Bristol 156 Beaufighter prototype R2052
The unarmed first prototype Bristol Beaufighter R2052 in July 1939.
The impressive, powerful and heavily-armed Bristol Bristol Beaufighter was one of Bristol Aeroplane Company's most important aircraft contributions to the Second World War.
Originally conceived as the Beaufort Bomber, for use during the Munich Crisis following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter night fighter and maritime strike aircraft was eventually developed as a private venture against Specification F.37/35.  It was based upon re-use of the wings and tail surfaces of the Bristol Type 152 Beaufort so that both aircraft could be produced on the same jigs meaning that manufacturing could be switched between aircraft types at very short notice.
The Design Team, led by L.G. Frise, determined that one of the most notable characteristics of the Bristol Beaufighter would be the heavy armament of four 20 mm cannon mounted in the lower nose, below the cockpit and six 0.303 machine guns, four in the starboard wing and two in the port wing.
During the early design stages multiple configurations were formalised including a 3-seat bomber with a dorsal gun turret (later designated Bristol Type 157). The design was accepted as an ‘interim’ aircraft due to various delays in the production of the Westland Whirlwind. 
Designated as the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter in March 1939, four prototypes and seven pre-production aircraft were ordered, followed by production aircraft (Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk.I) powered by the Bristol Hercules engine.  
The first prototype (R2052) was flown unarmed on 17th July 1939, and two types were developed as the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk.1F for Fighter Command and a Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk.1C for Coastal Command.  The Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk.II however, was purely a night fighter version and was equipped with much improved Merlin XX engines.
Bristol 156 Beaufighter turret R2274 B-D May 41
Bristol 156 Beaufighter V (R2274) at Boscombe Down May 1941 4-gun fwd-mounted turret.
A number of experimental versions were produced during the War, including two examples (R2274 and R2306) fitted with a four-gun turret immediately behind the pilot's cockpit. In this variant, the six wing-guns and two of the cannons were removed. 


Bristol 156 Beaufighter R2268 twin fin
Bristol Beaufighter IF R2268 modified with twin fins to improve single engine flight characteristics.
The Bristol Bristol Beaufighter exhibited weak longitudinal stability and poor characteristics, especially following loss  of an engine on take-off. One example (R2268) was fitted with a larger tailplane with twin endplate fins in an attempt to address these problems. The final solution, adopted on later Marks was a 20% increase in tailplane area accompanied by 12 degrees of tailplane dihedral.
The next full production variant was the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk.VI, fitted with the more powerful Hercules VI and XVI engines. It was this variant that was used as a maritime strike aircraft, carrying rockets or an 18 inch torpedo.


Bristol 156 Beaufighter TFXs
Bristol Beaufighter TFXs of 404 Sqn RCAF (NV427 'EO-L' nearest camera)
The final variant to achieve large scale production was the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk.X, with a further increase in power. The Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk.XIC was similar to the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X but was not equipped for torpedo carriage.  Post-war, a number of Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X aircraft were also converted for target-towing duties (as the TT Mk.10.A).


Bristol 156 Beaufighter TT10
Air to air photograph of Bristol 156 Beaufighter TT10 SR914 toward the end of the type's RAF service
During World War II, the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter played a significant role in the Battle of Britain, protecting the skies over the south of England.  Flying at night, all-black painted Bristol Bristol Beaufighters acted as Night Interceptors. in the hands of skilled pilots such as Grp Captain John ‘Cats-Eyes’ Cunningham. Cunningham's nickname 'Cats Eyes' originated from him being credited with the highest number of ‘Night Kills’ in his Bristol Bristol Beaufighter and alike. In reality however, it was later revealed that his success was due to the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter’s secret AI Radar, rather than his exceptional night-vision.
UK production was split between Bristol Aeroplane Company (4,804 including the Weston-super-Mare Shadow Factory), Fairey Aviation Company at Stockport (500) and Rootes at Speke (260).  Outside of the UK, the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk.21 was built in Australia at the Government Aircraft Factory, where some 364 aircraft were constructed. The most significant marks were the Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk.I (915 built); Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk. II (448); Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk. VI (1,831) and Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X (2,205).
All in all and with the Department of Aircraft Production in Australia, the grand total was 5,928 aircraft.
It was a Bristol Bristol Beaufighter TT Mk.10 that flew the RAF final sortie for the type on 12th May 1960.



                                Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk. I Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk. II Bristol Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X
Powerplants (2) 1,560 hp Hercules XI 1,300 hp Merlin XX 1,750 hp Hercules XVII
Span 57 ft 10 in
Maximum Weight 21,100 lb 20,400 lb 25,400 lb
Capacity and armament Two crew, four 20 mm Hispano cannon, six 0.303 Browning guns, optional carriage of one 1,760 lb 18 inch torpedo, eight 60 lb rockets, or four 500 lb bombs.   
Maximum Speed 320 mph 327 mph 323 mph
Endurance / Range 1,500 to 1,750 miles with additional wing tanks



Bristol Beaufighter Mk IF   Night fighter variant with AI Mk IV radar equipment, operational from September 1940.
Bristol Beaufighter Mk IC Developed for Coastal Command duties with increased fuel capacity and navigator’s table and direction finding equipment. Operational from March 1941.
Bristol Beaufighter Mk II Fitted with the Rolls Royce Merlin XX engines and entered service in April 1941.
Bristol Beaufighter Mk V Experimental version with a Boulton Paul Type A four gun turret. Two Mk Vs were built, as conversions from Bristol Beaufighter IIs, but this model did not enter production.
Bristol Beaufighter Mk VIF Powered by the Hercules VI, providing 1,670hp, allowing increased weight and additional external stores to be carried. Fuel capacity was also increased. The radar equipment was upgraded to the AI Mk VI or Mk VII.
Bristol Beaufighter Mk VIC Coastal Command version of the Bristol Beaufighter Mk VI and was equipped with the Hercules XVII with revised supercharging to increase the power available at low levels. The Mk VIC could carry an 18 inch torpedo or under wing stores.
Bristol Beaufighter Mk X The Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk X (Torpedo Fighter) first appeared in May 1943 and could carry a wide variety of munitions including torpedo, bombs and rockets.
Bristol Beaufighter TT Mk 10 Post-war, 34 Mk Xs were converted to perform target tug towing duties, as the TT Mk 10
Bristol Beaufighter Mk XI Similar in many respects to the Mk X, but lacking the ability to carry a torpedo
Bristol Beaufighter Mk 21 A variant of the Bristol Beaufighter Mk X constructed in Australia. The first Bristol Beaufighter Mk 21 flew on 26th May 1944. 364 were completed up to the end of 1945 and were fitted with 4x Browning 50 calibre machine guns rather than the 6 x .303 installed in British planes.



Bristol Beaufighter Mk.21     
Camden Museum of Aviation, Narellan, Australia
Bristol Beaufighter Mk.21
(A8–328/ A8-39)
Australian National Aviation Museum, Moorabbin nr Melbourne, Australia.
Bristol Beaufighter TF.X
Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, UK
Bristol Beaufighter TF.X
National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, East Lothian, Scotland, UK
Bristol Beaufighter Mk IC
National Museum of The United States Air Force, Dayton
Bristol Beaufighter TF.X
Canada Aviation & Space Museum, Aviation Parkway, Ottawa, Canada
Bristol Beaufighter Mk.IC
Duxford Aerodrome, Cambridgeshire, UK


More information

12 Default Profile Image
BAE Systems
The information shown is based on that available at the time of the content creation. If you have any additions or corrections then please contact us via email - All images BAE Systems / Ron Smith copyright unless otherwise shown.