H.King Armament of British Aircraft (Putnam)
P.B.29. Designed and built in 1915 to 'stand still in the air in a 28mph breeze and lie in wait for Zeppelins' this 'patrol fighter' quadruplane appears to have been intended to carry a Lewis gun in a cockpit structure between the topmost wings.
Night Hawk. Noel Pemberton-Billing's second quadruplane (the P.B.29 has already been mentioned under the designer's own name) was similarly intended for anti-Zeppelin operations and was a veritable 'giant battleplane'. It was built in 1916. The primary armament was a 2-pdr Davis recoilless gun, with ten rounds of ammunition. This gun was in a forward upper position above the topmost wing and built-in to the deep central structure, which had internal crew accommodation. The gun was on a special mounting, designed to permit traversing and described as carrying the gun on a 'double parallel sliding bed, permitting practically any arc of fire'. The target for the Davis gun was intended to be illuminated by a searchlight carried on the aircraft, gimbal-mounted in the nose, power being supplied by a separate A.B.C. engine and dynamo. The design included nine separate petrol tanks with 'quick-change' gear, enabling any number of tanks to be used or isolated in case of puncture by gunfire. In addition to the Davis gun there were two Lewis guns on Scarff ring-mountings. (The designer once claimed four guns, but two were actually fitted.) The mountings were emplaced one forward of the central structure, in the nose of the fuselage proper, and one in the rear of the central structure, behind the Davis gun. For the Lewis guns, six ammunition drums were specified. Another design feature mentioned in connection with this aeroplane was the carrying of all controls, pipes, etc. outside the fuselage in armour-plated casings and a 'special revolver' enabling 'incendiary flares' to be dropped in a stick of one every twenty feet, so that, in straddling a Zeppelin of 65-ft diameter, at least three would strike. The 'perpetual haze of escaped gas' just above the top surface of a Zeppelin was considered by Pemberton-Billing to make it very vulnerable to such attack. This same designer schemed in 1915 an 'incendiary and bomb dropper' which was manufactured by the H.M.V. Gramophone Company and which was claimed to have continued in use long after the designer's political attacks on the Government.
P.Lewis The British Fighter since 1912 (Putnam)
One of Noel Pemberton Billing’s particular concerns was the lack of effective defence against the stealthy, cloud-wrapped menace of the Zeppelins. His logical and inventive mind formulated several requirements as an antidote which were transformed during 1915 into the P.B.29E, a remarkable pusher quadruplane. As an aid to good climb performance, the wings were of particularly high aspect ratio and were expected also to bestow a minimum speed of 35 m.p.h., a feature designed to contribute to endurance while on patrol, to assist materially in operating the machine in the very primitive conditions under which night flying was then taking place, and also to provide a steady gun platform. The gunner, standing in a streamlined enclosure between the two uppermost pairs of wings, had an outstandingly good all-round 360° field of fire. The two-bay wings each bore a pair of ailerons and the two 90 h.p. Austro-Daimler engines, driving four-blade propellers, were mounted on the underside of the lowest-but-one pair of wings which joined the fuselage level with the top longerons. Two pilots were carried in tandem cockpits; to the rear of the aft cockpit the fuselage section became triangular and terminated in a tail assembly with biplane horizontal surfaces and triple fins and rudders. A sense of urgency in the Woolston works drove the P.B.29E through to completion in some seven weeks from the start of the design but the machine’s life was short as, after being flown at Chingford, it was wrecked in a crash at the same place.
1916 saw the completion of another of Noel Pemberton Billing’s unusual designs - the Supermarine Night Hawk. The project had started the year before, following the appearance of the P.B.29 quadruplane and the Admiralty’s decision to investigate the inventor’s claims for his concept for anti-Zeppelin warfare. Pemberton Billing was enabled to set about designing the machine in 1915 by the agreement of the Admiralty to his release on indefinite leave for the purpose from the R.N.A.S. in which he was serving as a Flight Lieutenant.
The Night Hawk, when it saw the light of day, was a truly extraordinary creation. Once again, the quadruplane layout was followed but with sweptback wing panels in the three-bay structure. The pilot was seated in a generously-glazed enclosed pylon structure, which reached above to the upper wings and also carried the top front gunner with his 1-5-pounder Davis. To his rear was a position for a Lewis gun on a Scarff ring and the nose of the fuselage terminated in another cockpit containing a Scarff-mounted Lewis gun. Both of the machine-gun locations were provided primarily for the machine’s own defence. Forward of the front Lewis gun position was a searchlight which received its power from a generator driven by a 5 h.p. A.B.C. engine, the complete unit being installed in the nose.
The Night Hawk embodied many other ingenious and advanced features but was provided with comparatively low power from a pair of 100 h.p. Anzani engines which were given the onerous task of coping with a wing span of 60 ft. and a loaded weight of over 6,000 lb. C. B. Prodger carried out the initial flights of the sole Night Hawk 1388 at R.N.A.S. Eastchurch and established the machine’s top speed to be 75 m.p.h. and its landing speed the aimed-for 35 m.p.h. Substantial endurance of 9 hrs. normal and 18 hrs. maximum was part of the machine’s patrol capabilities.
During the gestation period of the Night Hawk, Pemberton Billing relinquished his part in the control of the company which bore his name and the machine finally emerged from the newly-formed Supermarine Aviation Works, Ltd., under Hubert Scott-Paine.
Despite its many advanced features, the Night Hawk remained a single prototype but, during the same period, the Sopwith Company was engaged on a comparably unusual design which was destined for fame and success. Supermarine’s quadruplane was unable to make the grade but the Sopwith Triplane’s attributes were such that it soon established itself favourably in service.
F.Mason The British Fighter since 1912 (Putnam)
If the problem of acquiring a synchronized front gun for fighting scouts was being surmounted at the turn of 1915, another difficulty was not. German airship raids over southern England had occupied the minds of several aircraft designers for some months, not to mention the acute embarrassment caused to the War Office and Admiralty, for the difficulties posed by locating, attacking and destroying the huge and almost silent intruders at night seemed insuperable. Warning of their approach was seldom forthcoming, so that by the time intercepting aircraft could take-off - always assuming that a pilot, trained or experienced in night flying was available - the airship would most likely have travelled on to another area.
Pemberton-Billing, always a man to brush aside orthodoxy, conceived the idea of the patrol fighter capable of remaining aloft throughout the hours of darkness. It would, on account of the considerable fuel load necessary, be a relatively large aeroplane. In the late autumn of 1915 he therefore completed the design of a radical aircraft, the P.B.29E, to demonstrate his ideas.
The large twin-engine quadruplane featured high aspect ratio two-bay wings; the second wing mounted two 90hp Austro-Daimler engines in underslung nacelles driving pusher propellers, this wing being attached to the upper longerons of the fuselage. The fuselage accommodated pilot and observer, as well as the fuel tanks, while the bottom wing was a continuous structure which passed below the fuselage. A third crew member, the gunner, occupied a position in a nacelle in the gap between the two upper wings and was provided with a Lewis gun with all-round field of fire above the aircraft. Outboard of the engines all four wings were swept back about ten degrees.
Aft of the cockpit the rear fuselage was faired to a triangular cross section and carried a biplane tail unit with twin fins and rudders. The main units of the undercarriage were mounted directly below the engines so as to provide very wide track for ease of landing at night.
The aircraft, which, as far as is known, was not allocated any serial number, was first flown at Chingford, Essex, on Sunday 16 January 1916, the only apparently surviving evidence of this fact being that Pemberton Billing himself referred to the flight having taken place on that day in a Parliamentary bye-election speech he gave in the Mile End constituency which he was contesting. The P.B.29E, known in the Woolston works as the Night Fighter, had taken only seven weeks to build, but was destroyed in a flying accident several weeks later, not however before it had been flown by several naval pilots. However, Noel Pemberton Billing’s thoughts had already turned irrevocably towards politics and he determined to sell his company, thereby effectively ending his direct participation in the production of aircraft.
Type: Twin-engine, three-crew anti-airship patrol/interceptor quadruplane.
Manufacturer: Pemberton-Billing Ltd., Woolston, Southampton.
Powerplant: Two 90hp Austro-Daimler six-cylinder water-cooled in-line pusher engines driving four-blade propellers.
Structure: All-wood construction with fabric covering; two-spar, two-bay quadruplane wings and biplane tail with twin fins and rudders.
Dimensions, weights and performance: Not known (designed for up to 10 hours’ endurance)
Armament: One 0.303in Lewis gun in free mounting on gunner’s cockpit in nacelle occupying centre section gap between the two upper wings.
Prototype: One, probably first flown on 16 January 1916 at Chingford, Essex. No production.
Supermarine Night Hawk
It is necessary and perhaps logical at this point to diverge from the strict chronological sequence of events to continue the saga of Pemberton Billings’ anti-Zeppelin quadruplane because, although the P.B.29E had been destroyed early in 1916, the Admiralty had shown sufficient interest in the large, long-endurance gun carrier to warrant further development. The fact that this development continued for another year before a new aircraft appeared is in itself irrelevant, and the appearance of other companies’ aircraft in the meantime - conceived along similar lines - serves to emphasize Pemberton Billings’ particular flair for original thought.
The departure of Noel Pemberton Billing to the House of Commons and the subsequent formation of the Supermarine Aviation Works Ltd at Woolston under Hubert Scott-Paine were accompanied by the continuation of the theme demonstrated by the P.B.29E anti-airship patrol fighter. The new aircraft, initially referred to as the P.B.31E and whose design drawings bore the signature of one Reginald J Mitchell, was renamed the Supermarine Night Hawk and pursued the general configuration of the P.B.29E.
The quadruplane wings and biplane tail were retained, although the overall strength factor was substantially increased and three-bay wings introduced. The pusher Austro-Daimlers were replaced by 100hp Anzani tractors driving four-blade handed propellers. The fuselage, now of square section from nose to tail, occupied the whole of the centre wing gap and the upper gun nacelle now extended from the centre fuselage upwards to the level of the top wing’s upper surface. The primary offensive weapon, a 1 1/2-pounder Davis gun was installed at the front of this superstructure in a traversing mounting, and a Lewis gun, for defence, was mounted on a Scarff ring at the rear of the superstructure; a second Lewis, also on a Scarff ring, was located in the nose of the fuselage. The pilots’ cockpit was situated in the fuselage below the wing trailing edge, being enclosed and surrounded by extensive glazing; dual controls were provided. A novel feature was the provision of a rest bunk to enable crew members to relax in turn during lengthy flights. Another was the installation of a small searchlight, mounted on gimbals in the extreme nose and intended to illuminate targets as well as to assist night landings; power for the searchlight was to be provided by a small auxiliary engine carried in the aircraft.
To enable the Night Hawk to remain airborne for up to about eighteen hours, over 2,000lb of fuel could be carried in nine tanks in the fuselage, all fuel leads being armoured against battle damage.
Despite being generally underpowered, the Anzani engines proved capable of bestowing the maximum required speed of 75mph, although the normal patrol speed would in all likelihood have been between 55 and 60mph; the landing speed was 35 mph.
Although it was Pemberton-Billing who had enlisted the Admiralty’s support for the Night Hawk before his eventual election as Member for East Herts, the aircraft was not completed until after his departure and was therefore generally referred to as a product of Supermarine. It was allocated the naval serial number 1388, and was test flown by Clifford B Prodger at Eastchurch, beginning in February 1917. A second example, 1389, was cancelled, but no reason was ever given for the cancellation and it has been assumed that the increasing success being achieved by relatively conventional interceptors led the Admiralty to lose interest in Pemberton-Billings’ radical idea. Be that as it may, the idea of locating a gunner in a separate nacelle, with all-round field of fire clear of the propeller arc, had sparked widespread interest among the fighter designers, and a number of single-engine aircraft appeared in the latter war years displaying variations on the same theme.
Type: Twin-engine, four-crew anti-airship patrol interceptor.
Manufacturer: The Supermarine Aviation Works Ltd, Woolston, Southampton.
Powerplant: Two 100hp Anzani nine-cylinder air-cooled radial tractor engines driving four-blade handed wooden propellers.
Structure: All-wood construction with fabric and ply covering; three-bay quadruplane wings with approx, ten degrees of sweepback on the outer sections. Inverse tapered ailerons on all wings. Four-main wheel undercarriage.
Dimensions: Span (top wing), 60ft 0in; length, 37ft 0in; height, 17ft 8 1/2 in; wing area, 962 sq ft.
Weights: Tare, 3,677lb; all-up, 6,146lb.
Performance: Max speed, 75mph at 1,000ft; landing speed, 35 mph; time to 10,000ft, 60min; normal endurance, 9hr; maximum endurance, 18hr.
Armament: One 1 1/2-pounder Davis gun on traversing mounting in the nose of the gunner’s superstructure, and one 0.303in Lewis machine gun on Scarff ring at the rear; one Lewis gun on Scarff ring in the fuselage nose.
Prototypes: One, No 1388, first flown by Clifford B Prodger at Eastchurch in February 1917. Second prototype, 1389, cancelled. No production.
W.Green, G.Swanborough The Complete Book of Fighters
PEMBERTON-BILLING P.B.29E UK
One of the most extraordinary interceptor fighters flown during World War I, the P.B.29E twin-engined quadruplane was conceived as an anti-airship aircraft. Intended to be capable of prolonged cruise at low speeds during the nocturnal hours, the P.B.29E featured high aspect ratio wings with a pair of 90 hp Austro-Daimler six-cylinder water-cooled engines underslung from the second mainplane and driving pusher propellers. The entire wing cellule was braced as a two-bay structure, the fuselage being attached to the second wing and accommodating two crew members, and a gunner with a single 0.303-in (7,7-mm) machine gun occupying a nacelle that filled the gap between the centre sections of the upper mainplanes. The P.B.29E was flown in the winter of 1915-16, and was destroyed comparatively early in its flight test programme, but aroused sufficient interest to warrant development of the P.B.31E of similar concept. No data relating to the P.B.29E are available.
PEMBERTON-BILLING (SUPERMARINE) P.B.31E UK
When Pemberton-Billing Ltd changed its name to Supermarine Aviation in December 1916, work on a further airship fighter, the P.B.31E, had reached an advanced stage and the first prototype of this quadruplane was to fly shortly afterwards, in February 1917. Fundamentally an extrapolation of the P.B.29E, and unofficially known as Night Hawk, the P.B.31E was designed to have a maximum endurance in excess of 18 hours to enable it to lie in wait for intruding airships. The entire concept was fallacious as, in the unlikely event that the P.B.31E found itself fortuitously in the same area of sky as its prey, it would have been totally incapable of pursuing the airship which could have risen out of range before any guns could have been brought to bear. A three-bay quadruplane powered by two 100 hp Anzani nine-cylinder radials, the P.B.31E carried a searchlight in the extreme nose. The intended armament comprised a one-and-a-half pounder Davis gun on a traversing mounting in a forward position level with the top wing, a 0.303-in (7,7-mm) machine gun being located in a second position immediately aft and a similar weapon occupying a forward fuselage position. Shortly after the start of flight trials, the shortcomings of the concept were finally appreciated, and, on 23 July 1917, the first prototype was scrapped and the second incomplete prototype abandoned.
Max speed, 75 mph (121 km/h).
Time to 10,000 ft (3050 m), 1 hr.
Normal endurance, 9 hrs.
Empty weight. 3,677 lb (1668 kg).
Loaded weight, 6,146 lb (2 788 kg).
Span, 60 ft 0 in (18,29 m).
Length, 36 ft 10 1/2 in (11,24 m).
Height, 17 ft 8 1/2 in (5,40 m).
Wing area, 962 sqft (89,37 m2).
Jane's All The World Aircraft 1919
SUPERMARINE "NIGHT HAWK" QUADRUPLANE
Designed and built for night-flying and cruising. Fitted with two Lewis guns mounted fore and aft and one two-pounder Davis gun; six double trays of Lewis gun ammunition and ten rounds of ammunition for Davis gun, the latter being fitted with double parallel sliding bed, permitting practically any are of fire.
The machine was also fitted with a separate twin A.B.C. air-cooled petrol engine and dynamo. A searchlight, which was hung in gimbals, permitting complete range of light , wireless telegraphy; nine separate petrol tanks with patent change gear, enabling any number of tanks to be used or dis-used in case of tanks being punctured by gun-fire.
All the controls, pipes, etc., belonging to engines, were laid outside the fuselage in specially constructed armour-plated casings.
Accommodation was also fitted for bunking room, enabling one hand to sleep or rest.
The whole wood members of the fuselage wore heavily taped and fabriced, to reduce the trouble of splinters in case of crashes.
This machine was flown on several occasions at Eastchurch by Mr. Prodger, where the contract speed and landing speed were established. The engines, however, were under powered, and after alterations to the propellers, it was decided by the Authorities to discontinue any further experiments.