The Flying Tank – Bristol Beaufighter
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Built sturdily like a tank and fast as a falcon, the Bristol Beaufighter was a multirole plane of the Royal Air Force during World War II.
A New Twin Engine Fighter
As the hostilities in Europe loomed, the Royal Air Force recognized the need for a new twin-engine fighter. Although mainstays like the Hurricane and the Spitfire were excellent in their roles, they didn’t have the range and payload to counter the growing threats from German bombers and naval forces.
In 1938, Bristol’s design team embarked on creating the ultimate Allied long-range aircraft. In just over six months, it presented the RAF with the first prototype of the Briston Beaufighter.
The Beaufighter prototype flew for the first time on July 17, 1939. After the outbreak of war, the RAF increased orders substantially.
Although its considerable size cast doubt, the plane would quickly prove invaluable. When it entered service in July 1940, and as Luftwaffe tactics shifted to nighttime bombing in the Battle of Britain, the RAF used the plane for nighttime operations.
A Game Changer
The Beaufighter was a gamechanger. Its nose cone housed a Mark IV radar connected to an observer’s scope. This allowed the plane to spot enemy planes at night while intercom guidance allowed the pilot to the target.
The pairing of the radar and the Beaufighter allowed it to be incredibly effective during night combat. The plane was also quick enough to catch, and then inflict severe damage on German bombers.
Apart from being a night fighter, the Beaufighter was also WWII’s first multi-role plane. Its strong airframe allowed it to adapt to different weapons and mission profiles despite challenging weather.
The plane’s versatility made it valuable for long-range missions to strike enemy bases and shipping.
It eventually ended up serving with 52 squadrons and was used as a target tug by the RAF until 1960.