Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8
Single-engine two-seat observation aircraft
In order to replace the Belgian Air Service’s BE.2c observation aircraft, plagued by many design flaws the force acquired 22 Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 (R.E. stood for “Reconnaissance Experimental) in late 1916. Following an agreement with the War Office all of these 22 R.E.8’s were relinquished by the Royal Flying Corps (RGC)On 28 July 1917, the first six machines were transferred from the RFC base at St.Omer (F.) to Houtem, home base of N° 6 Squadron (Bee) which was to exclusively operate these “Harry Tate” (the rhyming nickname, after a popular music hall artist of the time).
The R.E.8 was designed by John Kenworthy of the Royal Aircraft Factory as a replacement of the BE2c. Although many of the shortcomings of the BE2c were solved the aircraft turned out to be more difficult to fly, which resulted in many (landing) accidents.
As was the case with the BE2c, the Belgian Air service found the R.E.8 to be underpowered. Therefore, almost all Belgian R.E.8’s were equipped with a more powerful 180hp Hispano Suiza liquid cooled V8 engine (replacing the 140hp RAF 4a powerplant) housed in a distinctive SPAD like round-fronted, tubular-slotted cowling with a side radiator. Unfortunately, the installation of the more powerful engine did little to improve overall performance of the R.E.8 as the design had reached the limit of development potential. In April 1918, less than a year after the introduction of the R.E. 8 in Belgian service, the first of the replacement SPAD XI observation aircraft reached N° 6 Squadron. However, a handful of Hispano R.E.8’s soldiered on until the end of World War 1.
Quite remarkably for an aircraft with such a short career, Hispano powered R.E.8 N° “8” has been preserved at the Royal Army Museum (WHI) in Brussels. Another original, RAF 4a engine powered R.E.8 F3556 of the RFC, is preserved at the Imperial War Museum in London. (Daniel Brackx)