First F.E.2 was a three-bay pusher biplane powered by the 100 h.p. Green engine and fitted with an oleo undercarriage which incorporated a small nose-wheel to minimize the risk of overturning in a bad landing. The outer panels of the mainplanes were identical to those of the B.E.2c, and were of R.A.F.6 section rigged at an angle of incidence Of 3' 30'. The entire trailing portion of the upper center-section was hinged along the rear spar, and could be lowered to act as a flap type of air-brake. The observer occupied the front cockpit, and the pilot sat behind him and at a higher level. The engine was almost completely cowled and drove a two-bladed pusher airscrew.
The tail-booms converged in plan, and the rectangular tailplane was mounted above the upper booms. A small triangular fin was mounted above the tailplane, and the distinctive rudder was in effect a balanced surface. In February, 1915, an F.E.2a was tested with a small tail parachute. This was perhaps the first braking parachute ever used on an aeroplane; it may have been fitted as an alternative to the flap which appeared on the first F.E.2a, but it was not developed.
The Green engine proved to be unsatisfactory, largely because of its poor power/weight ratio, and the F.E.2a was modified to take the 120 h.p. Beardmore engine. Like the Green, the Beardmore was a liquid cooled six-cylinder in-line engine, but was installed without any form of cowling. The upper center-section was built as a conventional unit, and the air-brake was removed. The first Beardmore-powered machines were being flown in March, 1915, but the first to be delivered to the R.F.C. was not handed over until May.
The first F.E.2b to go to France was flown to No. 6 Squadron's aerodrome at Abeele by Captain L. A. Strange on May 20th, 1915. By September 25th the squadron had four F.E.2b's on its strength.
Production of the F.E.2b was undertaken by a number of contractors, but it was some time before the machines were coming forward in worthwhile numbers: by the end Of 1915 a total of thirty-two had been delivered. The first R.F.C. unit to go to France completely equipped with F.Es was No. 20, which arrived on January 23rd, 1916. No. 25 Squadron followed on February 20th, No. 23 on March 16th, and No. 22 on April 1st.
F.Es were mostly used for army reconnaissances and to escort other machines, but they had to do a good deal of fighting in the course of these duties. In this they acquitted themselves well, and, in company with the D.H.2`s, gave a check to the activities of the Fokkers. The F.E.2b owed its success chiefly to the wide and unobstructed field of fire in all forward directions provided by the pusher layout, sometimes it was used for ground strafing and bombing attacks over the frontline or at enemy communication lines. Some of the later F.E.2b`s where used for night bombing, painted overall black and supplied with equepment for night landing.
The performance of the F.E.2b with the 120 h.p. Beardmore engine was not outstanding, and experiments were made with a view to improving it. At the end of March, 1916, the first 160 h.p. Beardmores began to come off the assembly lines. This motor was very similar to the 120 h.p. version, and was obviously well suited to the F.E.2b airframe.
Some 1939 F.E.2b`s where build from 1915 to 1918.