Remarkably, despite the rapid pace of aircraft technology, an aircraft that was designed pre-war, first flew in 1915 and possibly accounted for Max Immelmann in June 1916 is still flying combat missions and would continue to do so until the end of the war – the Fe2b.
Admittedly the FE2b is longer flying in its originally intended role as a fighter as it has long been outclassed – having a low top speed (91 miles an hour – falling to little more than 70 mph at 10,000 feet), a poor climb rate, and poor maneuverability due to its massive size (being nearly twice as big as a Sopwith Camel) – See the Vintage Aviator for a description of the flight characteristics taken from a fllihgt of a recent reproduction).
However it is these relatively docile handling characteristics, coupled with the good forward field of view (due to the pusher layout) that have seen it given a second life as a night bomber – where the opposition from superior enemy fighters is negligible. It was first used as a night bomber in November 1916 and specialist FE2b night bomber squadrons were formed in February 1917. By the end of the war FE2bs were still in use as night bombers in eight bomber squadrons, with 860 of the 1939 built being built or converted to night bombing.
One of these is 38 Squadron RAF which originally flew the aircraft as a Home Defence night fighter, but which in May 1918 was designated as a night bomber Squadron. They moved to Dunkirk and tonight flew their first combat mission in their new role when 10 FE2b’s bombed Ostend docks.