Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo


Flight testing the Brewster Buffalo I

[These are excerpts from reports on file at the National Air & Space Museum archives. I have corrected obvious errors, omitted some paragraphs and all paragraph numbers, and supplied the material in brackets. -- Daniel Ford]

First impressions

[In September 1940, the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough tested Brewster serial 430, identified as a Buffalo but undoubtedly a 339B built for Belgium. -- DF]

Take-off - The take-off is very smooth and straightfoward, with no tendency to bounce or bucket. After opening the throttle the throttle the tail remains down for about 30 yards, but holding the stick right forward brings the tail up very smoothly. The elevator control is not too sensitive as on the Spitfire or too sloppy as on the Hurricane. As the speed increases the aeroplane has a slight tendency to swing, which, however, is very easy to control. . . . The aeroplane flies off without assistance after a take-off run which is short than that of either the Spitfire or Hurricane; when airborne it increases speed quite rapidly and has a good initial rate of climb.

Landing - The approach glide at 90-95 m.p.h. is steep, making the landing easy and giving an excellent view of the aerodrome. Because of the slight sinking impression the pilot tends to flatten out slightly higher than usual, but the aeroplane settles down after a small float with no bounce, bucket, or swing. The brakes can be used after touching down, they operate smoothly and effectively and the ground run is not very long.

Taxying - On the ground the aeroplane is very maneuverable--it can easily be turned in its own space with the aid of a little braking, which is most effective and quite smooth, the tail wheel is not steerable. The view is good except directly ahead where it is obscured by the high position of the nose.

Ailerons - Tests in the speed range from the approach glide to 400 m.p.h. showed the ailerons to be exceptionally effective; they are crisp and powerful, and the stick forces are not too light at low speeds nor too heavy at the greater speeds. The pilots considered them to be a very definite improvement on the Hurricane and Spitfire fabric covered ailerons.

General - There is no tendency for any control to oscillate snatch or take charge at any speed. The pilots considered that with this aeroplane a definite advance had been made in fighter controls.

What Eagle squadron thought

[RAF 71 Squadron was formed in September 1940 at Church Fenton in Yorkshire with American volunteer pilots. They were given three Brewsters, which must also have been 339Bs. The squadron leader was Walter Churchill, credited with 4-plus victories during the Battle of France; he filed this report in October. -- Dan Ford]

It is strongly recommended that this type should on no account be considered as a fighter without considerable modification.

The wings are not bolted to a centre section but appear to have a common main rear spar located through the fuselage. Changing wings in the event of accidents will therefore be uneconomical and slow.

The elevator is actuated by a push-pull tube. While this is a positive method of operation it is feared than an explosive shell or even a bullet . . . may shatter or collapse it. Experience has proved how much punishment the twin cable can stand without breaking down.

The electric system instead of having dual cables is of the one wire earth return [negative ground] type, which means that a chafed lead may cause fire and will in any case blow the fuse in the given circuit.

The fire power of two .5 Colt and two .303 Browning guns is inadequate.

No reflector sight.

The side panels of the windscreen are at such an angle that it is difficult to see through them.

The armour plated seat is not thick enough or high enough to protect the head. It should stretch from one side of the cockpit to the other. It is submitted that the side panels on the fuselage adjacent to the seat be armour plated in view of the number of arm wounds which have been received in other single seat fighters.

The [primer] is not positive like our Ki-gas and it has a habit of sticking in the off position. It incorporates a rubber gland which perishes and has to be removed.

The undercarriage actuating lever is so small and sharp that it is both difficult as well as painful to operate. . . . The same applies to the flap operating lever. [He didn't like the seat adjustment lever either.]

The Only War We've Got

The top straps of the Sutton harness should be fed through the back of the seat instead of over it. In its present position the pilot is only securely held when right way up. In the inverted position the straps give enough to allow him to hit his head on the hood.

The control column with firing button on top . . . does not give such good firing maneuverability when fighting as the spade grip, with the firing button in the front.

The R/T controls are on the right hand side, necessitating changing hands to operate [the radio], and is so placed that the pilot's elbow hits the seat every time he changes from send to receive.

The oxygen is regulated automatically instead of manually, where the pilot can turn it on a bit more for fighting.

The clock itself is of no value without a trip indicator which this one has not got.

The rudder has only one instead of two control cables. It should have three hinges.

The inertia starter is not so good for quick take-offs as the battery starter.

There is no automatic mixture control with the supercharger in high gear. There is no exhaust gas analyser by which to judge the mixture control.

There is not automatic boost control. This means that in a battle climb the throttle has to be adjusted continuously in order to avoid exceeding maximum possible boost.

The fuel tanks appear to be of the integral type built into the spar. A bullet hole in the tank will therefore mean changing the wings.

The flaps are not large enough and only work for 60 [degrees} of travel, with the result that the glide is somewhat flat and the aircraft trundles a long way on landing.

When landing or taxying the tail wheel wobbles on its caster and rips the rubber of the tyre.

As a trainer the aircraft is delightful. It behaves with the ease of a [Gloster] Gladiator and is just as simple to aerobat. So far we have found no vices.

Mr. Gibson adds tuppence ("just my 2d")

[Ensign George Gibson USNR forwarded Churchill's report to the navy's Bureau of Aeronautics with comments.--DF]

[That one-piece wing:] There are practically no cranes, hoists, or other equipment in any of the air stations . . . that can lift an object of greater height than 10 feet or of greater weight than 4000 pounds. Changing a wing such as the Brewster necessarily becomes a lengthy . . . perilous and unwieldy process.

[Should have duplicate cables:] There are bullets in this war, and the more area occupied by any part, the greater is the possibility that it will be hit.

[More guns:] Mr. Churchill's statement is the sentiment of all pilots. Two .50's and two .30s are entirely inadequate, and even four .50's unless close together are not wanted.

[Armor:] No matter how much training you give a pilot, or how alert he is, time after time, the first notice the pilot gets of an attack is bullets splattering around him, hence armor plating is very essential.

[Flap lever:] Mr. Churchill was somewhat vituperative on this particular item, since one of his new pilots had accidentally put his flaps up when starting to land, due to overslipping the slot. The last memory of the pilot was becoming excited due to oil coming over his feet. While landing on the small airport provided, in a no-wind condition, he floated too far, and would up in the hospital with a broken skull, after hitting a gun emplacement.

Since the Brewster cannot be used on [British] carriers, due to the fact that the wing span is about a foot too long for the elevators, and the consensus of opinion is that it is not to be used as a fighter [in Europe], Mr. Churchill suggested that it be used in the Near East.

It might not be a bad idea if the Army and Navy send a group of good mechanics over here to help out in the various places where work is being done on American aircraft. Frankly these people don't know what the hell the score is, and they are too hard up to pay for anyone coming.

The gang working on Brewsters, four [refugee] men, spoke French, I guess, and the boss of the shop spoke about 20 words in English. Their clothes were clean, but an American hobo would turn up his nose otherwise. It was cold, muddy, and drizzly, and those men were cold. They hadn't eaten for a couple days because the cops could not figure out whether they were aliens and thus did nor did not deserve ration cards.

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

Brewster v. Hurricane

[The Air Fighting Development Unit at Northolt filed this report on 5 Nov 1940 after testing a 339B.--DF]

Pilot's Cockpit - The pilot's cockpit is roomy and comfortable and well laid out, and the design of the hood gives an exceedingly good field of view, especially to the sides and rear. The type of hood itself is to be recommended in that it is very strongly built and operates on robust runners. It is difficult to close at high speed but opens easily at all speeds. The arrangement for raising and lowering the pilot's seat is bad; it is exceedingly difficult to raise when flying.

Trimming Tabs - The aircraft is supplied with elevator, rudder and aileron trimming tabs operated from the cockpit. These are very effective although rather sensitive and contribute materially to the ease of the control of the aircraft.

Field of View - For a single-seater single-engined fighter, the pilot's field of view is exceedingly good all around. For taxying, take-o9ff and landing the nose rather obscures the view directly ahead. The view to the rear is far superior to the Spitfire or Hurricane.

Take-off and Landing - The aircraft has a good take- off, being better than a Hurricane, with a slight tendency to swing to the left. . . . For landing, it has a flat approach, and to approach with comfort a little engine is required. It has a comparatively fast approach but pulls up very quickly once having touched down. The actual touch down is simple. The brakes, which are pedal operated, are very efficient both for taxying and landing.

Climb and Dive - The climb to 15,000 feet is better than that of the Hurricane, and the aircraft easily out-dives the Hurricane.

Comparative Speed in Level Flight - [The fighters were flown at the rated heights for the two-speed supercharger on the Brewster's Cyclone engine.] At 6,000 feet the Brewster was approximately 15 m.p.h. faster than the Hurricane; while at 14,700 feet the speeds were practically identical. [If similarly equipped,] the Brewster's speed at 6,000 feet would be approximately the same as the Hurricane, whereas at 14,700 feet it would be approximately 12 miles slower.

Maneuverability - In the air the Brewster Fighter is very maneuverable, its aileron and elevator controls being positive and lighter than the Hurricane or Spitfire at all speeds. The rudder is definitively heavy, but only a little movement is required for full control. It can easily turn inside the Hurricane.

Steadiness of aircraft as gun platform - Although the guns were not fitted, it is the opinion of all pilots who flew the aircraft that it should be a steady gun platform.

As a night fighter

[In July 1941, the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down conducted night-flying trials on 339B serial 426.--DF]

View - This is poor when taxying and in the air it is spoilt by the windscreen frame and edge of the bullet proof screen, particularly on the approach. No clear view panel is provided but this is not necessary with the sliding hood.

Exhaust Flames - These were very bad and some form of flame damper is essential for night flying. From the ground the flames confused the identification lights even with reduced throttle. In the air, they reflect unpleasantly from the airscrew [propeller] disc on the approach to land.

Cockpit illumination and layout - The concealed type of instrument lighting is good and the dimming excellent. All controls and instruments can easily be seen except the A.S.I., of which only the high speed range can be easily read. There are, however, too many lighting controls, which are badly labelled. There are no reflections from the windscreen. The signalling and navigation light switches are accessible and easy to operate.

External lights - There is no external reflection from the identification lights or headlight. The navigation lights can be set bright or dim, and there are separate switches for the wing and tail lights.

The headlight is situated beneath the port wing and is retractable. It lights only when fully extended. The movement and lighting of the lamp are both controlled by a large switch to the right of the pilot which has a mid-position by which the movement can be stopped at any position. This enables it to be used as an "on-off" switch when taxying. The beam itself is poorly adjusted and does not illuminate far enough forward.

Also see Eric Brown's opinion on the Buffalo

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