The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter, often referred to as simply the Beau, was a British long-range heavy fighter modification of the Bristol Aeroplane Company's earlier Beaufort torpedo bomber design. The name Beaufighter is a portmanteau of "Beaufort" and "fighter". Unlike the Beaufort, the Beaufighter had a long career and served in almost all theatres of war in the Second World War, first as a night fighter, then as a fighter-bomber and eventually replacing the Beaufort as a torpedo bomber.
Variants of the Beaufighter include:
- Beaufighter Mk IF - Two-seat night fighter variant.
- Beaufighter Mk IC - The "C" stood for Coastal Command variant; many were modified to carry bombs.
- Beaufighter Mk II - However well the Beaufighter performed, the Short Stirling bomber program by late 1941 had a higher priority for the Hercules engine and the Rolls Royce Merlin XX-powered Mk II was the result.
- Beaufighter Mk IIF - Production night fighter variant.
- Beaufighter Mk III/IV - The Mark III and Mark IV were to be Hercules and Merlin powered Beaufighters with a new slimmer fuselage carrying an armament of 6 cannon and 6 machine guns which would give performance improvements. The necessary costs of making the changes to the production line led to the curtailing of the Marks.
- Beaufighter Mk V - The Vs had a Boulton Paul turret with four 0.303 machine guns mounted aft of the cockpit supplanting one pair of cannons and the wing-mounted machine guns. Only two Mk Vs were built.
- Beaufighter Mk VI - The Hercules returned with the next major version in 1942, the Mk VI, which was eventually built to over 1,000 examples.
- Beaufighter Mk VIC - Torpedo-carrying variant dubbed the "Torbeau".
- Beaufighter Mk VIF - This variant was equipped with AI Mark VIII radar.
- Beaufighter Mk VI (ITF) - Interim torpedo fighter version.
- Beaufighter TF Mk X - Two-seat torpedo fighter aircraft. The last major version (2,231 built) was the Mk X, probably the finest torpedo and strike aircraft of its day.
- Beaufighter Mk XIC - Built without torpedo gear for Coastal Command use.
- Beaufighter Mk 21 - The Australian-made DAP Beaufighter. Changes included Hercules CVII engines, a dihedral tailplane, four 20 mm in the nose, four Browning .50 in the wings and the capacity to carry eight five-inch High-Velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVAR), two 250 lb bombs, two 500 lb bombs and one Mk13 torpedo.
- Beaufighter TT Mk 10 - After the war, many RAF Beaufighters were converted into target tug aircraft.