The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12 was a single seat version of the B.E.2c with a more powerful engine, originally designed to operate as a bomber or photographic reconnaissance aircraft, tasks for which the second crewman of the B.E.2c was not required.
Work on the B.E.12 began in May 1915, at a time when the B.E.2c was still seen as a perfectly capable military aircraft. The prototype was produced by fitting a 140hp R.A.F4 V-12 engine to a standard B.E.2c and fitting a fuel tank in place of the observer's cockpit. Like the B.E.2c this first prototype was unarmed, as were early production aircraft.
In the spring of 1916 the RFC urgently needed fighter aircraft and a series of attempts were made to fit guns on the B.E.12. In the spring of 1916 no synchronisation gear was available and so a series of alternatives were tried out. Just as in France the first involved fitting armour to the propeller blades to deflect bullets. Another saw a six-pounder Davis gun mounted at forty-five degrees. Even when the British developed synchronisation gear for the Lewis gun the problems continued, for this gear proved unreliable when the engine was throttled back during a diving attack. The problem was only solved with the appearance of the Vickers-Challenger synchronisation gear, which allowed the installation of a .303in Vickers gun on the side of the fuselage.
The B.E.12 was ordered into quantity production late in 1915, but a shortage of engines meant that the first production aircraft didn't appear until March 1916. 250 B.E.12s were built to original orders, and some of the 100 B.E.12bs that were ordered were completed as standard B.E.12s.
The B.E.12 was significantly faster than the B.E.2c or B.E.2e, but it was no more manoeuvrable than the earlier aircraft – indeed some sources suggest that it was even less agile than its famously stable predecessor. Despite this it was rushed into service as a fighter aircraft during 1916.
Three squadrons operated the B.E.12 on the Western Front, starting with No.19 Squadron. This squadron had been training with the R.E.7, but in the summer of 1916 the RFC desperately needed new fighter squadrons. In June 1916 the squadron converted to the B.E.12 and moved to France, operating the type on fighter sweeps over the front. A shortage of more suitable aircraft forced them to continue to use the B.E.12 in this role until the end of the year, when it finally replaced with the Spad S.7.
The same urgent need for fighters saw No.21 Squadron replace its B.E.2cs and B.E.2es with the B.E.12 in August 1916. After a short unsuccessful period of fighter operations the squadron used its B.E.12s as bombers, with more success, before replacing them with the R.E.8 in February 1917.
The third Western Front squadron to receive the B.E.12 was also the last to retain it. The squadron has standardized on the B.E.2 early in 1915, and continued to operate the B.E.2e until September 1917. The B.E.12 arrived in the summer of 1916, and was used as a reconnaissance aircraft, but despite its superior performance it was withdrawn in April 1917.
All twelve of the Home Defence squadrons that operated the B.E.2c and B.E.2e also operated the B.E.12, which was 25mph faster at 6,000ft than the older aircraft. At least one Zeppelin fell to the B.E.12 – L.48, which was shot down by Lt. L P Watkins of No.37 Squadron on 17 June 1917.
The B.E.12 was used alongside the B.E.12a by Nos.17 and 47 squadrons at Salonika – see B.E.12a article for more details.
Engine: R.A.F. 4a V-12
Wing span: 37ft 0in
Dihedral: 3.5 degrees
Length: 27ft 3in
Height: 11 ft 1.5in
Empty Weight: 1,635lb
Loaded Weight: 2,343lb
Max Speed: 102mph at sea level, 97mph at 6,000ft
Service Ceiling: 12,500ft
Endurance: 3 hours
Climb: 6 min to 3,000ft; 14 min to 6,000ft
Armament: Vickers machine gun (eventually)