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The Supermarine Spitfire is a Britishmarker single-seat fighter aircraft used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries through the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used into the 1950s both as a front line fighter and in secondary roles. It was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft and was the only Allied fighter in production throughout the war.

The Spitfire was designed as a short-range high-performance interceptor aircraft by R. J. Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works (since 1928 a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrongs). He continued to refine the design until his death from cancer in 1937, whereupon his colleague Joseph Smith became chief designer. The Spitfire's elliptical wing had a thin cross-section, allowing a higher top speed than the Hawker Hurricane and several contemporary fighters. Speed was seen as essential to carry out the mission of home defence against enemy bombers.

The distinctive silhouette imparted by the wing planform helped the Spitfire to achieve legendary status during the Battle of Britain. Despite a public perception that it was the RAF fighter of the battle, the more numerous Hurricane actually shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against the Luftwaffe.

After the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire became the backbone of RAF Fighter Command and saw action in the European Theatre, Pacific Theatre and the South-East Asian theatre. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire saw service in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber, carrier-based fighter, and trainer; it was built in many different variants, with two different types of engine and several wing configurations.

The Spitfire will always be compared to its main adversary, the Messerschmitt Bf 109; both followed similar design philosophies of marrying a small, streamlined airframe to a powerful liquid-cooled V12 engine.

Design and development



R. J. Mitchell's 1931 design to meet Air Ministry specification F7/30 for a new and modern fighter capable of , the Supermarine Type 224, resulted in an open-cockpit monoplane with bulky gull-wings and a large fixed, spatted undercarriage powered by the evaporative-cooled Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine. This made its first flight in February 1934. This aircraft was a big disappointment to Mitchell and his design team, who immediately embarked on a series of "cleaned-up" designs, using their experience with the Schneider Trophy seaplanes as a starting point. The Gloster Gladiator biplane fulfilled F7/30.

Mitchell had already begun working on a new aircraft, designated Type 300, based on the Type 224. With a retractable gear and the wingspan reduced by , the aircraft was submitted to the Air Ministry in July 1934, but again was not accepted. The design evolved through a number of changes, including an enclosed cockpit, oxygen-breathing apparatus, even smaller and thinner wings, and the newly-developed, more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-XII V-12 engine, later named the Merlin. In November 1934, Mitchell, with the backing of Supermarine's owner, Vickers-Armstrongs, started detailed design work on the Type 300. The Air Ministry issued a contract AM 361140/34 on 1 December 1934, providing £10,000 for the construction of Mitchell's "improved F7/30 design". On 3 January 1935, the Air Ministry formalised the contract and a new Specification F10/35 was written around the aircraft.

In April 1935 the armament was changed from two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns in each wing to four .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings, following a recommendation by Squadron Leader Ralph Soreby of the Operational Requirements section at the Air Ministry.

On 5 March 1936 the prototype (K5054) took off on its first flight from Eastleigh Aerodromemarker (later Southamptonmarker Airport). At the controls was Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers, chief test pilot for Vickers (Aviation) Ltd., who was reported in the press as saying "Don't touch anything" on landing. This eight minute flight came four months after the maiden flight of the contemporary Hawker Hurricane.

K5054 was fitted with a new propeller and Summers flew the aircraft on 10 May; during this flight the undercarriage was retracted for the first time. After the fourth flight a new engine was fitted, and Summers left the test-flying to his assistants, Jeffrey Quill and George Pickering. They soon discovered that the Spitfire was a very good aircraft, but not perfect. The rudder was over-sensitive and the top speed was just 330 mph (528 km/h), no faster than Sydney Camm's new Merlin-powered Hawker Hurricane. A new and better-shaped wooden propeller meant the Spitfire reached 348 mph (557 km/h) in level flight in mid-May, when Summers flew K5054 to RAF Martlesham Heathmarker and handed the aircraft over to Squadron Leader Anderson of the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE). Here, Flight Lieutenant Humphrey Edwardes-Jones took over the prototype for the RAF. He had been given orders to fly the aircraft and then to make his report to the Air Ministry as soon as he landed. Edwardes-Jones made a positive report; his only request was that the Spitfire be equipped with an undercarriage position indicator. A week later, on 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires, before any formal report had been issued by the A&AEE; interim reports were later issued on a piecemeal basis.

The British public first saw the Spitfire at the RAF Hendonmarker air-display on Saturday 27 June 1936. Although full-scale production was supposed to begin immediately, there were numerous problems which could not be overcome for some time and the first production Spitfire, K9787, did not roll off the Woolstonmarker, Southamptonmarker assembly line until mid-1938. The first and most immediate problem was that the main Supermarine factory at Woolston was already working at full capacity fulfilling orders for Walruses and Stranraers. Although outside contractors were supposed to be involved in manufacturing many important Spitfire components, especially the wings, Vickers-Armstrongs (the parent company) were reluctant to see the Spitfire being manufactured by outside concerns and were slow to release the necessary blueprints and sub-components. As a result of the delays in getting the Spitfire into full production, the Air Ministry put forward a plan that production of the Spitfire be stopped after the initial order for 310, after which Supermarine would build Bristol Beaufighters. The managements of Supermarine and Vickers were able to persuade the Air Ministry that the problems could be overcome and further orders were placed for 200 Spitfires on 24 March 1938, the two orders covering the K, L and N prefix serial numbers.

Airframe

In the mid-1930s, aviation design teams worldwide started developing a new generation of all-metal, low-wing fighter aircraft. The French Dewoitine D.520 and Germany's Messerschmitt Bf 109, for example, were designed to take advantage of new techniques of monocoque construction and the availability of new high-powered, liquid-cooled, in-line aero engines. They also featured refinements such as retractable undercarriages, fully enclosed cockpits and low drag, all-metal wings (all introduced on civil airliners years before but slow to be adopted by the military, who favoured the simplicity and manoeuvrability of the biplane).

Mitchell's design aims were to create a well-balanced, high-performance bomber interceptor and fighter aircraft capable of fully exploiting the power of the Merlin engine while being relatively easy to fly. At the time, no enemy fighters were expected to appear over Great Britain—to carry out the mission of home defence, the design was intended to climb quickly to meet enemy bombers.

The design team's resultant airframe was complex: a streamlined, semi-monocoque duralumin fuselage featuring a large number of compound curves built up from a skeleton of 19 frames, starting from the main engine bulkhead (frame number one). Aft of the engine bulkhead were five half-frames to accommodate the fuel tanks and cockpit. From the seventh, which was the frame to which the pilot's seat and (later) armour plating was attached, to the fifteenth, which was mounted at a forward angle just forward of the tailfin, the frames were oval, each reducing slightly in size, and each had numerous holes drilled through them to lighten them as much as possible without weakening them. Frame 16 formed a double bulkhead with frame 17, which was extended to form the main spar of the vertical fin. Frame 18 formed the secondary spar. Aft of this, the nineteenth frame formed the rudder post. A combination of 14 longitudinal stringers and two main longerons helped form a light but rigid structure to which sheets of alclad stressed skinning were attached. There was ample room for camera equipment and fuel tanks which were to be fitted during the Spitfire's operational service life.

The skins of the fuselage, wings and tailplane were secured by rivets and, in critical areas such as the wing forward of the main spar where an uninterrupted airflow was required, with flush rivets. In some areas, such as the rear of the wing, the top was riveted and the bottom fixed by woodscrews into sections of spruce; later, pop-riveting would be used for these areas.From 1943 on, flush riveting was used throughout the entire airframe; the first version of the Spitfire to change to flush riveting being the Mk XII, closely followed by all Castle Bromwich built Mk IXs. At first, the ailerons, elevators and rudder were fabric-covered. However, when combat experience showed that fabric-covered ailerons were impossible to use at high speeds, fabric was replaced with a light alloy, enhancing control throughout the speed range.

Elliptical wing design

The elliptical planform of a Spitfire Mk XIX, seen at a British air show in 2008


In 1934 Mitchell and the design staff decided to use an elliptical wing shape to solve two conflicting requirements; the wing needed to be thin, to avoid creating too much drag, while still able to house a retractable undercarriage, plus armament and ammunition. Beverley Shenstone, the aerodynamicist on Mitchell's team, explained the wing's qualities;
The elliptical wing was decided upon quite early on.
Aerodynamically it was the best for our purpose because the induced drag, that caused in producing lift, was lowest when this shape was used: the ellipse was...theoretically a perfection...To reduce drag we wanted the lowest possible thickness-to-chord, consistent with the necessary strength.
But near the root the wing had to be thick enough to accomodate the retracted undercarriages and the guns...
Mitchell was an intensely practical man...The ellipse was simply the shape that allowed us the thinnest possible wing with room inside to carry the necessary structure and the things we wanted to cram in.
And it looked nice.


Mitchell has sometimes been accused of copying the wing shape of the Heinkel He 70, which first flew in 1932. As Shenstone explained;
It has been suggested that we at Supermarine had cribbed the elliptical wing shape from that of the German Heinkel 70 transport.
This was not so...Our wing was much thinner and had quite a different section to that of the Heinkel.
In any case it would have been simply asking for trouble to have copied a wing shape from an aircraft designed for an entirely different purpose.


The wing section used was from the NACA 2200 series, which had been adapted to create a thickness-to-chord ratio of 13% at the root, reducing to 6% at the tip. A dihedral of six degrees was adopted to give increased lateral stability.

A feature of the wing which contributed greatly to its success was an innovative spar boom design, made up of five square tubes which fitted into each other. As the wing thinned out along its span the tubes were progressively cut away in a similar fashion to a leaf spring; two of these booms were linked together by an alloy web, creating a lightweight and very strong main spar. The undercarriage legs were attached to pivot points built into the inner, rear section of the main spar and retracted outwards and slightly backwards into wells in the non-load-carrying wing structure. The narrow undercarriage track was considered to be an acceptable compromise as this reduced the bending loads on the main-spar during landing.

Ahead of the spar, the thick-skinned leading edge of the wing formed a strong and rigid D-shaped box, which took most of the wing loads. At the time the wing was designed, this D-shaped leading edge was intended to house steam condensers for the evaporative cooling system intended for the PV-XII. Constant problems with the evaporative system in the Goshawk led to the adoption of a cooling system which used 100% glycol . The radiators were housed in a new radiator-duct designed by Fredrick Meredith of the RAEmarker at Farnboroughmarker; this used the cooling air to generate thrust, greatly reducing the drag produced by the radiators. In turn the leading-edge structure lost its function as an condenser, but it was later to be adapted to house integral fuel tanks of various sizes.

Another feature of the wing was its washout. The trailing edge of the wing twisted slightly upward along its span, the angle of incidence decreased from +2° at its root to -½° at its tip. This caused the wing roots to stall before the tips, reducing tip-stall that may have resulted in a spin. This washout was first featured in the wing of the Type 224 and became a consistent feature in subsequent designs leading to the Spitfire. The complexity of the wing design, especially the precision required to manufacture the vital spar and leading-edge structures, at first caused some major hold-ups in the production of the Spitfire. The problems increased when the work was put out to sub-contractors, most of whom had never dealt with metal-structured, high-speed aircraft. By June 1939 most of these problems had been resolved and Spitfire production was no longer held up by a lack of wings.

All of the main flight controls were originally metal structures with fabric covering. Designers and pilots felt that having ailerons which were too heavy to move at high speed would avoid possible aileron reversal, stopping pilots throwing the aircraft around and pulling the wings off. It was also felt that air combat would take place at relatively low speed and that high-speed manoeuvring would be physically impossible. During the Battle of Britain pilots found that the ailerons of the Spitfire were far too heavy at high speeds, severely restricting lateral manoeuvres such as rolls and high speed turns, which were still a feature of air-to-air combat. Flight tests showed the fabric covering of the ailerons "ballooned" at high speeds, adversely affecting the aerodynamics. Replacing the fabric covering with light alloy dramatically improved the ailerons at high speed.

Spitfire H.F Mk.VII.
The shape of the ellipse was altered by the extended "pointed" wingtips used by the high altitude Mk VI and VIIs, and some early Mk VIIIs.
There were two main variations on the normal elliptical wing shape; when the Spitfire took on a role as a high altitude fighter (Marks VI and VII and some early Mk VIIIs) the standard wingtips were replaced by extended, "pointed" tips which increased the wingspan to 40 ft 2 in (12.3 m). The other wingtip variation, used by several Spitfire variants, was the "clipped" wing; the standard wingtips were replaced by short fairings which reduced the span to 32 ft 6 in (9.9 m)

The airflow through the main radiator was controlled by pneumatic exit flaps. In early marks of Spitfire (Mk I to Mk VI) the single flap was operated manually using a lever to the left of the pilot's seat. When the two-stage Merlin was introduced in the Spitfire Mk XI the radiators were split to make room for an intercooler radiator; the radiator under the starboard wing was halved in size and the intercooler radiator housed alongside. Under the port wing a new radiator fairing housed a square oil cooler alongside of the other half-radiator unit. The two radiator flaps were now operated automatically via a thermostat.

The light alloy split flaps at the trailing edge of the wing were also pneumatically operated via a finger lever on the instrument panel. Only two positions were available; fully up or fully down (85°). The flaps were normally lowered only during the final approach and for landing, and the pilot was to retract them before taxiing.

The ellipse also served as the design basis for the Spitfire’s fin and tailplane assembly, once again exploiting the shape’s favourable aerodynamic characteristics. Both the elevators and rudder were shaped so that their centre of mass was shifted forward, thus reducing control-surface flutter. The longer noses and greater propeller-wash resulting from larger engines in later models necessitated increasingly larger vertical and, later, horizontal tail surfaces to compensate for the altered aerodynamics, culminating in those of the Mk 22/24 series which were 25% larger in area than those of the Mk I.

Improved late wing designs

As the Spitfire gained more power and was able to manoeuvre at higher speeds, the possibility that pilots would encounter aileron reversal increased, and the Supermarine design team set about redesigning the wings to counter this. The original wing design had a theoretical aileron reversal speed of , which was somewhat lower than that of some contemporary fighters. The R.A.E.marker noted that, at IAS, roughly 65% of aileron effectiveness was lost, due to wing twist.

The new wing of the Spitfire F Mk 21 and its successors was designed to help alleviate this problem; the wing's stiffness was increased by 47%, and a new design of aileron using piano hinges and geared trim tabs meant that the theoretical aileron reversal speed was increased to .

Alongside of the redesigned wing Supermarine also experimented with the original wing, raising the leading edge by one inch (2.54 cm), with the hope of improving pilot view and reducing drag. This wing was tested on a modified F Mk 21, also called the F Mk 23, (sometimes referred to as "Valiant" rather than "Spitfire"). The increase in performance was minimal and this experiment was abandoned.

Supermarine developed a new laminar flow wing based on new aerofoil profiles developed by NACA in the United States, with the objective of reducing drag and improving performance. Supermarine estimated that the new wing could give an increase in speed of 55 mph (89 km/h) over the Spitfire Mk 21. The new wing was initially fitted to a Spitfire Mk XIV; later a new fuselage was designed, with the new fighter becoming the Supermarine Spiteful.

Carburettor versus fuel injection

Early in its development, the Merlin engine's lack of direct fuel injection meant that both Spitfires and Hurricanes, unlike the Bf 109E, were unable to simply nose down into a steep dive. This meant a Luftwaffe fighter could simply "bunt" into a high-power dive to escape an attack, leaving the Spitfire behind, as its fuel was forced by negative g out of the carburettor. RAF fighter pilots soon learnt to "half-roll" their aircraft before diving to pursue their opponents. Carburettors were adopted because, as Sir Stanley Hooker explained, it was believed that the carburettor "increased the performance of the supercharger and thereby increased the power of the engine." In March 1941, a metal diaphragm with a hole in it was fitted across the float chambers. It partly cured the problem of fuel starvation in a dive, and became known as "Miss Shilling's orifice" as it was invented by Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling. Further improvements were introduced throughout the Merlin series, with Bendix-manufactured pressure carburettors introduced in 1942.

Armament

Due to a shortage of Brownings, which had been selected as the new standard rifle calibre machine gun for the RAF in 1934, early Spitfires were fitted with only four guns, with the other four fitted later. Early tests showed that while the guns worked perfectly on the ground and at low altitudes, they tended to freeze at high altitude, especially the outer wing guns. This was because the RAF's Brownings had been modified to fire from an open bolt; while this prevented overheating of the cordite used in British ammunition, it allowed cold air to flow through the barrel unhindered. Supermarine did not fix the problem until October 1938, adding hot air ducts from the rear of the wing mounted radiators to the guns, and bulkheads around the gunbays to trap the hot air in the wing. Red fabric patches were doped over the gun ports to protect the guns from cold, dirt and moisture until they were fired. Even if the eight Brownings worked perfectly, pilots soon discovered that they were not sufficient to destroy larger aircraft. Combat reports showed that an average of 4,500 rounds was needed to shoot down an enemy aircraft. In November 1938, tests against armoured and unarmoured targets had already indicated that the introduction of a weapon of at least 20 mm calibre was urgently needed.

In June 1939, a single Spitfire was fitted with a single drum-fed Hispano in each wing, an installation that required large blisters on the wing to cover the 60-round drum. The cannons suffered frequent stoppages, mostly because the guns were mounted on their sides to fit as much as possible of the magazine within the wing. In January 1940, PO George Proudman flew this prototype in combat, but the starboard gun stopped after firing a single round, while the port gun fired 30 rounds before seizing. If one cannon seized, the recoil of the other threw the aircraft off aim. Nevertheless, 30 more cannon-armed Spitfires were ordered for operational trials, and they were soon known as the Mk IB, to distinguish them from the Browning-armed Mk IA. In June 1940, they were delivered to No. 19 Squadron. The Hispanos, though, were still so unreliable that the squadron requested an exchange of its aircraft with the older, but Browning-armed, aircraft of an operational training unit. But in August, Supermarine had perfected a more reliable installation of the cannons with an improved feed mechanism and four .303 in outer wing panels. The modified fighters were then delivered to 19 Squadron.

Production

In February 1936 the director of Vickers-Armstrongs, Sir Robert MacLean, guaranteed production of five aircraft a week, beginning 15 months after an order was placed. On 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 aircraft, for a price of £1,395,000. Full-scale production of the Spitfire began at Supermarine's facility in Woolstonmarker, Southamptonmarker, but it quickly became clear that the order could not be completed in the 15 months promised. Supermarine was a small company, already busy building the Walrus and Stranraer, and its parent company, Vickers, was busy building the Wellington. The initial solution was to subcontract the work out. The first production Spitfire rolled off the assembly line in mid-1938, and was flown on 15 May 1938, almost 24 months after the initial order.

The final cost of the first 310 aircraft, after delays and increased programme costs, came to £1,870,242 or £1,533 more per aircraft than originally estimated. Production aircraft cost about £9,500. The most expensive components were the hand-fabricated and finished fuselage at approximately £2,500, then the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine at £2,000, followed by the wings at £1,800 a pair, guns and undercarriage, both at £800 each, and the propeller at £350.

Castle Bromwich



By 1938, with the increased belligerence of the Nazis, the Government and Air Ministry were anticipating that a new war was inevitable. To help build Spitfires in the numbers which were now required, on 12 July 1938 a huge new facility was started at Castle Bromwichmarker, Birminghammarker. This was the first "shadow factory" to be built, supplementing Supermarine's original factories in Southamptonmarker. The most modern machine tools then available were being installed two months after work started on the site. Although Morris Motors Ltd under Lord Nuffield (an expert in mass motor-vehicle construction) at first managed and equipped the factory, it was funded by government money. However, even as the first Spitfires were being built in June 1940 the factory was still incomplete, and there were numerous problems with the factory management and the workforce "...which was 'bugged' with industrial action (or inaction) which fell short of a complete factory shutdown, but was fragmented into areas where the cumulative result ensured that no Spitfires reached the flight testing stage."

When the project was first mooted it was estimated that the factory would be built for ₤2,000,000, however, by the beginning of 1939 this cost had doubled to over ₤4,000,000. The Spitfire's stressed-skin construction required precision engineering skills and techniques outside the experience of the local labour force and this was exacerbated by the Castle Bromwich management ignoring tooling and drawings provided by Supermarine in favour of tools and drawings of its own designs, "even altering the manufacturing limits of Supermarine drawings for reasons which are quite incomprehensible".

By May 1940, Castle Bromwich had not yet built its first Spitfire, in spite of promises that the factory would be producing 60 per week starting in April. On 17 May Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, telephoned Lord Nuffield and manoeuvered him into handing over control of the Castle Bromwich plant to Beaverbook's Ministry. Beaverbrook immediately sent in experienced management staff and experienced workers from Supermarine and gave over control of the factory to Vickers-Armstrong. Although it would take some time to resolve the problems, in June 1940, 10 Mk IIs were built; in July, 23 rolled out, 37 in August, and 56 in September. These were the first of thousands of Spitfires to emerge from Castle Bromwich.

By the time production ended at Castle Bromwich in June 1945, a total of 12,129 Spitfires (921 Mk IIs, 4,489 Mk Vs, 5,665 Mk IXs, and 1,054 Mk XVIs) had been built.

Production dispersal



During the Battle of Britain, concerted efforts were made by the Luftwaffe to destroy the main manufacturing plants at Woolstonmarker and Itchenmarker, near Southamptonmarker. The first raid, which missed the factories, came on 23 August 1940. Over the next month, other raids were mounted until, on 26 September 1940, both factories were completely wrecked, with 92 people being killed and a large number injured; most of the casualties were experienced aircraft production workers.

Fortunately for the future of the Spitfire, many of the production jigs and machine tools had already been relocated by 20 September, and steps were being taken to disperse production to small facilities throughout the Southampton area. To this end, the British government requisitioned the likes of Vincent's Garage in Station Square Readingmarker, which later specialised in manufacturing Spitfire fuselages, and Anna Valley Motors, Salisburymarker, which was to become the sole producer of the wing leading-edge fuel tanks for photo-reconnaissance Spitfires, as well as producing other components. A purpose-built works, specialising in manufacturing fuselages and installing engines, was built at Star Road, Cavershammarker in Reading. The drawing office in which all Spitfire designs were drafted was relocated to another purpose-built site at Hursley Parkmarker, near Southampton. This site also had an aircraft assembly hangar, with its associated aerodrome, where many of the prototype and experimental Spitfires were assembled and flown.

Four towns and their satellite airfields were chosen to be the focal points for these workshops:

Completed Spitfires were delivered to the airfields on large Commer "Queen Mary" low-loader articulated trucks, there to be fully assembled, tested, then passed on to the RAF.

Flight testing

All production Spitfires were flight tested before delivery. During the Second World War, Jeffrey Quill was Vickers Supermarine's chief test pilot, in charge of flight-testing all aircraft types built by Vickers Supermarine; he also oversaw a group of 10 to 12 pilots responsible for testing all developmental and production Spitfires built by the company in the Southampton area. Quill had also devised the standard testing procedures which, with variations for specific aircraft designs, operated from 1938. Alex Henshaw, chief test pilot at Castle Bromwich from 1940, was placed in charge of testing all Spitfires built at that factory, coordinating a team of 25 pilots; he also assessed all Spitfire developments. Between 1940 and 1946, Henshaw flew a total of 2,360 Spitfires and Seafires, more than 10% of total production.

Henshaw wrote about flight testing Spitfires:
After a thorough pre-flight check I would take off and, once at circuit height, I would trim the aircraft and try to get her to fly straight and level with hands off the stick...Once the trim was satisfactory I would take the Spitfire up in a full-throttle climb at 2,850 rpm to the rated altitude of one or both supercharger blowers.
Then I would make a careful check of the power output from the engine, calibrated for height and temperature...If all appeared satisfactory I would then put her into a dive at full power and 3,000 rpm, and trim her to fly hands and feet off at 460 mph IAS (Indicated Air Speed).
Personally, I never cleared a Spitfire unless I had carried out a few aerobatic tests to determine how good or bad she was.
The production test was usually quite a brisk affair: the initial circuit lasted less than ten minutes and the main flight took between twenty and thirty minutes. Then the aircraft received a final once-over by our ground mechanics, any faults were rectified and the Spitfire was ready for collection.I loved the Spitfire in all of her many versions. But I have to admit that the later marks, although they were faster than the earlier ones, were also much heavier and so did not handle so well. You did not have such positive control over them. One test of manoeuvrability was to throw her into a flick-roll and see how many times she rolled. With the Mark II or the Mark V one got two-and-a-half flick-rolls but the Mark IX was heavier and you got only one-and-a-half. With the later and still heavier versions, one got even less. The essence of aircraft design is compromise, and an improvement at one end of the performance envelope is rarely achieved without a deterioration somewhere else.

When the last Spitfire rolled out in February 1948, a total of 20,351 examples of all variants had been built, including two-seat trainers, with some Spitfires remaining in service well into the 1950s. The Spitfire was the only British fighter aircraft to be in continuous production before, during and after the Second World War.

Operational history



The operational history of the Spitfire with the RAF started with the first Mk Is K9789, which entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Duxfordmarker on 4 August 1938.

The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the Battle of Britain, a reputation aided by the famous "Spitfire Fund" organised and run by Lord Beaverbrook the Minister of Aircraft Production. Although the key aim of Fighter Command was to stop the Luftwaffe's bombers, in practice the tactic was to use Spitfires to counter German escort fighters, particularly the Bf 109s, while the Hurricane squadrons attacked the bombers.

Well-known Spitfire pilots included J E "Johnnie" Johnson (34 enemy aircraft shot down), who flew the Spitfire right through his operational career from late 1940 to 1945. Douglas Bader (20 e/a) and R S "Bob" Tuck (27 e/a) flew Spitfires and Hurricanes during the major air battles of 1940, and both were shot down and became POWs while flying Spitfires over France in 1941 and 1942. Some notable Commonwealth pilots were A G "Sailor" Malan (27 e/a) from South Africa, New Zealandersmarker Alan Deere (17 e/a) and C F Gray (27 e/a) and the Australian Hugo Armstrong (12 e/a).

The Spitfire continued to play increasingly diverse roles throughout the Second World War and beyond, often in air forces other than the RAF. The Spitfire, for example, became the first high-speed photo-reconnaissance aircraft to be operated by the RAF. Sometimes unarmed, they flew at high, medium and low altitudes, often ranging far into enemy territory to closely observe the Axis powers and provide an almost continual flow of valuable intelligence information throughout the war. In 1941 and 1942, PRU Spitfires provided the first photographs of the Freya and Würzburg radarmarker systems and, in 1943, helped confirm that the Germans were building the V1 and V2 Vergeltungswaffe ("vengeance weapons") by photographing Peenemündemarker, on the Baltic Seamarker coast of Germany.

In the Mediterranean the Spitfire blunted the heavy attacks on Malta by the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe and, from early 1943, helped pave the way for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italymarker. On 7 March 1942, 15 Mk Vs carrying 90-gallon fuel tanks under their bellies took off from the off the coast of Algeria on a 600-mile flight to Malta. Those Spitfires V were the first to see service outside Britain. Over the Northern Territorymarker of Australia, RAAF Spitfires helped defend the port city of Darwinmarker against air attack by the Japanese Naval Air Force. The Spitfire also served on the Eastern Front: approximately a thousand were supplied to the Soviet Air Force. Though some were used at the frontline in 1943, most of them saw service with the Protivo-Vozdushnaya Oborona (English: "Anti-air Defence Branch").

Speed and altitude records

The Spitfire Mk XI flown by Sqn.
Ldr.
Martindale, seen here after its flight on 27 April 1944 during which it was damaged achieving a true airspeed of 606 mph (975 km/h).


Beginning in late 1943, high-speed diving trials were undertaken at Farnboroughmarker to investigate the handling characteristics of aircraft travelling at speeds near the sound barrier (i.e., the onset of compressibility effects). Because it had the highest limiting Mach number of any aircraft at that time, a Spitfire XI was chosen to take part in these trials. Due to the high altitudes necessary for these dives, a fully feathering Rotol propeller was fitted to prevent overspeeding. It was during these trials that EN409, flown by Squadron Leader J. R. Tobin, reached 606 mph (975 km/h, Mach 0.891) in a 45° dive. In April 1944, the same aircraft suffered engine failure in another dive while being flown by Squadron Leader A. F. Martindale, when the propeller and reduction gear broke off. Martindale successfully glided the Spitfire 20 mi (32 km) back to the airfield and landed safely.

On 5 February 1952, a Spitfire 19 of No. 81 Squadron RAF based in Hong Kongmarker reached probably the highest altitude ever achieved by a Spitfire. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ted Powles, was on a routine flight to survey outside-air temperature and report on other meteorological conditions at various altitudes in preparation for a proposed new air service through the area. He climbed to 50,000 ft (15,240 m) indicated altitude, with a true altitude of 51,550 ft (15,712 m). The cabin pressure fell below a safe level and, in trying to reduce altitude, he entered an uncontrollable dive which shook the aircraft violently. He eventually regained control somewhere below 3,000 ft (900 m) and landed safely with no discernible damage to his aircraft. Evaluation of the recorded flight data suggested that, in the dive, he achieved a speed of 690 mph (1,110 km/h, Mach 0.96), which would have been the highest speed ever reached by a propeller-driven aircraft, but it has been speculated this figure resulted from inherent instrument errors.

The critical Mach number of the Spitfire's original elliptical wing was higher than the subsequently-used laminar-flow-section, straight-tapering-planform wing of the follow-on Supermarine Spiteful, Seafang and Attacker, illustrating that Reginald Mitchell's thoughtful and practical engineering approach to the problems of high-speed flight had paid off handsomely.

Variants



As its designer, R.J. Mitchell will forever be known for his most famous creation. However, the development of the Spitfire did not cease with his premature death in 1937. Mitchell only lived long enough to see the prototype Spitfire fly. Subsequently a team led by his chief draughtsman, Joe Smith, developed more powerful and capable variants to keep the Spitfire current as a front-line aircraft. As one historian noted: "If Mitchell was born to design the Spitfire, Joe Smith was born to defend and develop it."

There were 24 marks of Spitfire and many sub-variants. These covered the Spitfire in development from the Merlin to Griffon engines, the high-speed photo-reconnaissance variants and the different wing configurations. More Spitfire Mk Vs were built than any other type, with 6,487 built, followed by the 5,656 Mk IXs. Different wings, featuring a variety of weapons, were fitted to most marks; the A wing used eight .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, the B wing had four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns and two 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano cannon, and the C or Universal Wing could mount either four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon or two 20 mm (.79 in) and four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns. As the war progressed, the C wing became more common. Another armament variation was the E wing which housed two 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and two .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine gun.

Supermarine developed a two-seat variant known as the T Mk VIII to be used for training, but none were ordered, and only one example was ever constructed (identified as N32/G-AIDN by Supermarine). In the absence of an official two-seater variant, a number of airframes were crudely converted in the field. These included a 4 Squadron Mk VB in North Africa, where a second seat was fitted instead of the upper fuel tank in front of the cockpit, although it was not a dual-control aircraft and is thought to have been used as the squadron "run-about." The only unofficial two-seat conversions that were fitted with dual-controls were a small number of Russian lend/lease Mk IX aircraft. These were referred to as Mk IX UTI and differed from the Supermarine proposals by using an inline "greenhouse" style double canopy rather than the raised "bubble" type of the T Mk VIII.

In the postwar era, the idea was revived by Supermarine and a number of two-seat Spitfires were built by converting old Mk IX airframes with a second "raised" cockpit featuring a bubble canopy. Ten of these TR9 variants were then sold to the Indian Air Force along with six to the Irish Air Corps, three to the Royal Dutch Air Force and one for the Royal Egyptian Air Force. Currently a handful of the trainers are known to exist, including both the T Mk VIII, a T Mk IX based in the U.S., and the "Grace Spitfire" ML407, a veteran flown operationally by 485 Squadron in 1944.

Seafire

The Seafire, a name derived from Sea Spitfire, was a naval version of the Spitfire specially adapted for operation from aircraft carriers. Although the Spitfire was not designed for the rough-and-tumble of carrier-deck operations, it was considered to be the best available fighter at the time, and went on to serve with distinction. The basic Spitfire design did impose some limitations on the use of the aircraft as a carrier-based fighter; poor visibility over the nose, for example, meant that pilots had to be trained to land with their heads out of the cockpit and looking alongside the port cowling of their Seafire; also, like the Spitfire, the Seafire had a relatively narrow undercarriage track, which meant that it was not ideally suited to deck operations. Early marks of Seafire had relatively few modifications to the standard Spitfire airframe; however cumulative front line experience meant that most of the later versions of the Seafire had strengthened airframes, folding wings, arrestor hooks and other modifications, culminating in the purpose-built Seafire F/FR Mk 47.

The Seafire II was able to outperform the A6M5 Zero at low altitudes when the two types were tested against each other during wartime mock combat exercises. Contemporary Allied carrier fighters such as the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair, however, were considerably more robust and practical for carrier operations. Performance was greatly increased when later versions of the Seafire were fitted with the Griffon engines. These were too late to see service in the Second World War.

Griffon-engined variants

The first Griffon-powered Spitfire, DP845, flown by Jeffrey Quill, 1942


The first Rolls Royce Griffon-engined Mk XII flew on August 1942, and first flew operationally with 41 Squadron in April 1943. This mark could nudge in level flight and climb to an altitude of 33,000 ft (10,000 m) in under nine minutes. Although the Spitfire continued to improve in speed and armament, range and fuel capacity were major issues: it remained "short-legged" throughout its life except in the dedicated photo-reconnaissance role, when its guns were replaced by extra fuel tanks..

Newer Griffon-engined Spitfires were being introduced as home-defence interceptors, where limited range was not an impediment. These faster Spitfires were used to defend against incursions by high-speed "tip-and-run" German fighter-bombers and V-1 flying bombs over Great Britain..

As American fighters took over the long-range escorting of USAAF daylight bombing raids, the Griffon-engined Spitfires progressively took up the tactical air superiority role as interceptors, while the Merlin-engined variants (mainly the Mk IX and the Packard-engined XVI) were adapted to the fighter-bomber role.


Although the later Griffon-engined marks lost some of the favourable handling characteristics of their Merlin-powered predecessors, they could still out-manoeuvre their main German foes and other, later American and British-designed fighters.

The final version of the Spitfire, the Mk 24, first flew at South Marston on 13 April 1946. On the 20th February 1948, almost twelve years from the prototype's first flight, the last production Spitfire, VN496, left the production line. The Spitfire 24 was used by only one regular RAF unit, with 80 Squadron replacing their Hawker Tempests with F. Mk 24s in 1947. 80 Squadron continued its patrol and reconnaissance duties from Wunstorfmarker in Germany as part of the occupation forces, until it relocated to Kai Tak Airportmarker, Hong Kongmarker in July 1949. During the Chinese Civil War, 80 Squadron's main duty was to defend Hong Kong from perceived Communist threats. They kept their Spitfires until 1 April 1954 when the last operational sortie of an RAF Spitfire was flown. Operation Firedog during the Malayan Emergency saw the Spitfire fly over 1,800 operational sorties against the Malaysian communists by Spitfires.

The last operational Spitfire sortie was by a PR Mk 19 Spitfire, PS888 flying from RAF Seletarmarker, in Singaporemarker. Photographer George Yallop took a photo of PS888 in which the ground crew painted the words, "The Last" onto the port engine cowling of the PR 19 after the final flight.

The last non-operational flight of a Spitfire in RAF service, which took place on 9 June 1957, was by a PR 19, PS583, from RAF Woodvalemarker of the Temperature and Humidity Flight. This was also the last known flight of a piston-engined fighter in the RAF. The last nation in the Middle East to operate Spitfires was Syria, which kept its F 22s until 1953.

In late 1962, Air Marshal Sir John Nicholls instigated a trial when he resurrected a Spitfire P.R 19 to fight against an English Electric Lightning F 3, a supersonic jet-engined interceptor, in mock combat at RAF Binbrookmarker. At the time British Commonwealth forces were involved in possible action against Indonesia over Malaya and Nicholls decided to develop tactics to fight the Indonesian Air Force P-51 Mustang, a fighter that had a similar performance to the P.R 19. He concluded that the most effective and safest way for a modern jet-engined fighter to attack a piston-engined fighter was from below and behind, contrary to all established fighter-on-fighter doctrine at that time.

Operators





Survivors

There are approximately 44 Spitfires and a few Seafires in airworthy condition worldwide, although many air museums have examples on static display. For example, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industrymarker has paired a static Spitfire with a static Ju 87 R-2/Trop. Stuka dive bomber.

Memorials

  • Sentinelmarker is a sculpture depicting three Spitfires in flight by Tim Tolkien at Chester Road in Castle Bromwichmarker, England, commemorating the main Spitfire factory.
  • A sculpture of the prototype Spitfire, K5054, stands on the roundabout at the entrance to Southampton International Airport, which, as Eastleigh Aerodrome, saw the first flight of the aircraft in March 1936.
  • Jeffrey Quill, the former Supermarine test pilot, was pursuing a project to build an exact replica of K5054, the prototype Spitfire to be put on permanent public display as a memorial to R.J. Mitchell. A team of original Supermarine designers worked with Aerofab Restorations of Andover for ten years to create the facsimile. It was unveiled to the public in April 1993 by Quill at the RAF Museum, Hendon, and is currently on loan to the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.
  • A Spitfire is on display on the Thornaby Road roundabout near the school named after Douglas Bader who flew a Spitfire in the Second World War. This memorial is in memory of the old RAF base in Thornabymarker which is now a residential estate.
  • A fibreglass replica of a Spitfire has been mounted on a pylon in Memorial Park, Hamilton, New Zealandmarker as a tribute to all New Zealand fighter pilots who flew Spitfires during the Second World War.
  • At Bentley Priory, London, fibreglass replicas of a Spitfire Mk 1 and a Hurricane Mk 1 can be seen fixed in a position of attack, diving on the Duchess' bedroom windows. This was built as a memorial to everyone who worked at Bentley Priory during the war.
  • 603 (City of Edinburghmarker) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Spitfire Memorial next to the Edinburgh Airportmarker control tower.
  • A fibreglass replica of a Spitfire Mk IX has been mounted on a pylon in Jackson Park, Windsor, Ontariomarker alongside a Hawker Hurricane as a memorial to Royal Canadian Air Force pilots. This display replaces an Avro Lancaster bomber that had previously been on display and is currently undergoing restoration.


Popular culture

  • The First of the Few (also known as Spitfire in the U.S. and Canada) (1942) was a British film produced and directed by Leslie Howard, with Howard in the starring role of R.J. Mitchell. Some of the footage includes film shot in 1941 of operational Spitfires and pilots of 501 Squadron (code letters SD).
  • Malta Story (1953), starring Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Steel and Muriel Pavlow, is a black and white war film telling the story of the defence of Maltamarker in 1942 when Spitfires were the island's main defence from air attacks.
  • Reach for the Sky (1956) starring Kenneth More tells the story of Douglas Bader, using contemporary Spitfire aircraft in the production.
  • Battle of Britain (1969) starring Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Susannah York and many others. Set in 1940, this film features several sequences involving a total of 12 flying Spitfires (mostly Mk IX versions), as well as a number of other flying examples of Second World War-era British and German aircraft.
  • Piece of Cake (1987) starring Tom Burlinson. Aired on the ITV network in 1987. Based on the novel by Derek Robinson, the six-part miniseries covered the prewar era to "Battle of Britain Day," 15 September 1940. The series depicted air combat over the skies of Francemarker and Britainmarker during the early stages of the Second World War, though using five flying examples of late model Spitfires in place of the novel's early model Hawker Hurricanes. There were shots of Spitfires taking off and landing together from grass airstrips.
  • Dark Blue World (2001), starring Ondřej Vetchý was a tale of two Free Czech pilots who escape Nazi-occupied Europe to fly Spitfires during the Battle of Britain. Sveràk filmed some new aerial scenes and reused aerial footage from Hamilton's film.


  • Several episodes of the ITV series Foyle's War (originally airing in 2001) focus on young RAF pilots who fly Spitfires. A real Spitfire Mark V was used in the filming.
  • Spitfire Ace (2004) was a four-part mini series from RDF Media that depicted four young pilots undergoing the same training that Battle of Britain pilots would have received. One pilot was eventually selected to proceed to training in the "Grace Spitfire."
  • A lifesize model of a Spitfire in the style of an Airfix kit was made as part of the BBC TV series James May's Toy Stories in 2009.


Specifications (Spitfire Mk Vb)

Replica Mk VB on display in 2009


See also

References

Notes

  • The Air Ministry submitted a list of possible names to Vickers-Armstrongs for the new aircraft, now known as the Type 300. One of these was the improbable Shrew. The name Spitfire was suggested by Sir Robert MacLean, director of Vickers-Armstrongs at the time, who called his daughter Ann, "a little spitfire".
The word dates from Elizabethan times and refers to a particularly fiery, ferocious type of person. The name had previously been used unofficially for Mitchell's earlier F7/30 Type 224 design. Mitchell is reported to have said that it was "just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose".
  • Although this is often perceived as Summers implying that the Spitfire was flawless, this perception is in error. In fact it meant that as a test pilot Summers wanted nothing touched, especially the control settings, until he had consulted with Mitchell and the design team and suggested some improvements.
  • The ellipse is proven to be the most efficient wing shape in terms of optimum spanwise lift distribution, whilst the associated chord tapering results in a high aspect ratio, important for lessening induced drag so that airflow does not "break" over the wing. Also of noteworthy importance is the type’s low thickness-to-chord ratio – the thin wings promote effective airflow, another vital factor in reducing drag.
  • Rolls-Royce saw the potential of the He 70 as a flying test-bed for prototype engines and sent a team to Germany to buy one of the aircraft direct from Heinkel. The German government approved the deal, but only in return for a number of Rolls-Royce Kestrel engines. Glancey 2006, p. 38.
  • Starting with the Merlin XII fitted in Spitfire Mk IIs in late 1940 this was changed to a 70% water-30% glycol mix.
  • On the ground the flaps were normally lowered only for inspection or for maintenance. Pilots who forgot to raise the flaps after landing often found themselves paying a fine.
  • A "Spitfire Lane" can be found on the road between Salisbury and Andovermarker leading to the Chattis Hill aerodrome.
  • The test pilots were based at Highpost and flown by light aircraft to the other airfields.
  • This aircraft survived the war, only to be scrapped in 1945. The first pilot to fly K9789 was Squadron Leader Henry Cozens, whose career had begun in 1917 with the Sopwith Camel and ended after flying Meteor and Vampire jets.
  • The second cockpit of this aircraft has been lowered and is now below the front cockpit. This modification is known as the Grace Canopy Conversion, and was designed by Nick Grace, who rebuilt ML407. (For further details on surviving Spitfires see List of surviving Supermarine Spitfires).

Citations

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  3. McKinstry 2007, pp. 69, 75–76.
  4. McKinstry 2007, pp. 48–49, 115, 119.
  5. McKinstry 2007, p. 3.
  6. Ethell 1997, p. 6.
  7. Andrews and Morgan 1987, p. 206.
  8. Price 1977, p. 16.
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  11. Price 1977, p. 20.
  12. Price 1999, pp. 16, 17.
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  18. Fleischman, John. "Best of Battle of Britain." Air & Space, March 2008. Retrieved: 3 April 2008.
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  20. Glancey 2006 p. 43.
  21. Humphrey Edwardes-Jones. rafweb.org
  22. Glancey 2006, p. 44.
  23. Ethell 1997, p. 11.
  24. Price 1977, pp. 25, 27.
  25. Ethel 1997, p. 12.
  26. Morgan and Shacklady 2000, p. 45.
  27. Danel and Cuny 1966, pp. 225–244.
  28. Cross and Scarborough 1976, pp. 6-7.
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  30. Morgan and Shacklady, 1992.
  31. Spitfire construction Retrieved: 20 February 2008.
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  66. Williams and Gustin 2003, p. 95.
  67. Williams and Gustin 2003, pp. 93–94.
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  97. Price 1996, pp. 17, 35-37, 41, 62, 66, 91.
  98. Price 1996, pp. 17, 44, 55, 64, 93.
  99. Price 1996, pp. 11-13, 17, 42, 64, 67-68, 92.
  100. Price 1995, pp. 56-57.
  101. Price 1995, pp. 47, 82-83, 95-96.
  102. Vader 1969, p. 153.
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  106. Ted Powles
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