With its distinctive sound and shape the Spitfire is undoubtedly one of the most famous aircraft ever built. An icon of the Battle of Britain the aircraft had a long and varied history during its
operational service with the Royal Air Force and still flies with it today as part of its Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. This article contains a range of facts about the Supermarine Spitfire
and the people behind it.
During his time at Supermarine, many as chief designer, Reginald Joseph Mitchell would be involved in the design of twenty four
aircraft. Although it is the Spitfire he is most remembered for he
also played a role in the Walrus and Stranraer flying boats.
Both of these aircraft would also serve during the Second World War (1939 – 1945).
The lineage of the Spitfire can be traced back to Supermarine's racing seaplanes the S.5, S.6 and S.6B which won the Schneider Trophy
in 1927, 1929 and 1931. R. J Mitchell was chief designer for all of these aircraft.
Supermarine Type 224
The Type 224 was designed in response to Specification F.7/30 which had been issued by the Air Ministry in
October 1931. Proving unsuccessful only one example was built but the data and experience gained during the development of the aircraft helped in the design of the Spitfire.
Supermarine Type 305 – Turret Spitfire
During 1935 the Air Ministry began the process of looking for a two-seat turret fighter that could operate at night as well as during the day. The Supermarine submission had an unmanned hydraulically
powered and electrically aimed gun turret just behind the cockpit. In the end the Boulton Paul Defiant was chosen for this role.
The 5th March 1936 saw the Spitfire prototype (K5054) fly for the first time. With a 900-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin
'C' engine powering the aircraft as it flew from what was then RAF Eastleigh
, now Southampton Airport, with Captain Joseph 'Mutt' Summers
at the controls.
Spitfire Mk IA (P9374) at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford
Don't Touch Myth
“Don't touch anything” was said by Captain Summers at the end of the prototype's first flight. This was not because the Spitfire was perfect but because he was to fly the prototype again later
and it was set up how he wanted it.
Other Considered Names
Some of the other names that were under consideration for the Spitfire included Shrew, favoured by R.J. Mitchell, Shark, Serpent and Shrike.
After the death of R.J. Mitchell at the age of just 42 on the 11th June 1937 development of the Spitfire would be headed up by Joe Smith
, who had been working under Mitchell. He would be involved with all Mks of the type.
The 3rd June 1936 saw an order for 310 Spitfire Mk Is placed by the Air Ministry, which at that time was the biggest single production order they had placed.
The Spitfire began to enter Royal Air Force service on the 4th August 1938 when No. 19 Squadron,
RAF Duxford took delivery of their first Mk Is. These would be a fry cry from the Gloster Gauntlet
biplanes they were using at the time.
Early Spitfire Mk Is had hand operated landing gear, as the pilot wound the landing gear up or down their knuckle would catch on the side of the cockpit. Thankfully for the pilots the Mk IA had a
hydraulic system to operate the landing gear.
World Record Attempt
A converted Mk I (K9834) fitted with a 2,160-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin 3M engine was to try and beat the air speed record of 440.5 mph set in October 1934. Known as the High Speed Spitfire (N-17) it would
never make an attempt on the world air speed record as before it was ready the Heinkel He 100 V8 and then the Messerscmitt Me 209 V1 would put the record out of the reach of the High Speed
Spitfire. It would be converted to a PR Mk I then a PR Mk. II serving in the photo reconnaissance role for the duration of World War 2.
First Aerial Victory Over Britain
When No. 602 Squadron shot down two Junkers Ju 88s over the Firth of Forth on the 16th October 1939 they would claim the
first German aircraft shot down over Britain during the Second World War. These would also be the first aircraft shot down by the Spitfire.
Spitfires in France During 1939
A number of Spitfire PR Mk Is would be sent to France during November 1939, however these would only be used for reconnaissance duties.
Spitfire vs Messerschmitt Bf 109
The Spitfire Mk I and Bf 109E had their first combat engagement on the 23rd May 1940. This saw
No. 92 Squadron lose three of their aircraft whilst two Bf 109s and two Messerschmitt Bf 110s were lost.
It was in this engagement that Squadron Leader Roger Bushell
was shot down and captured. He would go on to lead the 'Great Escape'.
No. 222 Squadron scramble during the Battle of Britain © ww2images.com
As the aircraft began to enter public consciousness May 1940 saw the creation of 'Spitfire Funds'. From a single rivet
costing a sixpence to a whole aircraft at £5,000, although the true costs of a Spitfire was more. Everyone from the public to businesses could donate and if you could afford a whole Spitfire you
could dedicate it, such as Lloyds Bank who named theirs 'The Black Horse'.
In total around £13 million pounds was raised at the time.
Top British RAF Ace of World War 2
With 38 victories James Edgar 'Johnnie' Johnson would end the war as the Royal Air Force's top scoring British pilot. He would score all his victories in four different Spitfire variants.
Mk I, Mk II, Mk V and Mk IX.
Highest Aerial Battle of World War 2
Taking off from RAF Northholt on the 12th September 1942 a Special Service (High Altitude) Flight Spitfire Mk IX (BS273) was vectored to the skies above Southampton. It would end up in an
engagement with a Junkers Ju 86R at 43,000 ft, the highest aerial battle of the war.
First Jet Aircraft Victory
When the Messerschmitt Me 262 entered service with the Luftwaffe
during 1944 it was the first jet fighter to enter operational service. When a Spitfire Mk IX of No. 401 Squadron (Royal Canadian Air Force) shot one
down on the 5th October that same year it was the first aerial victory by an Allied piston engined aircraft over a Luftwaffe jet aircraft.
24 Main Variants
Designed as a fighter like most aircraft during the Second World War the Spitfire would find itself operating in a number of other roles. These included fighter-bomber, photo-reconnaissance,
night fighter and air sea rescue. In this role the Spitfire would drop a dinghy and supplies for ditched airmen until a Supermarine Walrus could pick them up. It would then escort the Walrus
Spitfire Mk VB (EP122) at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford
During World War Two Jeffrey Quill was working for Vickers Supermarine as Head of Development
and Production Flying. As a result of his position Jeffrey would fly all the Spitfire variants produced, the only person to do so.
Other Wing Types
Whilst the Spitfire is known for its elliptical wing shape some Mks would have clipped wings, which gave a straight edge to the wing and improved low level performance. Whilst others had extended
wing tips giving a more pointed appearance to the edge of the wing and helped high altitude performance.
Entering service with the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm
on the 15th June 1942 the Supermarine Seafire, as the naval version was known, would remain in service with the FAA until November 1954. During
its time in service the Seafire would take part in the last dogfight of the Second World War on the 15th August 1945 and would see combat during the Korean War (1950 – 1953).
Five Spitfires would be converted into floatplanes during World War 2, however none would see operational service. The Spitfire Mk IX floatplane
which had a top speed of 377 mph would be the fastest floatplane of the war.
During the Second World War a number of photo-reconnaissance Spitfires were painted in a light pink. These would operate mainly at dawn and dusk to blend in with the clouds at this time, flying
just underneath them.
Seafire Mk XVII (SX336) at Shuttleworth
After the invasion of France during June 1944 it was difficult for Allied service personnel to get hold of luxuries such as beer. As a result some
Spitfires were modified to hold beer kegs in their underwing pylons, normally used for
bombs, or had their external fuel tanks converted to hold beer. Due to the cold air at altitude if the pilot flew high enough the beer was ready to serve on
After making a forced landing in Jersey Spitfire Mk VB (EN830) flown by Pilot Officer Bernard Scheidhauer,
No. 131 Squadron was repaired and fitted with a Daimler-Benz DB 605A engine by the
Luftwaffe. It would then undergo comparison tests against a Bf 109G which was powered by the same engine. No details of the tests are known.
During June 1944 a Spitfire Mk XIV fitted with a laminar flow wing made its first flight. This new aircraft, to be known as the Spiteful, was intended as a successor for the Spitfire. However the
advent of the jet age and the aircraft's less than expected performance meant it would never enter operational service.
A Spitfire Mk 23 based first on a Mk 22 then on the Mk 21 prototype would fly fitted with a new wing. It was hoped this new wing would improve high speed and diving performance. Testing results
proved disappointing so, the Valiant as it would have been known, never entered production.
Pre and Post World War 2 Production
The production run of the Spitfire lasted ten years from 1938 – 1948 meaning it had the distinction of being the only Allied fighter in production before, during and after the Second World War.
Spitfire Mk IX (MH434) at Shuttleworth
20,334 Spitfires were built with the last one rolling off the production line being a Mk 24 (VN496) which would be struck off charge on the 15th December 1950.
A total of 33 air forces would use the aircraft, this included the United States Army Air Force and Soviet Air Force who used them during the Second World War. Whilst post-war Spitfires were used by
the Royal Danish Air Force and Swedish Air Force.
The last operational sortie was made by a No. 81 Squadron, Malaya Spitfire PR. XIX (PS888) on the 1st April 1954. This aircraft was then sold to the Royal Thai Air Force two months later.
Last RAF Spitfire Flight
Serving with the Temperature and Humidity Flight, RAF Woodvale it would be Spitfire Mk XIX (PS915) that made the last flight by a Spitfire whilst in active service with the Royal Air Force. This
aircraft is still flying today with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
Spitfire vs Lightning
During 1963 a Spitfire PR XIX would be used in trials against the English Electric Lightning to help Lightning pilots develop combat tactics against piston engined aircraft. This was because the
Lightning may have been involved in combat against Indonesian Air Force North American P-51 Mustangs during the Indonesia – Malaysia Confrontation (1963 – 1966).