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The Supermarine Spitfire

Ask any old-timer what is the classic fighter aircraft of all time and they are almost certain to name the Spitfire. It has become part of the British folklore - the aircraft that saved the UK in the Battle Of Britain. The reality tells a different story (actually it was the Hawker Hurricane) but that does not diminish the legend of the Spitfire one whit.

Others simply admire the beautiful lines of the airframe.The writing of the history of aviation from the WWII and for twenty years afterward was changed by the omnipresence of the Spitfire. There were 22,579 of them built and they served in all spheres of the War. Whenever there is a story written or a movie shot of that era that involves fighter aircraft, it's the Spitfire that's invariably front and center.This is not to denigrate the Spitfire in any way. It has always been one of the most instantly recognizable of aircraft of any type or time period and certainly was one of, if not the (choose your sides for this argument!) most effective fighter of its time.

It was at the cutting edge of aviation technology from the mid 1930s until nearly 1950 and was extensively developed and modified over its operational lifetime, including most of the major developments at the end of the piston-engined fighter era. Adding to the Spitfire's mystique is that it is synonymous with the most effective aero engine of WWII, the Rolls-Royce Merlin. As noted above, a Spitfire is instantly recognizable.

Despite this, there were enormous changes made to the basic Spitfire design and very little of the original aircraft other than general outline persisted to the last Marks. Since in practice, Spitfires were continually being upgraded or simply repaired with whatever fitted and was immediately available, many Spitfires never fitted the description of a typical Mark V (or whatever).While not externally appearing to change substantially, the Spitfire was massively developed. The Mark 24 was one-third faster than the Mk I in level flight.It had a rate of climb 80% faster, despite a maximum all-up weight over 6,790 lb heavier and had 5 times the firepower.

Despite the early origins of the design and major theoretical criticisms, the performance of the wing near to the speed of sound was not bettered until well into the jet era.After WWII the Spitfire continued to serve in squadron strength in the Far East, based in Singapore and Hong Kong and during the troubles in Malaya flew some 1800 sorties in all.It again saw action in the Israeli/Egyptian fighting in the late forties. A very few even flew photo-reconnaissance flights in the early days of the Korean conflict particularly during the Inchon landings. The last Spitfires were officially retired by the RAF in 1954.With over 20,000 Spitfires built, today only a handful fly on in the hands of private owners and with the Royal Air Force's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

Still to this day, whenever the song of a Merlin is heard, it will always evoke an image of Reginald Mitchell's magnificent creation - the Spitfire and bring to mind the first and last lines of P/O J.G. Magee's poem, "High Flight".'Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth Put out my hand and touched the face of God.'.

.Michael Russell.Your Independent guide to Aviation.

By: Michael Russell


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