C.Andrews Vickers Aircraft since 1908 (Putnam)
In 1916 Vickers produced the F.B.14 general-purpose single-engined tractor biplane of smaller dimensions than those of the F.B.11, but bearing obvious Flanders influence, such as the single-bay wing cellule with a larger top wing and splayed-out struts. From the F.B.14 descended a lengthy line of tractor biplanes to be described in later chapters. Its steel-tube fuselage followed the early pattern derived from the R.E.P. type monoplane, and this feature created official interest, and on structural test at Farnborough it disclosed good strength factors. Although intended for the 200 hp B.H.P. engine (later to become the 230 hp Siddeley Puma), the F.B.14 was powered with the 160 hp Beardmore, which itself was proving unreliable enough for it to be replaced by the older 120 hp Beardmore. Thus once more the bogey of underpower appeared, and although 100 airframes were built at Weybridge, only relatively few ever received suitable engines. Intended as replacement for the B.E.2c, B.E.2d or B.E.2e in Middle East squadrons, an indefinite number of F.B.14s were reported as sent to Mesopotamia and seven are known to have been used by Home Defence squadrons.
Other variants to materialise were the F.B.14A with a 150 hp Lorraine-Dietrich, the F.B.14D with a 250 hp Rolls-Royce and the F.B.14F with a 150 hp Raf 4a, an air-cooled twelve-cylinder vee engine which was the standard power unit for the R.E.8 general-purpose aeroplane. The F.B.14D with the Rolls engine had increased span with two-bay wings, and on test at the new experimental aerodrome at Martlesham Heath, near Ipswich, it recorded a speed of 111.5 mph. Later it was used for gunnery trials at Orfordness on the Suffolk coast, fitted with a Vickers gun firing forwards and upwards at 45 degrees and two Lewis guns firing rearwards, one under the tail.
With an experimental periscopic gunsight for the pilot, the Orfordness F.B.14D chased a hostile raid back to the Belgian coast in July 1917, and obtained an unconfirmed victory over a Gotha bomber, which was seen to go down in the sea off Zeebrugge. (This account of the incident has been recently verified by Sir Vernon Brown, who was the pilot, and Sir Melville Jones, the observer, who had invented the gunsight. The pilot laid the sight on the target for the gunner to fire the guns. In the device, allowance had been made for relative speeds of the aircraft and for wind velocity)
F.B.14 - One 160hp Beardmore. Span 39 ft 6 in, upper, and 33 ft, lower; length 28 ft 5 in; height 10 ft; wing area 427 sq ft. Empty weight 1,662 lb; gross weight 2,603 lb. Max speed 99.5 mph at ground level; climb to 10,000 ft - 40 3/4 min; service ceiling 10,000 ft; absolute ceiling 10,600 ft; endurance 3 3/4 hr. Armament one Lewis gun and one Vickers gun.
F.B.14D - One 250 hp Rolls-Royce Eagle IV. Span 42 ft, upper, and 39 ft 6 in, lower; length 30 ft 8 in; height 10 ft 3 in; wing area 485 sq ft. Empty weight 2,289 lb; gross weight 3,308 lb. Max speed 111.5 mph at 6,500 ft; climb to 10,000 ft - 151 min; service ceiling 15,500 ft; endurance 3i hr. Armament two Lewis guns and one Vickers gun.
P.Lewis The British Fighter since 1912 (Putnam)
Home Defence was one of the spheres in which both types proved finally of some value and was a role in which a new Vickers two-seat, fighter reconnaissance tractor biplane, the F.B.14, also found itself performing. The 230 h.p. B.H.P. was the engine originally scheduled for the F.B.14 but delays in its development forced Vickers to install as an alternative the less-powerful 160 h.p. Beardmore. The combination made its first flight during August, 1916, but was unable to demonstrate a performance in keeping with that which had been expected using the intended power plant. In spite of this disappointment, an order was placed for one hundred and fifty. The F.B.14 was certainly to date the cleanest of Vickers two-seaters and in appearance looked a most promising aeroplane.
The switch to the 160 h.p. Beardmore did not, however, prove to be the panacea as difficulties with it led to the trial installation of the even lower output 120 h.p. Beardmore. With this engine the F.B.14 was quite unable to reach its required standard of performance as an operational proposition and most of the airframes constructed were passed engineless to the War Office for the search to continue for a suitable power unit.
The installation of the 150 h.p. Lorraine-Dietrich resulted in the F.B.14A, and another version with larger two-bay wings in place of the earlier single-bay type and powered by the excellent 250 h.p. Rolls-Royce Mk. IV was designated F.B.14D. The power contributed by the Eagle IV engine was responsible for the F.B.14D having the best performance of the F.B.14 series but, even so, the machine was still not able to surpass that of the redoubtable Bristol Fighter.
Vickers produced one more version of the basic design in the 150 h.p. R.A.F.4a-powered F.B.14F, which had a simplified fuselage without the curved coaming on the top surface and wings set with substantially greater stagger. Both the F.B.14D and the F.B.14F were employed on experimental work but six F.B.14s were allocated in 1917 for Home Defence operations.
F.Mason The British Fighter since 1912 (Putnam)
The Vickers F.B.14 was variously referred to as a reconnaissance fighter and a general purpose aircraft. It was a large single-engine, single-bay, two-seat biplane with two crew members in tandem cockpits. Whereas former reconnaissance aircraft had perpetually suffered heavy losses over the Western Front, the F.B.14 was an attempt to provide an aircraft with a speed to match that of enemy scouts. Accordingly, it was intended to fit a 230hp Beardmore-Halford-Pullinger (BHP) engine, but no such engine was available at the time Vickers had completed the first airframe in July 1916 and had to be content with a 160hp Beardmore. Although this naturally reduced the performance of the F.B.14, the War Office placed an order for 150 aircraft, and later increased the figure to 250. Trouble was being experienced with the Beardmore engine, and those airframes which were completed were delivered straight into store to await resolution of the engine problems. A 120hp Beardmore was tried, but such was the further reduction in performance, that this experiment was hurriedly abandoned.
Typical of Howard Flanders’ designs, the F.B.14 featured an upper wing larger than the lower, the interplane struts being splayed outwards. The pilot’s cockpit was located directly beneath the upper wing but was provided with large transparent panels in the wing centre section and in the lower wing roots. A synchronized Vickers gun was mounted in the centre of the nose decking, and the gunner’s cockpit, with a Scarff ring and Lewis gun, were located just aft of a cutout in the upper wing’s trailing edge. Ailerons were fitted to upper and lower wings, and a long, curved fin blended with the unbalanced rudder.
In view of the continuing powerplant difficulties an F.B.14 was set aside to be fitted with a 150hp Lorraine-Dietrich V-eight, liquid-cooled in-line engine. This aircraft was re-styled the F.B.14A. At roughly the same time another F.B.14 (ordered separately) was specially produced to accommodate the big V-twelve 250hp Rolls-Royce Mark IV (later termed the Eagle IV), driving a four-blade propeller. This aircraft, the F.B.14D, C4547, was also given enlarged, two-bay wings, and certainly proved on test at Martlesham in March 1917 to have a significantly better performance, but by then the Bristol Fighter was demonstrating a similar performance - with better to come - and it was not considered worthwhile to pursue the Vickers aircraft. One further experimental version was the F.B.14F powered by a 150hp RAF 4A engine, also driving a four-blade propeller, and this aircraft, A8391, reverted to single-bay wings rigged with increased stagger.
As far as it known very few of the F.B.14s held in store were completed. The F.B.14D, once its trials at Martlesham were completed, was sent to Orfordness for armament experiments, and while there was flown against the Gotha bombers which attacked London in daylight on 17 July 1917, but was unable to bring its experimental gunsights to bear on a target. About half-a-dozen Beardmore-powered F.B. 14s were issued to Home Defence units, but apparently these were not flown operationally, and unsubstantiated records suggest that some may have been sent to the Middle East for service in Mesopotamia; none has been traced as being held on charge by squadrons in that theatre.
Except where stated, the accompanying table of leading particulars refers to the F.B.14 with the 160hp Beardmore.
Type: Single-engine, two-seat, single-bay fighter-reconnaissance biplane.
Manufacturer: Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department), Knightsbridge, London.
Powerplant: F.B.14. 160hp Beardmore; 120hp Beardmore. F.B.14A. 150hp Lorraine-Dietrich. F.B.14D. 250hp Rolls-Royce Mark IV. F.B.14F. 150hp RAF 4A.
Dimensions: Span, 39ft 6in; length, 28ft 5in; height, 10ft 0in; wing area, 427 sq ft.
Weight: Tare, 1,662lb; all-up, 2,603lb.
Performance: Max speed, 99.5 mph at sea level; climb to 10,000ft, 40 min 50 sec; service ceiling, 10,000ft; endurance, 3 3/4 hr.
Armament: One synchronized 0.303in Vickers machine gun on fuselage nose decking, and one 0.303in Lewis gun on Scarff ring on gunner’s rear cockpit.
Prototypes: One F.B.14, A678 (first flown in August 1916); one F.B.14A; one F.B.14D, C4547; one F.B.14F, A8391.
Production: Out of a total of 252 aircraft ordered, only 100 are believed to have been built, and roughly half of these were completed with engines. (A679-A727, A3505, A8341-A8490).
Summary of Service: Either six or seven F.B.14s were issued to Home Defence squadrons.
J.Bruce British Aeroplanes 1914-1918 (Putnam)
THE Vickers F.B.14 was a two-seat fighter-reconnaissance biplane which was designed round the 230 h.p. B.H.P. engine. The airframe was ready for flight testing by the summer of 1916 but, as related in the history of the D.H.4, trouble was experienced in the development of the B.H.P. engine, and Vickers again found themselves in the position of having a new aeroplane but no engine for it.
Recourse was again made to the expedient of fitting a different type of engine. The selected power unit was the 160 h.p. Beardmore, which was of similar configuration to the B.H.P. and was likely to require the least amount of re-design of the airframe. The F.B.14 first flew with the Beardmore engine in August 1916. Performance was inevitably a good deal poorer than the original estimates; nevertheless 150 production machines were ordered.
The majority of the F.B.14s which were delivered were handed over without engines, for trouble was experienced with the 160 h.p. Beardmore. History does not vouchsafe the precise nature of the trouble as far as it affected the Vickers F.B.14, but it may have been one of supply quite as much as one of mechanical functioning. The 120 h.p. Beardmore was tried, but with it the F.B.14’s already poor performance was catastrophically reduced.
The Beardmore installation was a neat one, and the clean cowling gave quite a good aerodynamic entry for the fuselage, though the appearance was marred by the cumbersome exhaust manifold. The fuselage was constructed of steel tubing and had good lines; it terminated in a tail-unit which incorporated a low aspect-ratio fin and rudder of characteristic shape. The first production machines had no coaming between the cockpits, nor was there any decking behind the gunner’s cockpit. A later Beardmore-powered F.B.14, numbered A.3505, had a rounded top-decking on the fuselage and a coaming between the cockpits which incorporated a substantial head-rest for the pilot. This F.B.14 also had a modified engine cowling, and its fin had a straight leading edge in place of the gentle curve on standard machines.
The wings were of unequal span and chord. The upper mainplane was made in two halves which met at a trestle-shaped cabane structure. The pilot sat directly under the top wing, and transparent panels were let into it to give him some upward view. Most F.B. 14s also had transparent cut-outs in the roots of the lower wings. The single pair of interplane struts were raked outwards, and there were auxiliary mid-bay flying wires.
Other engines were fitted to the F.B. 14. After the 120 h.p. Beardmore had proved to be unsatisfactory, the 150 h.p. Lorraine-Dietrich was installed. This version of the design was designated F.B.14A. The Lorraine-Dietrich was a liquid-cooled vee-eight engine, and its installation in the F.B.14A was characterised by a frontal radiator and two converging exhaust stacks. The aircraft had the same inter-cockpit coaming and rear top-decking as A.3505, but the fin had the slightly rounded leading edge which appeared on the majority of F.B.14s.
Roughly contemporary with the F.B.14A was the F.B.14D, which was fitted with a 250 h.p. Rolls-Royce Mk. IV engine. That power unit was later known as the Eagle IV, and delivered 284 h.p.; the particular engine which was fitted to the F.B.14D had been tested to give 267 h.p. at 1,600 r.p.m. at ground level. The F.B.14D was quite different from any other F.B.14 sub-type, for it was fitted with new two-bay wings of increased span and area. The engine was enclosed in a rather bulky cowling and had a rectangular frontal radiator.
The performance of the F.B.14D was better than that of any other F.B.14 variant, but it was still rather poor for a potential fighter-reconnaissance aircraft and did not compare favourably with the contemporary Bristol Fighter. The F.B.14D went to Martlesham in March, 1917, and after completing its official tests there it was sent to Orfordness, where it was used in experimental armament work. On July 7th, 1917, the F.B.14D was one of the widely assorted number of British aeroplanes sent up to attack the Gotha formation which bombed London in daylight. The F.B.14D was able to overtake the retreating enemy formation and followed the Gothas all the way to Zeebrugge. Unfortunately the crew were unable to press home an attack because the experimental gunsights with which the machine was fitted proved to be useless.
The final variant of the F.B.14 design was the F.B.14F, which was fitted with the 150 h.p. R.A.F.4a engine. The installation of this air-cooled vee-twelve was generally similar to that of the R.E.8, but the performance of the F.B.14F proved to be rather better than that of the cleaner F.B.14, as the performance figures show. The F.B.14F had no fuselage top-decking, and the stagger of the mainplanes was greatly increased.
The F.B.14F was used in the course of a series of experiments conducted as part of an investigation into the spinning of aeroplanes. The official report on the part played by the F.B.14F gives a full explanation of the tests, and is as follows:
“It was impossible to spin the aeroplane with the fin then fitted, which was very long in shape. It would only do a peculiar kind of spiral. The fin was gradually stripped of its fabric and still the aeroplane practically would not spin, although one pilot managed to get two turns each way, great weight being felt first on the rudder and then on the control column in getting out. Then the fin was completely removed. The aeroplane was extremely nose heavy engine off, and the rudder felt heavy, probably owing to no fin being in front of it. One spin to the right was carried out from 5,000 feet, the aeroplane going in easily after being stalled with opposite aileron and rudder. It spun regularly, without jerks, and steeply nose down. In order to come out, first the rudder was pushed across. This needed great exertion on the pilot’s part, more than it feels safe to exert under normal conditions. The aeroplane ceased spinning immediately and tried to nose dive. There was a great pull on the control column needed to pull it out, apparently owing to the nose heaviness, to the shortness of the stick, and to the angle at which it is rigged.”
(Technical Report of the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1919-20, Volume 2, page 482.)
Official records show that six Vickers F.B.14s were issued to Home Defence units in 1917. Apparently these were the only aircraft of their type to be on an operational footing, but no record contains any mention of combats in which F.B.14s were involved, apart from the F.B.i4D’s fruitless pursuit of the Gothas.
Manufacturers: Vickers Ltd. (Aviation Department), Imperial Court, Basil Street, Knightsbridge, London, S.W.
Power: F.B.14: 160 h.p. Beardmore; 120 h.p. Beardmore. F.B.14A: 150 h.p. Lorraine-Dietrich. F.B. 14D: 250 h.p. Rolls-Royce Mk. IV (Eagle IV). F.B.14F: 150 h.p. R.A.F.4a.
Dimensions: Span: F.B.14, 14A, 14F, upper 39 ft 6 in., lower 33 ft; F.B.14D, upper 42 ft, lower 39 ft 6 in. Length: F.B.14, 28 ft 5 in.; F.B.14A, 26 ft 6 in.; F.B.14D, 30 ft 8 in.; F.B.14F, 27 ft. Height: F.B.14 and 14A, 10 ft; F.B.14D, 10 ft 3 in.; F.B.14F, 10 ft 6 in. Chord: upper 6 ft 6 in., lower 6 ft. Gap: 6 ft. Stagger: F.B.14, 14A, 14D, 3 in.; F.B.14F, 1 ft 11 in. Dihedral: 2. Incidence: 3. Sweepback (F.B.14A only): 3. Span of tail: 16 ft. Wheel track: 5 ft 5 in. Airscrew diameter: F.B. 14, 9 ft 6 in.
Areas: Wings: F.B.14, 14A, 14F, upper 248 sq ft, lower 179 sq ft, total 427 sq ft; F.B.14D, upper 268 sq ft, lower 217 sq ft, total 485 sq ft. Ailerons: F.B.14, 14A, 14F, each upper 18-3 sq ft, each lower 11 sq ft, total 58-6 sq ft; F.B.14D, total 62-8 sq ft. Tailplane: F.B.14, 14A, 14F, 41 sq ft; F.B.14D, 35 sq ft. Elevators: F.B.14, 14A, 14F, 30 sq ft; F.B.14D, 25 sq ft. Fin: 12-3 sq ft. Rudder: F.B. 14, 14A, 14F, 10-4 sq ft; F.B. 14D, 11-3 sq ft.
Tankage (in gallons):
F.B.14 (160 h.p. Beardmore) F.B.14A F.B.14D
Main pressure tank 21 26 36
Auxiliary pressure tank 16 - 15
Gravity tank 5 5 6
Total 42 31 57
Oil: 3 7/8 2 4
Water: 5 3/4 - -
Armament: One fixed, forward-firing Vickers machine-gun mounted centrally above the fuselage and synchronised to fire through the revolving airscrew; one Lewis machine-gun on Scarff ring-mounting on rear cockpit. In the F.B.14D a second Lewis gun could be carried.
Service Use: Six Vickers F.B. 14s were issued to Home Defence units of the R.F.C. in 1917. The F.B.14D was used at the experimental armament station at Orfordness.
Production: One hundred and fifty Vickers F.B.14s were ordered, and it is believed that at least fifty-three were delivered.
Serial Numbers: A.678-A.727 and A.3505: ordered under Contract No. 87/A/453. A.8341-A.8390: ordered under Contract No. 87/A/994. A.8391: F.B.14F ordered under Contract No. A.S./6322/17. C.4547: F.B.14D ordered under Contract No. A.S.22069/17.
Weights (lb) and Performance:
Aircraft F.B.14, 160 h.p. Beardmore F.B.14A F.B.14D F.B.14F
No. of Trial Report - M.88 M.93 M.102
Date of Trial Report - April, 1917 April, 1917 May, 1917
Type of airscrew used on trial - Vickers 107 Integral 2802 Vickers
Weight empty 1,662 1,832 2,289 1,734
Military load 185 185 211 185
Crew 360 360 360 360
Fuel and oil 396 243 448 308
Loaded 2,603 2,620 3,308 2,587
Maximum speed (m.p.h.) at
ground level 99-5 - - -
4,000 ft 92 - - -
5,000 ft - 101 - -
6,000 ft 90 - - -
6,500 ft - 96 111-5 97
8,000 ft 87 - - -
10,000 ft 84 83-5 110 92
15,000 ft - - 101 -
m. s. m. s. m. s. m. s.
1,000 ft 2 40 158 1 06 - -
2,000 ft 5 12 - - - - - -
3,000 ft 7 40 - - - - - -
4,000 ft 10 25 - - - - - -
5,000 ft 13 12 11 5 6 10 6 25
6,000 ft 16 35 - - - - - -
6,500 ft - - 16 36 8 24 8 55
7,000 ft 20 30 - - - - - -
8,000 ft 26 10 - - - - - -
9,000 ft 32 30 - - - - - -
10,000 ft 40 50 33 36 15 24 16 30
10,600 ft 48 00 - - - - - -
I 1,000 ft - - 41 30 - - - -
12,000 ft - - 52 36 21 12 - -
14,000 ft - - - - 28 48 - -
15,000 ft - - - - 35 12 - -
Service ceiling (feet) 10,000 11,500 1.5,500 14,000
Endurance (hours) 3 3/4 3 3 1/2 2 1/2
H.King Armament of British Aircraft (Putnam)
F.B.14. The basic armament of this two-seat fighter-reconnaissance biplane of 1916 was a fixed Vickers gun, having Vickers synchronising gear, for the pilot, and a Lewis gun on a Scarff ring-mounting for the gunner. There were variations in the installation of the Vickers gun, which was mounted ahead of the pilot, the breech casing being faired in some instances. The Scarff ring-mounting was attached to the top longerons, and in some examples the coaming was built up round it. By far the most interesting variant in respect of armament was the F.B.14D used at Orfordness for experimental work. On the occasion when this aircraft obtained an unconfirmed victory over a Gotha bomber in July 1917, the armament (according to C. F. Andrews, who adduces verification by Sir Vernon Brown, the pilot on that occasion) was a Vickers gun firing forwards and upwards at 45 degrees and two Lewis guns firing rearwards, one under the tail. The sighting arrangement had been devised by Melville Jones (later Sir), who acted as gunner. Mr Andrews records: 'The pilot laid the sight on the target for the gunner to fire the guns ... allowance had been made for relative speeds of the aircraft and for wind velocity.' J. M. Bruce has further recorded that 'the experimental gunsights with which the machine was fitted proved to be useless', and these reports are in accord with a further statement that the sight was rendered useless by sun glare.
Jane's All The World Aircraft 1919
F.B.14. TRACTOR BIPLANE.
TWO SEATER RECONNAISSANCE
Pilot and gunner observer placed in tandem.
Fitted with various line and V type engines.
Armament: One Vickers gun firing forward, with Vickers' syncronised firing gear. One Lewis on ring mounting at rear.
A.Jackson British Civil Aircraft since 1919 vol.3 (Putnam)
Vickers F.B. 14A
Two seat scout first flown 8.16. Total of 150 built, two of which were registered 5.19 to Vickers Ltd. as G-EAAS and G-EAAT, c/n C-103 and C-104 respectively. Civil conversion, begun at Bexleyheath, Kent and shown in the illustration, was abandoned 7.19 even though a 150 h.p. Lorraine-Dietrich water-cooled engine had been installed in one of them.
Span, 39 ft. 6 in. Length, 28 ft. 5 in. Tare wt., 1,662 lb. A.U.W., 2,603 lb. Max. speed, 99 m.p.h.
Flight, June 12, 1919.
THE VICKERS MACHINES
The F.B. 14. (Aug., 1916)
This machine was a two-seater tractor biplane designed at the War Office request for a 200 h.p. B.H.P. engine, but, owing to this engine not having emerged from the experimental stage, a request was received to re-model the machine for 160 h.p. Beardmores. The first flight took place in August, 1916, but the decrease in the power unit resulted in a considerable depreciation in performance. Although 150 of these machines were contracted for, they were mostly delivered without engines, owing to trouble being experienced with the 160 h.p. Beardmore, and eventually 120 h.p. Beardmores were substituted. Needless to relate, with this further reduced horsepower, the performance of the machine was spoiled.
In the spring of the following year, the F.B. 14 was fitted with a 250 h.p. Rolls-Royce engine. It was sent to Martlesham in March, and the official tests compared very favourably with contemporary machines of other makes. It was then sent on to Orfordness to be used for experimental gun work, and it is of interest to note that on the occasion of the daylight raid on London by the Germans in July, 1917, this machine followed the raiders right back to Zeebrugge. Although the machine was able to overtake the raiders it could not tackle them, as it was fitted with an experimental arrangement of sights, which gave trouble in letting the sun shine down the sight, thus rendering them useless.
Vickers' steel construction made this machine very suitable for use in the tropics, and a large number were used in Mesopotamia.