime use. The F.E.2b was specifically designed for large-scale wartime production by companies inexperienced in aircraft production.