Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.3

The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.3 was the third entry in the BE.1/2 family. It differed from the first two aircraft in three significant ways: it had heavily staggered wings, with the front wing mounted ahead of the lower wing; the fuselage was mounted between the upper and lower wings rather than being attacked to the lower wing and it was powered by a 50hp Gnome rotary engine, which required a wider fuselage.

The B.E.3 also had a modified rudder – roughly the same shape as on the standard aircraft but rotated through 90 degrees, to make it long and short instead of tall and thin, and a simplified undercarriage with one less strut on each side (this had to be replaced after a heavy landing damaged the remaining struts).

As with the B.E.1 and B.E.2 the Royal Aircraft Factory claimed that the B.E.3 was actually a modified version of a Paulhan Biplane that had been sent to them for repairs in February 1912, but as with most early R.A.F. 'conversions' only the 50hp Gnome engine was retained from the original aircraft.

The R.A.F. had planned to use the B.E.3 to test a system of foot controls for the wing warping mechanism, but this had to be abandoned when the R.F.C. asked for it to be handed over as quickly as possible. The B.E.3 made its maiden flight on 3 May 1912, with Geoffrey de Havilland at the controls, and was handed over the R.F.C. ten days later, on 13 May.

The B.E.3 went to No.3 Squadron, where it was used in a number of signalling experiments with early radios, electric lamps and flags. Its flying career came to an end during 1914. Its sister plane, the B.E.4, was destroyed in a fatal crash on 11 March 1914. The cause of the accident was traced to a failure of the rudder, which had been the same as that on the B.E.3. As a result of this the B.E.3 was given a standard B.E.1/2 rudder, but soon after this it was grounded and became instructional aircraft. Its eventual fate is unknown. 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 April 2009), Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.3 ,

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