Royal Aircraft Factory

The Royal Aircraft Factory was the production arm of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, a British government aeronautical agency that still exists as part of the British government today under the name Defense Research Agency.  As a designer and manufacturer of aircraft, the R.A.F. was mainly active during the First World War, when it competed with private firms such as Sopwith and de Havilland for military aircraft contracts.  R.A.F. designs were conservative and mostly inferior in performance to private-sector competitors, although there were a few exceptions, and the R.A.F.’s relationship with the British government allowed it to win several contracts.  The R.A.F. had a confusing system of nomenclature for its aircraft consisting of a letter denoting the aircraft’s purpose or configuration followed by a “E” for experimental (which was used no matter how proven the type became), and then a numeral indicating the order of that design in the R.A.F.’s catalog under that prefix.  Thus the B.E.2 was the second R.A.F. design of the “B” (Bleriot format, or conventional style with the engine and propeller at the front) Experimental series.  Besides B.E., other important prefixes were F.E. (Farman-type, or pusher, military planes), S.E. (Scout) and R.E. (Reconnaissance).