Supermarine Spitfire

To many airshow spectators the Supermarine Spitfire is a special aircraft. The Spitfire exudes power and grace, the elegance of her aerodynamic form and raw energy from her Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, make her one of the most beautiful aircraft ever made. More than any other British aircraft she has earned the warmth and affection of generations of Britons.

What type of aircraft is the Spitfire?

The Supermarine Spitfire is a military aircraft designed to meet an Operational Requirement specification for a modern, all-metal construction, day and night fighter. The aircraft needed a service speed in excess of 250mph an armament of four machine guns, and a fast rate of climb.

Who designed and manufactured the Spitfire?

The Supermarine Spitfire was designed by Supermarine Aviation Works's Chief Designer Reginald Joseph Mitchell. By the 1930s Supermarine was an established manufacturer, responsible for a series of flying boats and Schneider trophy-winning seaplanes. Mitchell's work on Supermarine's aerodynamic racing seaplanes, culminating in the Supermarine S.6B which won the Schneider Trophy outright for Britain, would guide him in his work on the Spitfire. The Supermarine Type 224, begun in 1924 led to the development of the Spitfire. Following the 1934 prototype Spitfire production began in 1936 at Supermarine's Woolston factory in Southampton and Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands. During World War II production was dispersed across the country. Throughout the war production of Spitfire evolved through 24 different versions, or marks. A naval version, the Seafire, was produced to operate from aircraft carriers.

What is the specification of the Spitfire?

The Spitfire is a single-seat, single-engined fighter aircraft, powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine. Later marks were powered by the more powerful Rolls-Royce Griffon. The Spitfire featured a stressed-skin metal construction with an elliptical wing. The design features a sliding cockpit canopy and retractable undercarriage. The Spitfire's airframe proved highly adaptable and Joseph Smith, successor to Mitchell at Supermarine, was able to develop the Spitfire to take increasingly powerful engines and up-rated armament. A version capable of operating from aircrft carriers, the Supermarine Seafire-version, was also developed.

What is the operational history of the Spitfire?

On 4 August 1938 No 19(F) Squadron at RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire became the first squadron of the Royal Air Force to be equipped with the new Supermarine Spitfire. The first aircraft, Sptifire K9789, was delivered to Duxford by test pilot Jeffrey Quill. By the end of October, the squadron possessed just 12 Sptifires. By the outbreak of the Second World War on 1 September 1939 the RAF had just over 300 Spitfires in service. The Spitfire's finest hour was during the summer of 1940 when Germany launched a bomber offensive against Britain as a prelude to invasion. For invading forces to cross the channel and conquer Britain, the Luftwaffe had to knock out Britain's air defences. So the Battle of Britain began. Between 10 July and 31 October 1940 the opposing forces of the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe fought over the skies of Britain. The Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane were ultimately successful; the Luftwaffe failed to surpress the RAF and the invasion was cancelled. The Sptifire also flew in the Mediterranean, when in March 1942, the Spitfire undertook its first overseas operations defending Malta from Luftwaffe and Italian 'Regia Aeronautica' attacks. The flexibility of the Spitfire's design and continuous performance upgrades extended its role; she was used as a photographic reconnaissance aircraft. Reconnaissance Sptifires helped locate the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941 and in the preparation for the Allied landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944. Her role also extended to the Far East. The last operational RAF flight, a photographic mission in Malaya, was by Spitfire PS888 in Singapore on 1 April 1954.

Why is the Spitfire an aviation icon?

During the summer of 1940 Britain stood alone against the threat from Nazi Germany. As a prelude to invasion the Luftwaffe needed to defeat the Royal Air Force. Out-numbered, the "Few" - as the pilots of the RAF became known - fought valiantly and courageously. The Supermarine Spitfire, along with the Hawker Hurricane, were Britain's front-line aircraft. Together they turned the tide and were victorious, earning the gratitude of a nation.

Where can I see a Spitfire aircraft?

There are a number of complete Sptifire airframes known to be in existence. More than forty aircraft are airworthy examples. The oldest airworthy Spitfire is P7350 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The Memorial Flight has 5 airworthy Spitfire examples. A number of two-seater Spitfires including Spitfire T9 PT462 (illustrated above) are regular airshow performers. The Fighter Collection at Duxford has two airworthy Spitfires. Of the static examples, the oldest is Spitfire Mk I K9942 at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford. Static examples can be found at the RAF Museum London and at National Museum of Flight in Scotland. A Seafire can be seen at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton.

Specification

ManufacturerSupermarine Aviation Works Ltd (United Kingdom)
DesignerR J Mitchell
Aircraft typeMilitary fighter
Length29ft 11in
Wingspan36ft 10in
Height11ft 5in
Weight4,810lb (empty)/5,819lb (loaded)
Speed362mph
Ceiling height32,000ft
Engines1 x Rolls-Royce Merlin II engine producing 1,030hp
Range395 miles
Crew1 pilot

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  • Supermarine Spitfire PT462
  • Supermarine Spitfire PT462
  • Supermarine Spitfire PT462

Facts and Figures

  • 20,351 Spitfire aircraft were built between May 1938 and February 1948
  • 24 different Spitfire variants, or marks, were built during 10 years of production
  • Engine power increased from 1,030hp to 2,035hp across the 24 Spitfire marks
  • The last aircraft was Sptifire VN496, a F Mk 24, completed on 20 February 1948
  • The last operational RAF flight by a Spitfire, PS888, was on 1 April 1954
  • Spitfire EN409 recorded a speed of 606mph in high speed dive tests in 1944
  • In 1952 a Mk XIX Spitfire reached an indicated altitude of 50,000ft
  • Spitfire designer R J Mitchell was just 42 years old when he died from cancer on 11 June 1937

Further Reading