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.
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.
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.
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).