Visitors to Britain’s Olympia Air Show in March, 1913 had the chance to see the world’s first fighter plane; called a “Destroyer,” the Vickers Experimental Fighting Biplane (E.F.B.) was the first aircraft specifically designed to shoot down other airplanes.
As their engineers had not yet figured out how to fire a machine gun though the arc of a spinning propeller without destroying it, Vickers opted for a ‘pusher’ design. By placing the engine and the prop behind the wings, they could mount a forward-firing machine gun on a sturdy aluminum nacelle. The airplane also earned the nickname “Gun Bus,” which stuck, and was applied to all the Vickers pusher biplanes of the war. The 1913 prototype, the E.F.B., was further refined, before appearing in service in late 1914, then designated F.B.5 (dropping the E, as it was no longer Experimental).
Seating two, a pilot in the rear seat, a gunner-observer in the forward seat, and powered by a 100 h.p. Gnome rotary, the ‘Gun Bus’ was not very fast, only making about 70 miles per hour. As the only purpose-designed fighter plane, it briefly established air superiority for the Allies, until the Fokker Eindekkers emerged a few months later.
It featured unstaggered, equal-span wings with a tail boom of steel tubing with wooden struts. The fuselage nacelle had a blunt aluminum nose on top of which was fitted a Lewis machine gun on a pillar mount. Vulnerable to attack from the rear, the Gunbus was soon replaced by more advanced single-seat fighter aircraft.
The F.B.5 was not a particularly easy plane to fly. One RNAS pilot, Harold Rosher, reported:
I flew a Vickers gun bus the other day. I didn’t like it much. For one thing it was very badly balanced, and secondly, I don’t like the Monosoupape [100 h.p. Gnome engine]. My own machine I can get so perfectly balanced that I can let go the controls for minutes on end.
Top Speed: ~ 70 m.p.h.
Engine: 100 h.p. Gnome rotary
Wingspan: 36 feet 5 inches
Weight: 2,050 lb.
Armament: 1 Lewis machine gun