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Bristol Bolingbroke (Blenheim)

"BristolBolingbroke" by Peter Whittemore

BRISTOL BOLINGBROKE at the Commonwealth Air Training Museum.

    In the early to mid thirties, the Royal Air Force was woefully under-equipped to wage any kind of modern war. Both fighters and bombers were typically fabric-covered bi-planes not capable of much more than 200 miles per hour. Armament of a .303 or two was considered adequate. Government exercises seemed to prove that bombers flying in neat boxes could properly cover each other with those rifle calibre machine guns. Because fighters were nearly as slow, it was assumed that bombers would always get through....speed being considered relatively unimportant.

    With hindsight, of course, this stance can be seen to be completely ridiculous......

    By 1935, Germany began to re-arm, in flagrant disregard for the Treaty of Versailles. They busily began building a totally modern air force....which finally convinced Britain to grudgingly begin upgrading.

    The impetus for a totally new aircraft came from Lord Rothermere, a British newspaper magnate. With foresight, he had seen what would be required in the future.

    The Bristol Aircraft Company had begun work on a high speed commercial monoplane with retractable gear capable of at least 250 miles per hour.

    When Rothermere's rival, Lord Beaverbrook, ordered an American DC-1, he was stung into action. Lord Rothermere had a Mercury engined version of the new Bristol aircraft built to his specifications. This machine, he christened "Britain First", and presented it to the air ministry for testing. It did indeed catch the air ministry's attention and pointed up the inadequacies of their existing craft. Tests showed a top speed of 307 mph, or 285, fully loaded.

    A military version (now known as the Blenheim) was soon produced, with the wing mounted higher to provide for a modest bomb bay area. It had a controversial powered upper turret, as well. (this last item reduced the speed to 265 mph)     The government committed themselves heavily to this new type, and, by the time war did arrive it was the best they had.

    Events, however had overtaken them.

    By this time, of course, the norm was for eight gun fighter planes capable of well over 300 miles per and Messerschmitt BF 109's. The latter had proven themselves amply during the Spanish Civil War.

    The Blenheim's cruising speed with a load was barely, or even less than 200 mph. With only a single gun pointing forward and another in the turret, it was incapable of defending itself. It had virtually no armour plating. Its radios, navigation equipment, oxygen systems and heaters were all outdated. Even the British bombs and bombsights were grossly inefficient, compared to the current German items. was the best Britain had, and consequently, they were used in a variety of roles at the outbreak of hostilities, including flying the very first sortie of the war. The type was even operated as a fighter in the intruder role, usually under cover of darkness....surprisingly with some success.

    As soon as other types became available, the Blenheim was relegated to training and light transport roles.

The Bolingbroke

    As early as 1937, a prototype variant of the Blenheim, known as the Bolingbroke was flown. It had been requested by the Canadian government as a  potential replacement for the ubiquitous AVRO ANSON in transport and training. This machine was taken on strength by the RCAF. A long nosed version was developed (to allow the pilot to see over the bombardier's prone position)

    The decision was made to build the Canadian version under license at  Fairchild Aircraft Limited in Longueil, Quebec. the first one flew in September, 1939. A total of 626 aircraft were produced until 1943.

    A few actually saw service with No. 8 Squadron on both Canadian coasts, but the vast majority (MK IVT's) were used in bombing and gunnery training at the schools of the BCATP.


Span: 56' 4", Length: 42' 9"

Powerplant: ( Bolingbroke MkIVW) 2 Pratt & Whitney SB4G Twin Wasp Jr. with 850 hp. each

(Blenheim MK 1) 2-850 hp Bristol Mercury engines

Top speed (Bolingbroke) 224 mph




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