Air Weapons

Night Fighter (1940)




The Bristol Beaufighter was the first purpose-built British night fighter, and entered service not a moment too soon: during the German Blitz in September 1940 where it played perhaps the most significant role in defeating the Luftwaffe in the months that followed. Developed by Leslie Frise and Roy Fedden, its origins lay as a private venture development of the Beaufort but with more powerful engines and armament which would make it into an ideal strike fighter and a night fighter when equipped with radar. Beaufighter variants usually included both night-fighter versions for Fighter Command and heavy strike fighters for Coastal Command's anti-shipping duties where they roamed the coastlines of Europe in search of enemy shipping. Powerful and fast, it was used on most theaters of war and was even nicknamed "Whispering Death" by the Japanese; overall it was considered one of the finest strike aircraft of the war. Beaufighters were produced throughout the war by both Britain and Australia and were operated by Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the US. As a testament to its longivety, the last RAAF units were retired only until 1957.

The Beaufighter first flew on 17 July 1939 and entered service a year later as the Mk. I. Mk. IFs included AI.Mk IV radar and were intended for use as night fighters whereas Mk. ICs were used as strike fighters by Coastal Command (A Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was installed on the ill-fated Mk. IIF but proved disappointing in serivce and all future marks reverted to the earlier Hercules engine). A similar line of development was used for the Mk. VI which featured a more powerful engine and a gun aft of the cockpit. The Mk. VIC was also the first to be equipped with torpedoes and rockets. The ultimate strike fighter variant was the TF.X equipped with ASV radar and could be armed with torpedoes, rockets, bombs, and guns. Final variants included the Mk. XIC which was similar to the TF.X but without torpedo-carrying ability and the Mk. 21 with wing-mounted machine guns and an autopilot. The last Beaufighter was retired from the RAF as late as 1957.

Preceded by:

Beaufort (1939)

Succeeded by:



DesignBeaufighter Mk. IFBeaufighter Mk. VIFBeaufighter TF.X
TypeNight FighterNight FighterFighter/Attack
Length12.60 m12.70 m12.70 m
Height4.826 m4.826 m4.826 m
Wing Span17.63 m17.63 m17.63 m
Wing Arean/an/an/a
Empty6,382 kg6,623 kg7,076 kg
Maximum9,571 kg9,798 kg11,521 kg
Wing Loading204.8 kg/m²209.7 kg/m²246.6 kg/m²
Speed520 km/h536 km/h512 km/h
Ceiling8,809 m8,077 m5,791 m
Range1,883 km2,478 km2,366 km
Engine2 x Hercules III
1,044 kW
2 x Hercules VI/XVI
1,245 kW
2 x Hercules XVII
1,320 kW
Guns4 x 20-mm
Hispano Mk. II
6 x .303-in
Browning Mk. II
4 x 20-mm
Hispano Mk. II
6 x .303-in
Browning Mk. II
4 x 20-mm
Hispano Mk. II
7 x .303-in
Browning Mk. II
Payload--907 kg