H.King Armament of British Aircraft (Putnam)
Austin-Ball A.F.B. 1. Apparently at the suggestion of Capt Albert Ball, vc, DSO, MC, this single-seater of 1917 had a Lewis gun on a special mounting for upward tiring only (a form of attack which Ball favoured), and, of greater interest, a second Lewis gun lying between the cylinder blocks of the Hispano-Suiza engine and firing through the airscrew shaft. An existing photograph shows the external Lewis gun, which was mounted at an angle and pointed through the airscrew arc when at its lowest position, with the 'single' (47-round) drum.
P.Lewis The British Fighter since 1912 (Putnam)
Often alternative combinations of armament were experimented with on the squadrons but only comparatively rarely did a pilot fighting at the Front have a direct say in the design of a fighter aircraft itself. One such case was in the Austin-Ball A.F.B.1 single-seat biplane which was finished in July, 1917. Until the time of his death in action on 7th May, 1917, Ball had kept in direct touch with the evolution of the A.F.B.1. Although an ugly machine, its saving grace was a maximum speed of 138 m.p.h. at ground level on the 200 h.p. of its Hispano-Suiza engine and a good performance in rate of climb and ceiling. The installation of the A.F.B.1’s pair of Lewis guns was of note; that in the fuselage fired through the centre of the propeller shaft, while the other occupied a Foster mounting on the upper centre-section. Despite its abilities the machine was not selected finally for production.
F.Mason The British Fighter since 1912 (Putnam)
Captain Albert Ball was still only nineteen years of age in April 1916, while flying B.E.2Cs on reconnaissance flights over the Western Front with No 13 Squadron, RFC. In a letter, written that month to his parents he tells of his idea for an aircraft ‘better than the Fokker’. Several months later, while on leave in England, Ball met representatives of the Austin Motor Company, who in turn approached the Air Board to seek an order to build two examples of Ball’s aircraft. It was, however, Ball himself who secured the order by going straight to Maj-Gen Sefton Brancker, Director of Air Organisation.
It is a quirk of irony that, when Ball expressed his first ideas for his fighter, he had not yet been in combat, yet by the time the Austin-Ball A.F.B.1 was ready for flight in July 1917, the young pilot had been dead for two months - killed on active service on 7 May after gaining a total of 44 air victories and being awarded the Victoria Cross, three DSOs and the MC, all before his 21st birthday.
Ball’s aircraft reflected his particular style of combat, a fast single-seater and an upward-firing gun with which to rake an enemy aircraft from below. It was a portly, single-bay biplane, powered by the 200hp Hispano-Suiza, and armed with one Lewis gun firing through the hollow propeller shaft and another on a Foster mounting on the upper wing. A well-shaped nose cowling was made possible by mounting the engine radiators on the fuselage sides, while the deep fuselage allowed the top wing to be located close to the fuselage - thereby providing the pilot with an excellent field of view over the wing, and at the same time retaining a good wing gap. The only significant criticism levelled at the design concerned the absence of a fixed tail fin, a deficiency that was evidenced by poor lateral control, although the rudder was balanced.
When first tested at Martlesham Heath in July 1917, the un-numbered A.F.B.1 returned the excellent top speed of 138 mph at sea level, and could reach 10,000 feet in under nine minutes. While this performance was at least comparable with that of the the S.E.5A, and superior to the Camel, the forward armament of a hub-firing Lewis gun - though radical by 1916 standards - was not favoured in an era of twin synchronized Vickers. Nevertheless, there was more irony in the fact that Ball never became fully reconciled with the S.E.5 (preferring the nimble Nieuport), yet his aircraft was clearly conceived along similar lines. Moreover there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest that it was in recognition of Austin’s perseverence with the A.F.B.1 that the company was awarded a huge production contract - for over 800 S.E.5As!
Type: Single-engine, single-seat, single-bay biplane fighting scout.
Manufacturer: The Austin Motor Co (1914) Ltd, Birmingham.
Powerplant: One 200hp Hispano-Suiza engine driving four-blade propeller.
Dimensions: Span, 30ft 0in; length, 21ft 6in; height, 9ft 3in; wing area, 290 sq ft.
Weights: Tare, 1,525lb; all-up, 2,077lb.
Performance: Max speed, 138 mph at sea level; climb to 10,000ft, 8 min 55 sec; service ceiling, 22,000ft; endurance, 2 1/4 hr.
Armament: One 0.303in Lewis machine gun firing through hollow propeller shaft, and one Lewis gun on Foster mounting on upper wing centre section.
Prototype: Two A.F.B.1s were ordered, but it is believed that the second was not completed. No production.
W.Green, G.Swanborough The Complete Book of Fighters
AUSTIN A.F.B.1 UK
Frequently referred to as the "Austin Ball Scout" because the Austin Motor Company incorporated some of the ideas of Capt Albert Ball, VC, DSO, MC, in this fighter’s design, the A.E.B.1 was designed by C H Brooks and was flown for the first time in July 1917. It was of wooden construction with fabric covering, and was powered by a 200 hp Hispano-Suiza eight-cylinder liquid-cooled engine. Armament comprised a single 0.303-in (7,7-mm) Lewis machine gun firing through the hollow propeller shaft, and a similar weapon on a Foster mounting above the upper wing centre section. As originally built, the sole prototype of the A.E.B.1 had slightly sweptback wing surfaces and conventional single-bay bracing, but during the course of development new unswept surfaces accompanied by revised interplane bracing of two-bay form were introduced. The aircraft flew for the first time after these modifications on 17 September 1917. The following data relate to the A.E.B.1 in its original form.
Max speed, 138 mph (222 km/h) at sea level, 120 mph (193 km/h) at 15, 000 ft (4 570 m).
Time to 10,000 ft (3 050 m), 8.9 min.
Endurance, 2.25 hrs.
Empty weight, 1,525 lb (692 kg).
Loaded weight, 2,077 lb (942 kg).
Span, 30ft 0 in (9,14 m).
Length, 21 ft 6 in (6,55 m).
Height, 9 ft 3 in (2,82 m).
Wing area, 290 sq ft (26,94 m2).