The British Spitfire Fighter

Introduction

The British Supermarine Spitfire was a single seat fighter during World War II.  The primary user of the “Spit” was the Royal Air Force (RAF) along with many of their allies.  The Spitfire was designed to be a short-ranged interceptor aircraft that was designed by R.J. Mitchell. 

The public perceived that the Spitfire to be the the primary defender of Britain, however the Hawker Hurricane had the higher number of sorties and  more victories than the Spitfire.  The Spitfire had a lower attrition rate and a lower kill-to-loss rate. 

After the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire became the backbone of the RAF Fighter command.  The Spitfire saw action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific and Southeast Asian theatres of war. 

This aircraft was much loved by it’s pilots serving in roles of intercepter, photo-recon,  fighter-bomber, and training aircraft.  It served in these roles until the 1950s.  There were over 20,300 of the built of all models and variants.

Design and Development

In 1939, the Air ministry called for a modern fighter capable of flying at 250 mph (fast at the time).   Aircraft manufacturer Supermarine with R.J. Mitchell designing an entry with the Supermarine Type 224 which was a fixed gear, open cockpit mono-plane powered by Rolls Royce Goshawk engine of 600 hp. 

There were seven competitors in the bid and the Supermarine Type 224 was the winner.  Back to the drawing boards Mitchell went and redesigned the Type 224 and called it Type 300.  Type 300 did no better with the Air Ministry then did Type 224. 

But Mitchell and Supermarine were not to be deterred as they improved the 300  verison with an enclosed the cockpit with an oxygen system, retractable land gear, better wing design, a newly created, soon to be called Rolls Royce Merlin inline engine.  This design fared no  better with the Air Ministry. 

In 1935 Air Ministry issued a design contract to build a prototype with further request for amament improvements.  On 05 March 1936 the K5054 as it was now called took to the sky on its first test flight. 

Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers Chief Test pilot for the parent company Vickers, said “Don’t touch anything on landing”.    Improvements continued during the year and the Spitfire reached a speed of 348 mph. 

After some more government testing,  the aircraft was considered a pretty good aircraft.   On 03 June 1936 the Air Ministry placed and order for 310 Spitfires. 

Because Supermarine was a small manufacturing company, the initial production order was delayed but as parts and assemblies were sub-contracted out, the first Spitfire rolled off the assembly line on 15 May 1938.   This was about two years behind schedule. 

Production problems continued at Castle Bromwich until the Ministry of Aircraft Production took over the Castle Bromwich plant.  The plant became better as many of the production problems became things of the past and Castle Bromwich now an air base also which produced over 12,000 Spitfires over the course of the War. 

The Spitfire was the only British fighter aircraft to be in continuous production before, during and after the Second World War.

Operational History

During the Battle of Britain, the key aim of Fighter Command was to stop the  Luftwaffe’s bombers   The strategy was to use the Spitfires against the German escort fighters,  mainly the Me-109s.  Then the Hawker Hurricanes would attack the bombers. 

In the Mediterranean, the Spitfire blunted the continuous and heavy attacks by the Germans against Malta   By neutralizing the German attacks at Malta, this opens the way for the invasion of Sicily and Italy. 

  The “Spit” was involved with the Lend-Lease Plan the Allies had with USSR.  The Soviet Air Force was supplied with Spitfires that were used as a anti-air defense fighter. 

The Spitfire saw action in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese Zero.  Lt. Gen. Claire Chennault said:

“The RAF pilots were trained in methods that were excellent against  the German and Italian equipment, but suicide against the aerobatic Japanese Zeros.  Although not as fast as the Spitfire, the Zero could out-turn with ease and could sustain a climb at a very steep angle and could stay in the air for three times as long.  To counter the Zero, Spitfire pilots had to adopt a “slash and run” and use their faster speed and diving superiority to fight, while avoiding classic dogfights”.   

During the Second World War, Spitfires were used by the United States Army Air Force as escorts for B-17 and B-24 bombers on missions over France and Germany.  Because the “Spit” was designed to be a short range fighter, the were replaced by USAAF with P-47 Thunderbolts that had greater range. 

Chief test pilot Alex Henshaw had this to say about the Spitfire;

” I love the Spitfire and in all of her many versions.  But I had to admit that the later models, although they were faster then the earlier ones, were also much heavier and so did not handle as well.  You did not have such positive control over them.  One test of maneuverability, was  to throw her over 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 flicks rolls but with the Mark IX which was heavier and you got only one and half.  With the later and still heaver versions, one got even less.  The essence of aircraft testing  is compromise,  an improvement at one end of the performance envelope is already achieved without a deterioration somewhere else”.

Where you can see the Supermarine Spitfire

United States 

BL628 Lewis Air Legends Encinal, Texas

NH749 Commemorative Air Force Camarillo, California

MJ 730 Military Aviation Museum Virginia Beach, Virginia

SL633 Historic Flight Foundation Paine Field, Washington

P9306 Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Illinois

MA863 and PA 908 National Museum of the United States Air Force,                                                         Dayton Ohio

M7719  Cavanaugh Flight Museum Dallas-Addison Airport, Texas

MK923 Museum of Flight Seattle, Washington

The above is a list of Spitfires for the United States.  The “Spit” is On Display or Air Worthy in nearly every country in the World.   Check with your local Air Museum

TECH SPECS  SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE

THANKWingspan:     36 ft 10 in

Length:           29 ft 11 in

Height:            11 ft 5 in

Weight:           9,065 lbs (empty) 6,700lbs                                                    (*MGTOW)

Max Speed:     370 mph

Ceiling:            36,500 ft

Range:             425 mi  (combat); 991 mi (ferry)

Engine:           1/rolls Royce Merlin Supercharged V- 12   1,470 hp

Crew:               1

THANKS FOR READING!  I HOPE THIS WAS INFORMATIVE!

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