| Continued from above… compact. |
In 1934 the Air Ministry announced that it was looking for a new fighter plane. Mitchell, whose company was now part of Vickers Aviation, decided to adapt his Supermarine seaplane, in an attempt to meet the requirements of the Royal Air Force. The new all-metal single-seat fighter plane, the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I, had several technical features of the earlier racing seaplane. It had the same structure and aerodynamic lines. However, it had a new engine, the 1,030 hp Rolls Royce Merlin and carried 8 machine-guns.
Undoubtedly the most famous British combat aircraft of World War II, the Spitfire is as deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of most Britons as the P-51 Mustang is in most Americans'. First flown on 5 March 1936, the Spitfire sprang from the design desk of R.J. Mitchell, who had previously submitted an unsuccessful design for a similar fighter, the Type 224. Once given the freedom to design an aircraft outside of the strict Air Ministry specifications, his Type 300 emerged as a clear winner; so much so that a new Air Ministry specification was written to match the new design.
The Supermarine Spitfire was much more than just a highly successful fighter aircraft. It was, and indeed to many people still is, the symbol of victory against overwhelming odds and is probably the only fighter to achieve a truly legendary status. Few other fighters are more deserving of a place in aviation history. |
- The first Spitfire prototype appeared on 5th March, 1936 and flew at 350 mph (563 km/h) and could ascend at approximately 2,500 ft (762 m) per minute. With its slender aerodynamic lines and elliptical-plan wings, it was claimed at the time, to be the smallest and cleanest aircraft that could be constructed around a man and an engine.
- The Royal Air Force was impressed with its performance and in June, 1936, it ordered 310 aircraft. The Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I went into production in 1937 and was operational in June, 1938. Vickers Aviation could not keep up with demand and most of Britain's manufacturers began building Spitfires. By October, 1939, the Air Ministry had ordered over 4,000 of these airplanes.
- A front line fighter for eighteen months, the Spitfire I earned one of the most enduring reputations of any aircraft . Its sleek lines, graceful appearance and impressive performance combined with its role in the battle of Britain to make it a British icon. The Mk I Spitfire was in constant development during its production run. Reginald J. Mitchell developed a racing seaplane, the Supermarine S6B, which won the Schneider Trophy on 13th September, 1931. During the contest the aircraft reached 340 mph (547 km/h).
- Supermarine Spitfire Mk. II went into service in late 1940. These had a 1,150 hp Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Other versions appeared throughout the Second World War. This included Spitfire Mk. IV that was a photographic reconnaissance aircraft. The Spitfire Mk. VC was the first model to be used as a fighter-bomber and carried 500 pounds (226 kg) of bombs.
At the beginning of the Battle of Britain the RAF had 32 squadrons of Hawker Hurricanes and 19 squadrons equipped with Spitfire . It was decided to use the Hurricanes against the massive bomber formations of the Luftwaffe whereas the Spitfires were employed against German fighters.
Though more difficult to build and repair than the Hawker Hurricane, which had entered service with the RAF in 1937, the Spitfire had a significant edge in performance. Its large elliptical wing gave it the ability to turn very tightly. This was the Spitfire’s one major asset when it met the otherwise comparable German Messerschmitt Me109E in the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. However, for a time, the ability of the 109’s direct-injection DB601 engine to keep running under negative gravity – as when suddenly going into a dive – proved an embarrassment to the early Merlin.
This Luftwaffe outnumbered the RAF by four to one. However, the British had the advantage of being closer to their airfields. German fighters could only stay over England for about half an hour before flying back to their home bases. The RAF also had the benefits of an effective early warning radar system and the intelligence information provided by Ultra.
Following the Battle of Britain in 1940, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had planned to replace its Spitfire Mk. I and II fighters with the Mk. III, which had been under development for two years. The Mk. III included significant improvements such as an improved wing design, a retractable tail wheel, and a new Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engine.
Before the RAF could put the Mk. III into production, however, the Germans introduced the improved Messerschmitt Bf 109F. Since this new German fighter greatly outperformed the current Spitfires at high altitude, the RAF could not wait for the factories to be retooled for the Mk. III, and they hurriedly developed an interim aircraft, the Spitfire Mk. V (the Mk. IV designation had already been assigned to another version).
Douglas Bader first flew a Supermarine Spitfire in February, 1940. He wrote about it in his book, Fight for the Sky.
The Spitfire looked good and was good. But my first reaction was that it was bad for handling on the ground; its long straight nose, uptilted when the tail wheel was on the ground; its long straight nose, uptilted when the tail wheel was on the ground, made taxing difficult since it was not easy to see ahead. It was necessary to to swing from side to side to look in front. The view at take-off was restricted in the same way until you were travelling fast enough to lift the tail; only then could you see over the nose.
Once accustomed to these minor inconveniences, they were no longer apparent, and once in the air, you felt in the first few minutes that here was the aeroplane par excellence. The controls were light, positive and synchronized; in fact, the aeroplane of one's dreams. It was stable; it flew hands and feet off; yet you could move it quickly and effortlessly into any attitude. You brought it in to land at 75 mph and touched down at 60-65 mph. Its maximum speed was 367 mph. You thus had a wide speed range which has not been equalled before or since.
It had eight machine guns of .303 calibre each, mounted four in each wing. The guns were spaced one close to the fuselage, two mid-wing, one further out. The eight guns were normally synchronized to 250 yards. In other words the four in each wing were sighted so that the bullets from all eight converged at that distance, in front of the Spitfire. Experienced fighter pilots used to close the pattern to 200 yards. The successful pilots succeeded because they did not open fire until they were close to the target...
| Essentially, the Spitfire Mk. V consisted of a modified Mk. II airframe with a new Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 engine (a Merlin XX modified to ease production and improve high altitude performance). Initially, the wing remained unchanged, but three different types emerged depending on the armament. With the suffix letter indicating the type of wing, the Mk. V(a) had eight Browning .303 machine guns, and the Mk. V(b) had two Hispano 20 mm cannon and four machine guns. The Spitfire Mk. V(c) introduced the "universal" wing which enabled this variant to be fitted with various combinations of armament, including four 20 mm. cannon and four .303 machine guns. |
Supermarine Spitfire; an uncompromised, fast and maneuverable fighter . The remarkable thin elliptical wing made the Spitfire capable of very high speeds. It served as first-line fighter throughout WWII in increasingly fast and powerful versions, first with the Merlin, later with the Griffon engine. The Spitfire was continuously changed to meet all kinds of treats and demands, as low- and high altitude fighter, tropicalized, navalized, or equipped as unarmed photo-reconnaissance aircraft. Probably the most famous military aircraft ever. 20351 built. The RAF retired its last Spitfires -- PR Mk. 19 aircraft -- in 1954.
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Britain's legendary premier fighter
The Spitfire's role in the winning of the Battle of Britain, put it among the most admired fighters ever built and gave it an heroic romantic image never bestowed on any other aircraft. Its designer R.J. Mitchell (1895-1937) was appalled when he realized how sharply the burgeoning military might of Germany contrasted with laggard British re-armament.
Mitchell determined to develop, before it was too late, a fighter that could match warplanes like the Me-109 fighter and Ju-88 'fast' bomber. The Spitfire was built around the Rolls Royce PV 12 engine and the Air Ministry requirement for a fighter with eight machine guns. The graceful, highly maneuverable prototype with its light alloy fuselage and a 990 hp engine first flew on 5th March 1936 and reached a speed of 349.5 mph. Within three months, its manufacturers, Supermarine, had received a contract for 310 Spitfires with 200 more ordered for 1937.
When World War II began, nine British squadrons were equipped with Spitfire Is. This single-seater interceptor fighter was powered by a 1,030 hp Rolls Royce Merlin III twelve cylinder liquid cooled engine and armed with eight .303 inch Browning machine guns. With a maximum speed of 365 mph at 19,000 ft., Spitfire IAs had a range of nearly 600 miles and could climb at the rate of 2,500 feet per minute. These aircraft, with their 36 ft. 10 ins. wingspan, and length of nearly 30 ft., were the main breed of Spitfire contesting the Battle of Britain, although the Spitfire II, with its 1,175 hp Rolls Royce Merlin XII engine was present in small numbers.
The Spitfire went through 21 more variants before the final, 20,334th, was produced in 1947. During World War II, Spitfires served in the Mediterranean, North Africa, Australia, Russia and the Far East. The Spitfire was held in respect and fear by pilots of the German Luftwaffe. Legend has it that when victory in the Battle of Britain was slipping from the Germans' grasp, Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering asked his pilots what they most wanted to reverse the situation. The answer was, reputedly: 'A squadron of Spitfires'.
By Debs McCaffrey