The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2b was a slightly improved version of the B.E.2a two-seat reconnaissance aircraft, developed early in 1914 to increase crew comfort. On the original B.E.1 the crew had sat in a single open sided cockpit. On the B.E.2 a section of fuselage decking had been added between the observer and the pilot, and on the B.E.2a some decking had been added between the engine and the observer, giving the appearance of two large open-sided cockpits. On the B.E.2b the amount of decking around the two cockpits was dramatically increased, reducing the crew's exposure to the elements.
It isn't possible to give an exact figure for the number of B.E.2bs that were built. At least 74 are known to have been built from new, while others were completed as B.E.2cs and other B.E.2bs were produced at Aircraft Repair Depots from spare parts and parts salvaged from damaged aircraft.
The last B.E.2bs to be delivered were probably those completed by the Joucques Aviation Co, whose last aircraft was at Farnborough on 7 October 1916. One more aircraft, serial number A376, was produced later in the war, probably by combining bits of a number of damaged aircraft and spares.
The B.E.2b had a very similar combat record to the B.E.2a. Between them they were the most numerous type of aircraft available to the R.F.C at the start of the First World War. The early B.E.2s made a valuable contribution to the war in the air for the first eight months of the war, and they had been phased out before the appearance of the Fokker E.I ushered in the era of the fighter aircraft.
The first Victoria Cross to be awarded to an airman went to the pilot of a B.E.2b, Lt. William B. Rhodes Moorhouse. It was won during a bombing mission against Courtai station on 26 September 1915. Moorhouse pressed home his attack despite heavy ground fire and was mortally wounded. Despite his wounds Moorhouse flew his aircraft back to its base and made his report before dying of his wounds on the following day.
The B.E.2b was withdrawn from the front as soon as more modern aircraft became available (most were replaced by the B.E.2c). Only five B.E.2as and bs were still with the R.F.C in France by the end of August 1915. A small number of B.E.2bs remained in use with training squadrons to the end of the war.
Engine: Renault V-8
Wing span: 36ft 11 1/8in
Length: 28ft 4in
Height: 10ft 2in
Weights: 1,100lb empty, 1,600lb loaded
Max Speed: 74mph at sea level
Endurance: 3 hours
Climb rate: 9 minutes to 3,000ft, 30 minutes to 6,000ft
Armament: None built in, crew carried small arms or rifles only
Bomb-load: None standard, could carry small bombs