Sunday, August 14, 2011

Britain - 1916 Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8

Frederick Koolhoven's Lumbering Big Ack

The day to day activities of the Great War were not always done by state of the art planes. Many mediocre aircraft served fairly well for long periods of time and locations. The weakness in an aircraft's design could become the strength of the design for a mission. Many of the larger two seat reconnaissance aircraft were considered too stable. However that stability was needed for photo-reconnaissance missions where clarity of the images were essential. Ironically some aircrews loved these lumbering planes because of their ease to fly and because they were sturdy enough to get them home safely.

Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8

The aircraft, originally designated the F.K.7, was designed by Dutch aircraft designer Frederick Koolhoven as a replacement for the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c and the Armstrong Whitworth F.K.3. It was a sturdier aircraft than the F.K.3, with a larger fuselage and wings and was powered by a 160 hp (110 kW) Beardmore water-cooled engine. The undercarriage used oleo shock absorbers. The undercarriage was unable to withstand rough use on the front line airfields. The observer was equipped with a Scarff ring mounting for a 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis machine gun. No armament was initially provided for the pilot. The rudder featured a long, pointed horn-balance.

In service the F.K.8s (nicknamed the "Big Ack") proved to be effective and dependable. It proved to be fairly successful in performing reconnaissance, artillery spotting, ground-attack, contact-patrol and day and night bombing missions. It was easier to fly than the R.E.8 and was sturdier but its performance was even more mediocre and it shared the inherent stability that plagued many Royal Aircraft Factory types.

A total of 1,650 were built and the type served alongside the R.E.8 until the end of the war, at which point 694 F.K.8s remained on duty with the RAF.

The F.K.8 served with several squadrons on operations in France, Macedonia, Palestine and for home defense, proving more popular in service than its better known contemporary the R.E.8. The first squadron was 35 Squadron. The F.K.8 was principally used for corps reconnaissance but was also used for light bombing, being capable of carrying up to six 40 lb (20 kg) phosphorus smoke bombs, up to four 65 lb (29 kg) bombs or two 112 lb (51 kg) bombs on under-wing racks.

Two Victoria Crosses were won by pilots of F.K.8s; one by Second Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod of No. 2 Squadron RFC, on 27 March 1918 and the second by Captain Ferdinand Maurice Felix West of No. 8 Squadron RAF on August 10, 1918.


  1. From Wikipedia Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8
  2. Bruce, J.M. "The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps" (Military Wing). London: Putnam and Company, 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-X.
  3. Mason, Francis K. "The British Bomber Since 1914". London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1994. ISBN 0-85177-861-5.
  4. Munson, Kenneth. "Aircraft of World War I". London: Ian Allan, 1967. ISBN 0-7110-0356-4.
  5. Tapper, Oliver. "Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft since 1913". London: Putnam, 1988. ISBN 0-85177-826-7.
  6. Taylor, John W.R. "Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8." Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.


The Angry Lurker said...

Nice aircraft, I like the way stability is a dirty word.

Jon said...

That is quite the attrition rate.

W. I. Boucher said...

@ Fran, Stability is a dirty word when talking about fighters. The Camel was highly unstable which made it maneuverable but deadly for unskilled pilots.

@Jon, They may seem high, but the figure was the total over a time frame which extended to the end of the war. You have to take into account a logistical fact of life: That when replacement parts could not be found to do field repairs scrapping out aircraft for replacement parts instead of attempting to repair the more damaged ones was the only option. They had to perform triage on the aircraft. Those with heavy damage became a collection of parts. It was difficult just to get enough aircraft to carry out missions.