The Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.5 was the first aircraft in the Factory's Reconnaissance Experiment series to enter production, although only in small numbers. It was a two-seat two-bay reconnaissance biplane developed from the R.E.1 but with some features take from the R.E.3, most notably the engine.
The twenty four R.E.5s were built using £25,000 paid to the Military Wing of the Royal Flying Corps in compensation after all of its airships were transferred to the Naval Wing. The War Office decided to use the money to order the R.E.5 straight off the drawing board, presumably to see if it was a viable alternative to the B.E.2a.
The standard R.E.5 was a two-seat two-bay biplane with equal span wings and ailerons for control. Steel tubes were used in the fabric covered fuselage. The R.E.5 had the same crew layout as the B.E.2, with the pilot at the rear and the observer at the front. It also shared the B.E.2c's stability, which was then seen as the most important military characteristic of an aircraft, but would soon become a fatal liability.
A number of R.E.5s were used as experimental machines. The fifth and sixth machines were produced as single-seat 'height machines', with long strut-braced extensions on the upper wing, which gave it a span of 57ft 2.39in. On 14 May 1914 Norman Spratt set a British altitude record of 18,900ft while flying one of these machines.
Two machines (No.13 and either 11 or 12) were given extra fuel tanks and used for long-distance tests. No.15 was given a wind brake in an attempt to shorten the unacceptably long landing run of the R.E.5. No.18 got the long upper wing and an oleo undercarriage and was used in missile dropping experiments. Nos.20 and 21 were referred to as 'wireless machines' and were also given experimental fins. One R.E.5 was used to test a 150hp Sunbeam V-8 aero-engine.
The first R.E.5 was delivered to the Factory's Flying Department on 26 January 1914, and sixteen had been completed by the start of the war although not all had been delivered to the RFC. Only about half of these aircraft ever reached France.
The RNAS received a single R.E.5, which they gave the naval serial number 26. Squadron Commander John Porte, who tested the R.E.5 for the RNAS in September 1914, was not impressed, reported that it was too slow to take off, needed too much space to land, was difficult to turn in the air and difficult to see out of. He declared that the R.E.5 was not suitable for use, and would be dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced pilot. Despite this negative report, on 26 September the R.E.5 was flown to France, where it joined No.3 Naval Squadron at Dunkerque.
No.26 was used in one of the earlier bombing raids of the war, an attack a railway junction at Cambrai on 30 September 1914, with the future Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore at the controls. Its military career didn’t last much longer. On 24 October 1914 it was returned to RNAS Grain for repairs. On 21 November it was sent to the Pemberton Billing works (Supermarine) at Southampton, where it appears to have remained until 22 November when a Board of Survey ordered that as it was not longer fit to fly it should be sent to the Central Supply Depot at White City.
The RFC used a number of R.E.5s in France. Four crossed the channel on 27 September 1914 to join No.2 Squadron, of which three had been struck off or wrecked by the end of the year, as had a fifth aircraft that had gone to France on 1 November. No.2 Squadron received one more R.E.5 early in 1915, but the biggest user of the type was No.7 Squadron, which had six on strength when it moved to France on 7 April 1915. The squadron used the R.E.5 for reconnaissance and bombing duties, but by the end of 1915 four of the original six aircraft had been lost. During this period Captain J.A. Liddell became one of the RFC's first winners of the Victoria Cross, when on 31 July 1915 he successfully returned to base despite having been fatally wounded by gunfire in a duel with a German two-seater.
One of the last R.E.5s was used as the prototype for the R.E.7, which was used in somewhat larger numbers although without any great success.
Engine: Austro-Daimler or Beardmore
Wing span: 45ft 3.5in normal, 57ft 2.5in long
Max Speed: 78mph at sea level