|BE2C||The early models of the B.E. 2 had already served in the RFC for two years prior to the outbreak of war, and were among the aircraft that arrived with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Like all service aircraft of this period, they had been designed at a time when the qualities required by a warplane were largely a matter for conjecture, in the absence of any actual experience of the use of aircraft in warfare.
The type that replaced the B.E.2a and B.E.2b in the reconnaissance squadrons of the RFC in 1915 was the B.E.2c, which had also been designed before the war. The most important difference in the new model was an improvement in stability – a genuinely useful characteristic, especially in aerial photographic work, using the primitive plate cameras of the time, with their relatively long exposures. A suitable engine was not available in sufficient quantities to replace the air-cooled Renault – the RAF 1a being essentially an uprated version of the French engine – When bombs were to be carried or maximum endurance was required the observer had to be left behind, so it was still necessary to have him sit over the centre of gravity, in front of the pilot. In this awkward position his view was poor, and the degree to which he could handle a camera (or, later, a gun) was hampered by the struts and wires supporting the centre section of the top wing. In practice the pilot of a B.E.2c handled the camera, and the observer, when he was armed at all, had a rather poor field of fire to the rear, having, at best, to shoot back over his pilot's head.
The vulnerability of the B.E.2c to fighter attack became plain in late 1915, with the advent of the Fokker Eindecker. British ace Albert Ball summed it up as "a bloody awful aeroplane". Unable to cope with such a primitive fighter as the Fokker E.I, it was virtually helpless against the newer German fighters of 1916-17. The aircraft's poor performance against the Fokker, and the failure to improve the aircraft or replace it caused great controversy in England, with Noel Pemberton Billing attacking the B.E.2c and the Royal Aircraft Factory in the House of Commons on 21 March 1916, saying that RFC pilots in France were being "rather murdered than killed" This prompted the setting up of two enquiries; one into the management of the Royal Aircraft Factory, and another into the high command of the Royal Flying Corps, the latter headed by a judge. These reports largely cleared both Factory management and the RFC commanders responsible for ordering the B.E.2, but the supervisor of the Factory, Mervyn O'Gorman, was effectively dismissed by a "sideways promotion", |