Here’s where everything seems to
revert to slow motion. Even when the
throttle is advanced, the engine only
increases in speed to 1120 rpm. Liftoff
takes place just as the airspeed indicator
comes alive at 40 mph. At only 300 feet
per minute, the rate of climb isn’t
impressive. Climbout is slow but steady
as you become aware of the lack of prop
wash and the stability of this big kite.
Turns in either direction are smooth and
coordinated; movement in any regime is
easy. The elevators are not as heavy as
they were on the ground and the ailerons have plenty of authority. The
rudder leaves a little bit to be desired,
but it is sufficient.
The FE.2b flies like it looks—big, heavy,
slow, and stable. It is odd that the entire
throttle range seems to be about 250 rpm;
use 1300 for takeoff and the first part of
the climb, reduce to 1250 to keep the temperature down and for cruise, then reduce
to 1050 to descend. Diving is an experience. Point the nose down and you would
expect all this weight to carry you to the
ground at an alarming rate. Not so. There
is so much drag that there is hardly any
acceleration without an excessive amount
of forward stick. Even then the Fee doesn’t
go much faster. It’s a chore to reach its
never-exceed speed of 110 mph.
The view from this vantage point is
stunning. However, it is easy to see why
the Fee was best flown in defensive formations, as it is vulnerable from the rear. In
fact, even to the side the view is obscured
by the high cockpit walls extending above
the pilot’s shoulders and head. A few steep
turns in either direction reveal no unusual
characteristics. In fact, the machine feels
strong and purposeful.
For its pilots and gunner, the Vintage
Aviator reproduced original coats worn
by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), including straps inside, the purpose of which
was a mystery until the first flight. As we
climbed for altitude my observer
attempted to stand and reach for the
rear-facing gun. He inflated like a balloon. It was funny at first, but then the
thought of him being pulled over the low
sides of the front cockpit became real.
The cockpit comes only to just below
the observer’s knee. The straps were
there to keep the coat from blowing
open in the wind.
Time to land: Simply head back to the
field and point the nose down a few
degrees, throttle back to 1050 rpm, and
wait. The speed builds to only 80-85 mph
and the noise increases a bit. Once in the
pattern, some planning is required. The Fee
is a big machine with a lot of momentum
and little climb performance—important
factors in a go-around. Downwind-leg
speed should be about 60, turn to base at 55,
then reduce to 50 over the fence, and touch
down at 45. The undercarriage will make
any landing short of a crash feel good.
As you taxi back to dispersal, think
about young men in 1917 flying this
machine with a full bomb load—at night,
in all kinds of weather. Or simply enjoy
the smell of burnt castor oil and another
piece of history is brought to life.
Gene DeMarco has 25 years of experience with early
aircraft types, having worked for Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Parker O’Malley Air Museum, and RyderMuseum
in the United States. He is an FAA certificated mechanic
with an inspection authorization and has logged nearly
13,000 hours in early aircraft types.
THE VINTAGE AVIATOR
The Vintage Aviator Ltd. maintains working relationships with other restoration
facilities and museums in Europe,
Australia, Canada, and the United States
that assist TVAL in sourcing information as
well as technical data and original parts
for duplication and reproduction.
Likewise, TVAL can help others by supplying missing parts for display engines in
museums or to assist other organizations
that may require replacement parts, in
essence, preserving the technology.
TVAL seeks to promote interest in
World War I aviation and would like to
make many of the parts and equipment
it produces available to serious collectors
and builders. The Vintage Aviator Ltd.
does not sell any of these items but
instead seeks interesting trades. TVAL will
consider original aircraft, engines, parts,
and uniforms. Medals, drawings, propellers, memorabilia, photo albums,
and just about anything from this time
period also will be considered.
To view a video of the airplane in flight
as well as the engine being started, visit
For more information visit