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Bristol F2B Fighter
Flying the Brisfit

by Dave Lochead

 

Bristol F2B Fighter



Roden's 1/48 scale F2B Fighter is available online from Squadron.com

 

Description

 

Ever wondered what flying a WWI aircraft is like?

This is not a build review of Roden's 1/48 Bristol Fighter kit, as there are plenty of those around already. Suffice to say that the Roden kit is beautifully made, a challenge to build, and frustrating to rigÖ You have been warned.

Six photographs of my 1/48 scale Roden Brisfit kit may be seen below.

Rather, this is an article about what its like to fly the Brisfit, and my experiences with it. The aircraft I flew was the replica built in the USA by Ed and Pete Storro, who are currently building a replica Bristol Bulldog, and now owned and operated by the Omaka fighter collection.

 

Click on the thumbnails below to view larger images of Roden's 1/48 scale Brisfit:

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Flying the Brisfit

I have to admit to having very little experience with powered aircraft, my flying has almost exclusively been of the silent type, Gliders, radio control sailplanes and latterly paragliding, of which I have managed to amass over 1000 hours experience with no personal injury, until recently that is. Some time in a Tiger Moth helped prepare me for what was coming, but not by much.

So while flying is not new to me, being let loose with someone elseís treasured Great War aircraft was slightly unexpected.

Externally, the replica looks exactly as per the original, however, internally things are a little different. The Bristol has a welded steel fuselage instead of the wood, wire and fishplates maze of the originals, and is fitted with a more modern, but still old, inline six cylinder Ranger engine and smaller diameter propeller. This is due to the scarcity of the original V-12 rolls Royce engines. The fitting of modern engines in WW1 airframes can cause some problems, more of which later

The first impression of the Bristol as you approach it is that its actually a reasonably large aircraft. Building models of these machines doesnít prepare you for the first impression you get of the real thing. I remember thinking how small a Spitfire was when I first saw one, and how the larger than life legend that surrounds it made me think the aircraft would somehow be larger that it was in reality. The Bristol on the other hand, I thought would be small and delicate, just like the Airfix kit of days gone by.

Prior to flying, a walk around and pre-flight inspection is carried out, starting at the nose, checking that no birds have snuck in to the cowling and nested in there.. Iíve never heard of it happening, but I guess you cant be too sure. Check the prop for splitting, and while we are here, turn the engine over by the prop about 10 times to get some oil flowing, naturally before this is carried out, check the Magneto switches are in the OFF position, embarrassing and messy accidents are best avoided.

Working our way around the aircraft we come to the ailerons, having first inspected all struts and fittings for any damage.

It is at this stage I notice two things that do not bode well for the handling characteristics of this aircraft. Firstly there is no aileron differential, the effect of the aileron moving further in the up position than the down, and countering adverse yaw, where the aircraft rolls one way, and yaws the other due to aileron drag.

Secondly, the aileron gap isnít sealed. This may not sound like much, but when the airflow reaches the aileron gap, it breaks away and reduces the effectiveness of the control. I had learnt this lesson the hard way with radio controlled gliders, and how the roll rate improved when the aileron gaps were sealed, needless to say I stored this in the back of my mind to allow for a slower roll rate than the Tiger.

Making our way to the tail area, there are a lot of exposed control cables to be checked, especially the elevator cables, which cross over each other and have leather boots to stop them chafing. These cables are checked very carefully.

 



The rudder looks impossibly small for the wing span of the aircraft, and I am starting to realise just how little was known about aerodynamics and control coupling at the dawn of the warplane. Around to the cockpit, and we climb up to check all is well. Entering the Bristol is awkward at best, climbing up over an exhaust pipe. Thankfully cold at this stage, but not for long, the elevator cables, the scarf ring for the gun in the rear cockpit, and arranging the straps so you can reach them when seated.

The only thing to check in the rear cockpit is that the second stick is fitted, and firmly bolted, and a visual inspection for anything out of the ordinary. There are no instruments back here, something else I am going to have to deal with.

Now firmly seated in the cockpit, Tim Sullivan, the Pilot in charge tells me that we will need to warm the engine, which is quite cold blooded, and will need 10 minutes of fast idle.

Iím not briefed on any of the checklists for the aircraft, but in this instance ,its pretty straightforward, cowl shutters closed, throttle set, stick well back. A couple of turns on the electric starter, a luxury that WW1 ground crew can only have dreamed of, and the Ranger springs into life.

The engine is surprisingly quiet, but there is a reasonable amount of wind buffet, especially in the rear seat, where there is no protection, and the fabric fuselage sides are drumming from the airflow.

Tim climbs out and leaves me sitting in the aircraft as it warms up, I realise after a little while that 10 minutes holding the elevator in the full up position is getting pretty tiring, and the throttle friction isnít set, so the throttle creeps closed and needs to be adjusted regularly with the other hand, so a lot of hand swapping is going on to deal with the fatigue and the throttle problem.

Eventually Tim returns and climbs into the front cockpit, he takes the stick while I throw his shoulder straps forward, then I take the stick again as he gets buckled up and comfortable. Comfortable is something Iím not, as for some reason the rear seat cushion has been overlooked in all of this operation, and ive been sitting on the hard wood seat pan with the vibration travelling through my buttocks, and my arms hurt, I suspect this is some form of initiation ceremony, as Tim is jovially chatting away unaware of my suffering.

Tim calls for chocks away, opens the radiator shutters, and we throttle up to taxi to the active runway. Unfortunately this is some distance to taxi, and the airfield is quite rough, my behind is numb at this point, and I am looking forward to getting the experience either underway or over.

Holding at the threshold we scan the air for aircraft on approach. No Fokkers are in the circuit, so we are safe to take off.

Giving the Bristol full throttle we move down the grass strip at a very leisurely pace, and stagger in to the air. Stagger seems the right description as the poor old Ranger fights to overcome all the drag that a two bay biplane can muster.

The climb out feels to me very much like the aircraft is on the verge of stalling, I know Tim knows the aircraft well, but gaining altitude seems to be a struggle. The original aircraft was blessed with a more effective engine and prop combination, swinging a far bigger prop at lower revolutions and with more pitch. This is the unfortunate trade off that comes from using a modern engine and prop, which run at higher revolutions. The original Brisfit should have a better climb rate.

Having climbed eventually to the heady altitude of 2000 feet, Tim puts the old girl through a couple of stalls, and dives to gain some airspeed before performing a mild chandelle.

The Bristol is quite maneuverable in the hands of a skilled pilot, and can easily turn inside a Fokker Triplane as the Tripe pilots regularly get shown.

There is no way that Tim and I can communicate over the din and shrieking wind, so hand signals are the order of the day, unfortunately I havenít been briefed on them, or much else, and when Tim wriggles the stick, indication Iím to take control, I suddenly realise I have been thrown very much in the deep end, and left to sink or swim.

The instant I grab the stick I realise the aircraft feels like it is teetering, and not necessarily at the centre of gravity. The sensation is like trying to walk on slippery gravel, and much care and attention is needed even to keep a straight and level attitude.

Since I have no instruments, I can only guess at the airspeed, and where the stall point may be. If the Bristol is flown one wing low then there is a tendency to yaw away from the low wing, and once this has started happening you get a firm reminder in the form of a severe buffet to the side of the head as the aircraft slips. Looking out through the struts and wires I get the impression, largely due to the forward stagger of the struts, that we are flying in a nose down attitude. I mistakenly correct this, and then proceed to perform some turns.

As I expected, the roll rate was very slow, and the ailerons very ineffective. The adverse yaw is much more than I had experienced before in a glider, and the small rudder meant I was having trouble correcting it. Tim indicates with his left hand to bury my foot deeply on the left rudder pedal, but its not that easy, as since I donít have the cushions in place, I cant get full rudder command and we are lurching about the sky.

I slide myself down through the harness straps and off the edge of the seat, this feels ridiculous, and I am hoping no one on the ground from the Omaka Fighter Collection is watching my progress and mistaking it for ham fisted flying.

However, as if that wasnít bad enough, I was just about to demonstrate how ham fisted I could get as the aircraft was just above stall speed going into the next turn, which was reasonably steep.

I am still on the edge of the seat, not quite prone trying to deal with the rudder pedal movement, when the poor old girl decides she has had enough and stalls. The effect of stalling in a turn is for all intents and purposes a spin entry, and the Bristol gently drops its wing and its nose follows as it seeks out more airspeed.

Luckily my gliding instructor had trained me well in spin recovery, and the Brisfit felt just like a glider as it entered, I centralised the stick, with the intention of letting the speed build up a little before applying opposite rudder and flying out of the situation, figuring that the extra airspeed would prevent a tip stall upon applying any aileron, and the increased airflow would make the controls more effective.

Of course Tim, in the front cockpit , not knowing what was going through my mind, instantly took the controls and corrected the problem before I could.

Feeling suitably shamed, and realising that the margin between flying speed and the stall was extremely slight, all the turns following this experience were at low bank angles and slightly nose down to keep above the stall speed.

Tim remarked to me afterwards that the return flight to the airfield was very sedate, and had I got a fright? No, I hadnít got a fright as such, its just that I was more wary of putting the aircraft in that position again. The turn in the spin entry was little over 90 degrees, but I had no desire to see what life would be like beyond that point.

We return to Omaka, and the rest of the flight is incident free, I notice that when the Bristol is about to land, almost in ground effect, it starts to behave in a nicer manner, but I have no explanation for why this should be the case.

We taxi back to the hanger, and shut down, climbing out, I expect some abuse from Tim about my performance but in typical fashion he laughs it off, and I offer an explanation for how I was going to effect the spin recovery. We compare notes, but I feel the aircraft has got the better of me, and I comment that perhaps the OFC should experiment with sealing the aileron gaps to improve the handling.

Then I speak with other members of the collection, and learn I have the dubious privilege of being the only person to spin the aircraft, even though I would not have described it as a spin myself.

The lesson was learned however, and the next time I meet the Brisfit, I notice that the aileron gaps have been sealed, and I am told it handles much better. But more tellingly, the rear control stick had been removed, and never again would the Bristol be used to test a new pilots skills, or lack of..

Did I enjoy my experience flying the aircraft ?

To be honest, no, I didnít enjoy it at all, but it gave me a new found respect and interest in those pioneering WWI pilots who did fly it. What I do have however is a very unique entry in the 8th flight of my powered flying log book.. ďBristol F2B, spin entry and recoveryĒ and I am not too proud of that either.

Later I would re acquaint myself in spectacular fashion with the Bristol fighter, but this time I would be mounted on a Brough Superior motorcycle.

 



But thatís another storyÖ
 


Text and Images Copyright 2007 by Dave Lochead
Page Created 01 March, 2007
Last Updated 24 December, 2007

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