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Supermarine Spitfire

Spitfire LF Mk IX, MH434 being flown by Ray Hanna in 2005. This aircraft shot down a FW 190 in 1943 while serving with 222 Squadron RAF.
Role Fighter / Photo-reconnaissance aircraft
Manufacturer Supermarine
Designer R. J. Mitchell
First flight 5 March 1936[1]
Introduction 4 August 1938[1]
Retired 1961 Irish Air Corps[2]
Primary user Royal Air Force
Produced 1938–1948
Number built 20,351[3]
Unit cost
£12,604 (Estonian order for 12 Spitfires in 1939)[nb 1].[4]
Variants Supermarine Seafire
Supermarine Spiteful

The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries during and after the Second World War. The Spitfire was built in many variants, using several wing configurations, and was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft. It was also the only British fighter to be in continuous production throughout the war. The Spitfire continues to be a popular aircraft, with approximately 53 Spitfires being airworthy, while many more are static exhibits in aviation museums all over the world.

The Spitfire was designed as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft by R. J. Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works (which operated as a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong from 1928). In accordance with its role as an interceptor, Mitchell designed the Spitfire's distinctive elliptical wing to have the thinnest possible cross-section; this thin wing enabled the Spitfire to have a higher top speed than several contemporary fighters, including the Hawker Hurricane. Mitchell continued to refine the design until his death from cancer in 1937, whereupon his colleague Joseph Smith took over as chief designer, overseeing the development of the Spitfire through its multitude of variants.

During the Battle of Britain (July–October 1940), the Spitfire was perceived by the public to be the RAF fighter, though the more numerous Hawker Hurricane shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against the Luftwaffe. However, because of its higher performance, Spitfire units had a lower attrition rate and a higher victory-to-loss ratio than those flying Hurricanes.

After the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire superseded the Hurricane to become the backbone of RAF Fighter Command, and saw action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific and the South-East Asian theatres. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire served in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber and trainer, and it continued to serve in these roles until the 1950s. The Seafire was a carrier-based adaptation of the Spitfire which served in the Fleet Air Arm from 1942 through to the mid-1950s. Although the original airframe was designed to be powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine producing 1,030 hp (768 kW), it was strong enough and adaptable enough to use increasingly powerful Merlin and, in later marks, Rolls-Royce Griffon engines producing up to 2,340 hp (1,745 kW); as a consequence of this the Spitfire's performance and capabilities improved, sometimes dramatically, over the course of its life.


  • Development and production 1
    • Origins 1.1
    • Into production 1.2
    • Manufacturing at Castle Bromwich 1.3
    • Production dispersal 1.4
    • Flight testing 1.5
  • Design 2
    • Airframe 2.1
    • Elliptical wing design 2.2
    • Improved late wing designs 2.3
    • Carburettor versus fuel injection 2.4
    • Armament 2.5
  • Operational history 3
    • Service operations 3.1
    • Speed and altitude records 3.2
  • Variants 4
    • Overview 4.1
    • Seafire 4.2
    • Griffon-engined variants 4.3
  • Operators 5
  • Survivors 6
    • Surviving Spitfires in Burma 6.1
  • Memorials 7
  • Replicas 8
  • Notable appearances in media 9
  • Specifications (Spitfire Mk VB) 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
    • Notes 12.1
    • Citations 12.2
    • Bibliography 12.3
  • External links 13

Development and production


R. J. Mitchell's 1931 design to meet Air Ministry specification F7/30 for a new and modern fighter capable of 250 mph (400 km/h), the Supermarine Type 224, was an open-cockpit monoplane with bulky gull-wings and a large fixed, spatted undercarriage powered by the 600 horsepower (450 kW) evaporatively cooled Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine.[5] This made its first flight in February 1934.[6] The Type 224 was a big disappointment to Mitchell and his design team, who immediately embarked on a series of "cleaned-up" designs, using their experience with the Schneider Trophy seaplanes as a starting point. Of the seven designs tendered to F7/30, the Gloster Gladiator biplane was accepted for service.[7]

Mitchell had already begun working on a new aircraft, designated Type 300, with a retractable undercarriage and the wingspan reduced by 6 ft (1.8 m). This was submitted to the Air Ministry in July 1934, but was not accepted.[8] The design then went through a series of changes, including the incorporation of a faired, enclosed cockpit, oxygen-breathing apparatus, smaller and thinner wings, and the newly developed, more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-XII V-12 engine, later named the "Merlin". In November 1934 Mitchell, with the backing of Supermarine's owner, Vickers-Armstrong, started detailed design work on this refined version of the Type 300[9] and, on 1 December 1934, the Air Ministry issued contract AM 361140/34, providing £10,000 for the construction of Mitchell's improved F7/30 design.[10] On 3 January 1935, the Air Ministry formalised the contract and a new specification, F10/35, was written around the aircraft.[11]

The unpainted Spitfire prototype K5054 at Eastleigh airfield, just before the first flight. The angled rudder mass balance and unfaired main undercarriage and tailskid can be seen. This aircraft was written off after a landing accident at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (R.A.E.) at Farnborough on 4 September 1939.[12]

In April 1935, the armament was changed from two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns in each wing to four .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings,[13] following a recommendation by Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley of the Operational Requirements section at the Air Ministry.[14] On 5 March 1936,[15] the prototype (K5054) took off on its first flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport). At the controls was Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers, chief test pilot for Vickers, who is quoted as saying "Don't touch anything" on landing.[16][nb 2] This eight-minute flight[14] came four months after the maiden flight of the contemporary Hurricane.[18]

K5054 was fitted with a new propeller, and Summers flew the aircraft on 10 March 1936; during this flight the undercarriage was retracted for the first time.[19] After the fourth flight, a new engine was fitted, and Summers left the test-flying to his assistants,

  • The Spitfire Site – resource library about the Supermarine Spitfire
  • Spitfire Society
  • Spitfire Society - Eastern Wing
  • Spitfire/Seafire Serial Numbers, production contracts and aircraft histories
  • K5054 – Supermarine Type 300 prototype Spitfire & production aircraft history
  • Spitfire Performance Testing
  • Supermarine Spitfire – History of a legend (RAF Museum)
  • The Supermarine Spitfire in Indian Air Force Service
  • Spitfire Pilots, articles about Spitfires and its pilots
  • RAF Museum Spitfire Mk VB walk-around photos
  • Examples of Photographic Reconnaissance Spitfires
  • Sound recordings of Supermarine Spitfire Aircraft
  • , a 1945 National Film Board of Canada documentary film on the role of Supermarine Spitfires in the Second World WarWasp Wings
  • Pacific Spitfires – The Supermarine Spitfire in RAAF Service
  • FlightA photograph of the 1939 "Speed Spitfire" in .

External links

  • Air Ministry. A.P 1565B Spifire IIA and IIB Aeroplanes: Merlin XII Engine, Pilot's Notes. London: Air Data Publications, 1972. ISBN 0-85979-043-6.
  • Air Ministry. Pilot's Notes for Spitfire, IX XI & XVI. Merlin 61,63,66,70 or 266 Engine. London: Air Data Publications, 1946. ASIN: B000TUWO64
  • Andrews, C.F. and E.B. Morgan. Supermarine Aircraft since 1914. London: Putnam, 1987. ISBN 0-85177-800-3.
  • Bader, Douglas. Fight for the Sky: The Story of the Spitfire and Hurricane. London: Cassell Military Books, 2004. ISBN 0-304-35674-3.
  • Bodie, Warren M. The Lockheed P-38 Lightning: The Definitive Story of Lockheed's P-38 Fighter. Hayesville, North Carolina: Widewing Publications, 2001, first edition 1991. ISBN 0-9629359-5-6.
  • Bowyer, Chaz. Supermarine Spitfire. London, Arms and Armour Press, 1980. ISBN 0-85368-464-2.
  • Bowyer, Michael. Interceptor Fighters for the Royal Air Force 1935–45. Wellingborough, UK: Patrick Stevens, 1984. ISBN 0-85059-726-9.
  • Brown, Eric. "Spitfires with Sea Legs, Part two." Air International, Vol. 15, No. 4, October 1978.
  • Bungay, Stephen. The Most Dangerous Enemy – A History of the Battle Of Britain. London: Aurum, 2001. ISBN 1-85410-801-8.
  • Buttler, Tony. British Secret Projects: Fighters and Bombers 1935–1950. Hersham, UK: Midland, 2004. ISBN 1-85780-179-2.
  • Carpenter, Chris. Flightwise: Part 1, Principles of Aircraft Flight. Shrewsbury, UK: AirLife, 1996. ISBN 1-85310-719-0.
  • Cross, Roy and Gerald Scarborough. Messerschmitt Bf 109, Versions B-E. London: Patrick Stevens, 1976. ISBN 0-85059-106-6.
  • Cull, Brian with Fredrick Galea. Spitfires Over Malta: The Epic Air Battles of 1942. London: Grub Street, 2005. ISBN 1-904943-30-6.
  • Danel, Raymond and Jean Cuny. Docavia n°4: le Dewoitine D.520 (in French). Paris, France: Editions Larivière, 1966.
  • Deere, Brendon. Spitfire: Return to Flight. Palmerston North, NZ: ITL Aviation Limited, 2010. ISBN 978-0-473-16711-0.
  • Deighton, Len. Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain. London: Grafton 1977. ISBN 0-7858-1208-3.
  • Delve, Ken. The Story of the Spitfire: An Operational and Combat History. London: Greenhill books, 2007. ISBN 978-1-85367-725-0.
  • Dibbs, John and Tony Holmes. Spitfire: Flying Legend. Southampton, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1997. ISBN 1-84176-005-6.
  • Eforgan, Estel. Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor. London: Mitchell Vallentine & Company, 2010. ISBN 978-0-85303-941-9.
  • Ethell, Jeffrey L. World War II in the Air. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994. ISBN 1-55750-249-8.
  • Ethell, Jeffrey L. and Steve Pace. Spitfire. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International, 1997. ISBN 0-7603-0300-2.
  • Flack, Jeremy. Spitfire – The World's Most Famous Fighter. London: Chancellor Press, 1994. ISBN 1-85152-637-4.
  • Flintham, Victor. Air Wars and Aircraft: A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present. New York: Facts on File, 1990. ISBN 0-8160-2356-5.
  • Gilman J.D. and J. Clive. KG 200. London: Pan Books Ltd., 1978. ISBN 0-85177-819-4
  • Glancey, Jonathan. Spitfire: The Illustrated Biography. London: Atlantic Books, 2006. ISBN 978-1-84354-528-6.
  • Green, Peter. "Spitfire Against a Lightning." Flypast, No. 315, October 2007.
  • Green, William. Famous Fighters of the Second World War, 3rd ed. New York: Doubleday, 1975. ISBN 0-356-08334-9.
  • Green, William. Messerschmitt Bf 109: The Augsburg Eagle; A Documentary History. London: Macdonald and Jane's Publishing Group Ltd., 1980. ISBN 0-7106-0005-4.
  • Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. The Great Book of Fighters. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0-7603-1194-3.
  • Gueli, Marco. "Spitfire con Coccarde Italiane (Spitfire in Italian service)." (in Italian) Storia Militare n. 62, November 1998.
  • Gunston, Bill et al. "Supermarine unveils its high-performance monoplane today (5 March)." The Chronicle of Aviation. Liberty, Missouri: JL International Publishing, 1992. ISBN 1-872031-30-7.
  • Henshaw, Alex. Sigh for a Merlin: Testing the Spitfire: 2nd Revised edition . London: Crecy Publishing, 1999. ISBN 978-0-947554-83-5.
  • Henshaw, Alex. "Spitfire: A Test Pilot's Defence." Aeroplane Monthly, Vol. 9, Issue No. 269, September 1995.
  • Holland, James. Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, 1940–1943. New York: Miramax Books, 2003. ISBN 1-4013-5186-7.
  • Holmes, Tony. Spitfire vs Bf 109: Battle of Britain. London: Osprey Aerospace, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84603-190-8
  • Jackson, Robert. Aircraft of World War II: Development, Weaponry, Specifications. Edison, New Jersey: Chartwell Books, 2003. ISBN 0-7858-1696-8.
  • Jane, Fred T. "The Supermarine Spitfire." Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II. London: Studio, 1946. ISBN 1-85170-493-0.
  • Jane, Fred T. Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II(reprint). New York: Crescent Books, 1998. ISBN 0-517-67964-7.
  • Lednicer, David A. "Technical Note: A CFD Evaluation of Three Prominent World War II Fighter Aircraft." Aeronautical Journal, Royal Aeronautical Society, June/July 1995.
  • Lednicer, David A. "World War II Fighter Aerodynamics." EAA Sport Aviation, January 1999.
  • McKinstry, Leo. Spitfire – Portrait of a Legend. London: John Murray, 2007. ISBN 0-7195-6874-9.
  • Morgan, Eric B. and Edward Shacklady. Spitfire: The History (4th rev. edn.). London: Key Publishing, 1993. ISBN 0-946219-10-9.
  • Morgan, Eric B. and Edward Shacklady. Spitfire: The History (5th rev. edn.). London: Key Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-946219-48-6.
  • Moss, Graham and Barry McKee. Spitfires and Polished Metal: Restoring the Classic Fighter. Marlborough, Wiltshire, UK: Airlife, 1999. ISBN 0-7603-0741-5.
  • Price, Alfred. "The Birth of a Thoroughbred." Aeroplane, Volume 34, Number 3, No. 395, March 2006.
  • Price, Alfred. Late Marque Spitfire Aces 1942–1945. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1995. ISBN 1-85532-575-6.
  • Price, Alfred. Spitfire: A Documentary History. London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1977. ISBN 0-354-01077-8.
  • Price, Alfred. Spitfire a Complete Fighting History. Enderby, Leicester, UK: The Promotional Reprint Company Limited, 1991. ISBN 1-85648-015-1.
  • Price, Alfred. The Spitfire Story. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-86720-624-1.
  • Price, Alfred. The Spitfire Story: Second edition. London: Arms and Armour Press Ltd., 1986. ISBN 0-85368-861-3.
  • Price, Alfred. Spitfire: Fighter Supreme. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1991. ISBN 1-85409-056-9.
  • Price, Alfred. "Supermarine Spitfire (Merlin-engined variants)". Wings of Fame, Volume 9, 1997, pp. 30–93. London: Aerospace. ISBN 1-86184-001-2.
  • Price, Alfred. "Supermarine Spitfire (Griffon-engined variants and Seafire)" Wings of Fame, Volume 16, 1999, pp. 30–85. London: Aerospace. ISBN 1-86184-037-3.
  • Price, Alfred. The Spitfire Story: New edited edition. London: Weidenfeld Military, 1999. ISBN 1-85409-514-5.
  • Price, Alfred. The Spitfire Story: Revised second edition. Enderby, Leicester, UK: Siverdale Books, 2002. ISBN 978-1-84425-819-2.
  • Price, Alfred and Mike Spick. Handbook of Great Aircraft of WW II. Enderby, Leicester, UK: The Promotional Reprint Company Limited, 1997. ISBN 0-7858-0669-5.
  • Quill, Jeffrey. Birth of a Legend: The Spitfire. London: Quiller Press, 1986. ISBN 0-907621-64-3.
  • Quill, Jeffrey. Spitfire: A Test Pilot's Story. London: John Murray, 1983, New edition: Crecy Publishing 1996, reprinted 1998, 2001, 2005, 2008. ISBN 9-780947-579729
  • Shores, Christopher and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia. Malta: The Spitfire Year. London: Grub Street, 1991. ISBN 0-948817-16-X.
  • Smallwood, Hugh. Spitfire in Blue. London: Osprey Aerospace, 1996. ISBN 1-85532-615-9.
  • Spick, Mike. Supermarine Spitfire. New York: Gallery Books, 1990. ISBN 0-8317-1403-4.
  • "Spitfire: Simply Superb, Part three." Air International, Volume 28, Number 4, April 1985.
  • Stokes, Doug. Paddy Finucane, Fighter Ace: A Biography of Wing Commander Brendan E. Finucane, D.S.O., D.F.C. and Two Bars. London: William Kimber & Co. Ltd., 1983. ISBN 0-7183-0279-6.
  • Tanner, John. The Spitfire V Manual (AP1565E reprint). London: Arms and Armour Press, 1981. ISBN 0-85368-420-0.
  • Vader, John. Spitfire (Ballantine's Illustrated History of World War II). London: Ballantine's Books, 1969.
  • Williams, Anthony G. and Dr. Emmanuel Gustin. Flying Guns: World War II. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-84037-227-3.


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  1. ^ Unit cost for airframe complete with engine, armament and equipment.[4]
  2. ^ Although this is often perceived as Summers implying the Spitfire was flawless, this is an error. What he meant was that he wanted nothing touched, especially the control settings, until he had consulted with Mitchell and the design team and suggested some improvements.[17]
  3. ^ The Air Ministry submitted a list of possible names to Vickers-Armstrongs for the new aircraft, now known as the Type 300. One of these was the improbable Shrew. The name Spitfire was suggested by Sir Robert McLean, director of Vickers-Armstrongs at the time, who called his spirited elder daughter Annie Penrose "a little spitfire".[20] The word dates from Elizabethan times and refers to a fiery, ferocious type of person; at the time it usually meant a girl or woman of that temperament.[21] The name had previously been used unofficially for Mitchell's earlier F7/30 Type 224 design. Mitchell is reported to have said it was "just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose".[22][23]
  4. ^ The pilot standing in front of the aircraft is pre-War Olympic hurdler, Sqn. Ldr. Donald O. Finlay, the Commanding Officer of 41 Squadron from September 1940–August 1941, who adopted the aircraft as his personal mount. The same day P7666 was delivered to the Squadron, 23 November 1940, Finlay destroyed a Bf 109 on his first operational sortie in the aircraft.
  5. ^ A "Spitfire Lane" can be found on the road between Salisbury and Andover leading to the Chattis Hill aerodrome.
  6. ^ The test pilots were based at Highpost and flown by light aircraft to the other airfields.
  7. ^ Glancey notes that Rolls-Royce saw the potential of the He 70 as a flying test-bed for prototype engines, sending a team to Germany to buy one of the aircraft direct from Heinkel. The German government approved the deal, but only in return for a number of Rolls-Royce Kestrel engines. He also notes that Shenstone had worked with Ernst Heinkel in Germany.[61]
  8. ^ Starting with the Merlin XII fitted in Spitfire Mk IIs in late 1940 this was changed to a 70% water-30% glycol mix.
  9. ^ The fabric used for aircraft control surfaces had to be as light and as strong as possible: Irish linen was often used, or Grade A cotton. Once the material was stretched and doped, it was weatherproof and aerodynamically smooth. [71]
  10. ^ On the ground the flaps were normally lowered only for inspection or for maintenance. Pilots who forgot to raise the flaps after landing often found themselves paying a fine.
  11. ^ This aircraft survived the war, only to be scrapped in 1945. The first pilot to fly K9789 was Squadron Leader Henry Cozens, whose career had begun in 1917 with the Sopwith Camel and ended after flying Meteor and Vampire jets.[32]
  12. ^ The second cockpit of this aircraft has been lowered and is now below the front cockpit. This modification is known as the Grace Canopy Conversion, and was designed by Nick Grace, who rebuilt ML407.[126] (For further details on surviving Spitfires see List of surviving Supermarine Spitfires).
  13. ^ Both of these airframes has a significant history in that they were acquired in the Second World War and used in the first war drives, which preceded the US entry into the conflict. The Spitfire, donated by the British government in 1940, was the first example to come to the United States, and was used extensively as a propaganda tool, alongside the Stuka, recovered from the Middle East.[143]
  14. ^ The Merlin 46 and Merlin 50 were also used in the VB.



Related lists
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related development

See also

  • Guns:
    • 2 x 20mm Hispano Mk II cannon (60 rounds per gun)
    • 4 x .303 in Browning Mk II* machine guns (350 rounds per gun)



General characteristics

Data from Spitfire: The History[163] and Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II[164]

1942 colour photograph of a Spitfire VB of 222 Squadron

The Spitfire's performance improved greatly as WWII progressed, for more information see Supermarine Spitfire variants: specifications, performance and armament.

Specifications (Spitfire Mk VB)

  • The First of the Few (also known as Spitfire in the U.S. and Canada) (1942) was a British film produced and directed by Leslie Howard, with Howard in the starring role of R.J. Mitchell, and David Niven playing a composite character based on the Schneider Trophy pilots of 1927, 1929 and 1931, and the Supermarine test pilot Jeffrey Quill. Some of the footage includes film shot in 1941 of operational Spitfires and pilots of 501 Squadron (code letters SD). Howard spent a long time researching the history of the Spitfire's development for the film; Mrs. Mitchell and her son Gordon were on the set during much of the production.[160] The aerobatic flying sequences featured in the last 15 minutes of the film were made by Jeffrey Quill in early November 1941, flying a Spitfire Mk II mocked up to represent the prototype.
  • Malta Story (1953), starring Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Steel and Muriel Pavlow, is a black and white war film telling the story of the defence of Malta in 1942 when Spitfires were the island's main defence from air attacks.
  • Reach for the Sky (1956) starring Kenneth More tells the story of Douglas Bader, using contemporary Spitfire aircraft in the production.
  • Battle of Britain (1969) directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Susannah York and many others. Set in 1940, this film features several sequences involving a total of 12 flying Spitfires (mostly Mk IX versions), as well as a number of other flying examples of Second World War-era British and German aircraft.
  • Piece of Cake (1987) starring Tom Burlinson. Aired on the ITV network in 1987. Based on the novel by Derek Robinson, the six-part miniseries covered the prewar era to "Battle of Britain Day," 15 September 1940. The series depicted air combat over the skies of France and Britain during the early stages of the Second World War, though using five flying examples of late model Spitfires in place of the novel's early model Hurricanes. There were shots of Spitfires taking off and landing together from grass airstrips.
  • Dark Blue World (2001), starring Ondřej Vetchý was a tale of two Czech pilots who escape Nazi-occupied Europe to fly Spitfires during the Battle of Britain. Jan Svěrák filmed some new aerial scenes and reused aerial footage from Hamilton's film.[161]
  • James May's Toy Stories (2009), starring James May was a BBC TV series which featured an episode in which children constructed a 1:1 scale model of the Spitfire in the style of the Airfix 1/72 scale model first released in 1953.
  • Doctor Who - "Victory of the Daleks" (2010), was an episode of a popular BBC TV series in which three Spitfires modified for spaceflight aid in defending London from alien Daleks during the Blitz.
  • Guy Martin's Spitfire (2014) was a Channel 4 documentary covering the two-year restoration of a Mark 1 Spitfire, N3200, coded 'QV', that had been buried beneath the sand for 46 years after crash landing on a French beach during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. Guy Martin tells the Boy's Own-style story of its pilot, Squadron Leader Geoffrey Stephenson and helps in the restoration of the aircraft.[162]

During and after the Battle of Britain the Spitfire became a symbol of British resistance: for example, Lord Beaverbrook's "Spitfire Fund" of 1940 was one campaign which drew widespread public attention to the Spitfire. The Spitfire continues to be highly popular at airshows, on airfields and in museums worldwide, and continues to hold an important place in the memories of many people, especially the few still living who flew the Spitfire in combat. Numerous, films and documentaries featuring the Spitfire are still being produced, some of which are listed in this section.

Notable appearances in media

The British Historic Flying Company has either restored or built from scratch a significant proportion of the Spitfires that are now air-worthy. Other examples include the Jurca Spit from France, and those manufactured by Tally Ho Enterprises in Canada,[156] SAC in California, USA,[157] and even the microlight Silence Twister from Germany.[158] Supermarine Aircraft originally from Brisbane, Australia, and now based in Cisco Texas, manufacture the 80% scale Spitfire Mk 26 and the 90% scale Mk 26B replicas. The Supermarine Spitfire Mk 26 and 26B are supplied in kit form and are the only all-aluminium reproduction Spitfires in production.[159] The Isaacs Spitfire is a homebuilt 60% scale replica.

Several small manufacturers have produced replica Spitfires, either as complete aircraft, or as kits for self-building. These range in scale from 3/4 full scale to full-size, although most use wooden construction, rather than the original all-metal monocoque design.

Replica Mk Vb on display in 2009


  • A fibreglass replica of the Mk.1 Spitfire Mk1 YT-J (R6675), flown by Supermarine test pilot Jeffrey Quill during his brief period of active service with 65 Squadron is on display at the Battle of Britain memorial at Capel-le-Ferne near Folkestone, along with a replica Mk.1 Hurricane representing US-X, in which Pilot Officer Geoffrey Page was shot down on 12 August 1940.[148]
  • Sentinel is a sculpture depicting three Spitfires in flight by Tim Tolkien at the roundabout junction (popularly known as Spitfire Island) of the A47 and A452 in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham England, commemorating the main Spitfire factory. The island sits at the adjoining southern corners of the former Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory and Aerodrome (now Castle Vale housing estate).[149] There is also both a Spitfire and a Hurricane in the nearby Thinktank Science Museum.[150]
  • A sculpture of the prototype Spitfire, K5054, stands on the roundabout at the entrance to Southampton International Airport, which, as Eastleigh Aerodrome, saw the first flight of the aircraft in March 1936.
  • Jeffrey Quill, the former Supermarine test pilot, initiated a project to build an exact replica of K5054, the prototype Spitfire to be put on permanent public display as a memorial to R.J. Mitchell. A team of original Supermarine designers worked with Aerofab Restorations of Andover for 10 years to create the facsimile. It was unveiled to the public in April 1993 by Quill at the RAF Museum, Hendon, and is currently on loan to the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.[151]
  • A fibreglass replica in the colours of a Polish Squadron Leader based at the station during the Second World War is on display at RAF Northolt, the last Battle of Britain Sector Station still in RAF operational service.
  • A replica Spitfire is on display on the Thornaby Road roundabout near the school named after Douglas Bader who flew a Spitfire in the Second World War. This memorial is in memory of the old RAF base in Thornaby which is now a residential estate.
  • A fibreglass replica of a Spitfire has been mounted on a pylon in Memorial Park, Hamilton, New Zealand as a tribute to all New Zealand fighter pilots who flew Spitfires during the Second World War.
  • At Bentley Priory, the Second World War command centre for Fighter Command, fibreglass replicas of a Spitfire Mk 1 and a Hurricane Mk 1 can be seen fixed in a position of attack. This was built as a memorial to everyone who worked at Bentley Priory during the war.
  • A fibreglass replica in the colours of 603 (City of George Denholm DFC.
  • A fibreglass replica of a Spitfire Mk IX has been mounted on a pylon in Jackson Park, Windsor, Ontario alongside a Hurricane as a memorial to Royal Canadian Air Force pilots. This display replaces an Avro Lancaster bomber that had previously been on display and is currently undergoing restoration.
  • One of the few remaining Supermarine Spitfires with a wartime record is on display (alongside a Hawker Hurricane) at the RAF Manston Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum, near Kent International Airport.[152]
  • Lodge Hill Garage, Abingdon, Oxfordshire has a full-size replica Spitfire as its own rooftop monument. Owner Peter Jewson bought the replica in a campaign to build the first ever national memorial to honour the 166 women from the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) who flew Spitfires and other aircraft from factories to their operational airbases; 14 died during these ferry flights.[153]
  • A fibreglass replica of a Spitfire Mk IX is mounted to the roof of the speciality shop, Spitfire Emporium, in Kitchener, Ontario.[154]
  • There is a replica of a Spitfire (and of a Hurricane) at the entrance to the Eden Camp Modern History Museum as a memorial to pilots who served in the Battle of Britain.[155]
  • Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre has a full size replica Spitfire MkVb LO-D (EP121) on display as a memorial to the men and women who served at RFC/RAF Montrose.


After hostilities ceased in Asia in 1945, a number of Spitfire Mk.XIVs were reportedly buried, after being greased, tarred and prepared for long-term storage, in crates in Burma. Excavations carried out in early 2013 failed to locate any of the rumoured aircraft,[147] however investigation continues.

Surviving Spitfires in Burma

What may be the most originally restored Spitfire in the world is maintained in airworthy condition at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida. Over a six-year period in the 1990s, this aircraft was slowly restored by Personal Plane Services in England using almost 90% of its original aircraft skins. Owner Kermit Weeks insisted that the aircraft be restored to original condition as closely as possible. Machine guns, cannon, gun sight and original working radios are all installed.[146]

The oldest surviving Spitfire is a Mark 1, serial number K9942; it is preserved at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford in Shropshire. This aircraft was the 155th built and first flew in April 1939. It flew operationally with No. 72 Squadron RAF until June 1940, when it was damaged in a wheels-up landing. After repair, it was used for training until August 1944, when it became one of several Battle of Britain aircraft veterans that were allocated to the Air Historical Branch for future museum preservation.[145]

There are approximately 55 Spitfires and a few Seafires in airworthy condition worldwide, although many air museums have examples on static display, for example, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry has paired a static Spitfire with a static Ju 87 R-2/Trop. Stuka dive bomber. [nb 13][144]

Spitfire XIVe NH749 of the Commemorative Air Force, based at Camarillo airport, Southern California, seen with period-dressed crew members in 2011.


Spitfires Mk Vc (Trop) of 352 (Yugoslav) Squadron RAF (Balkan Air Force) before first mission on 18 August 1944, from Canne airfield, Italy


In late 1962, Air Marshal Sir John Nicholls instigated a trial when he flew a Spitfire PR Mk 19 against an English Electric Lightning F 3 (a supersonic jet-engined interceptor) in mock combat at RAF Binbrook. At the time British Commonwealth forces were involved in possible action against Indonesia over Malaya and Nicholls decided to develop tactics to fight the Indonesian Air Force P-51 Mustang, a fighter that had a similar performance to the PR Mk 19.[140] He concluded that the most effective and safest way for a modern jet-engined fighter to attack a piston-engined fighter was from below and behind, contrary to all established fighter-on-fighter doctrine at that time.[141][142]

The last non-operational flight of a Spitfire in RAF service, which took place on 9 June 1957, was by a PR Mk 19, PS583, from RAF Woodvale of the Temperature and Humidity Flight. This was also the last known flight of a piston-engined fighter in the RAF.[139] The last nation in the Middle East to operate Spitfires was Syria, which kept its F 22s until 1953.[137]

Operation Firedog during the Malayan Emergency saw the Spitfire fly over 1,800 operational sorties against the Malaysian communists.[137] The last operational sortie of an RAF Spitfire was flown on 1 April 1954, by PR Mk 19 Spitfire PS888 flying from RAF Seletar, in Singapore.[138]

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk XIIs of 41 Squadron in April 1944

The final version of the Spitfire, the Mk 24, first flew at South Marston on 13 April 1946. On 20 February 1948, almost twelve years from the prototype's first flight, the last production Spitfire, VN496, left the production line. The Spitfire Mk 24 was used by only one regular RAF unit, with 80 Squadron replacing their Hawker Tempests with F Mk 24s in 1947.[135] 80 Squadron continued its patrol and reconnaissance duties from Wunstorf in Germany as part of the occupation forces, until it relocated to Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong in July 1949. During the Chinese Civil War, 80 Squadron's main duty was to defend Hong Kong from perceived Communist threats.[136]

As American fighters took over the long-range escorting of USAAF daylight bombing raids, the Griffon-engined Spitfires progressively took up the tactical air superiority role, and played a major role in intercepting the V-1 flying bomb, while the Merlin-engined variants (mainly the Mk IX and the Packard-engined Mk XVI) were adapted to the fighter-bomber role.[134] Although the later Griffon-engined marks lost some of the favourable handling characteristics of their Merlin-powered predecessors, they could still outmanoeuvre their main German foes and other, later American and British-designed fighters.[123]

The first Rolls Royce Griffon-engined Mk XII flew on August 1942, and first flew operationally with 41 Squadron in April 1943. This mark could nudge 400 mph (640 km/h) in level flight and climb to an altitude of 33,000 ft (10,000 m) in under nine minutes.[133]

The first Griffon-powered Spitfire, DP845, flown by Jeffrey Quill, 1942

Griffon-engined variants

The Seafire II was able to outperform the [132]

The Seafire, a name derived from Sea Spitfire, was a naval version of the Spitfire specially adapted for operation from aircraft carriers. Although the Spitfire was not designed for the rough-and-tumble of carrier-deck operations, it was considered to be the best available fighter at the time, and went on to serve with distinction. The basic Spitfire design did impose some limitations on the use of the aircraft as a carrier-based fighter; poor visibility over the nose, for example, meant that pilots had to be trained to land with their heads out of the cockpit and looking alongside the port cowling of their Seafire;[127] also, like the Spitfire, the Seafire had a relatively narrow undercarriage track, which meant that it was not ideally suited to deck operations.[128] Early marks of Seafire had relatively few modifications to the standard Spitfire airframe; however cumulative front line experience meant that most of the later versions of the Seafire had strengthened airframes, folding wings, arrestor hooks and other modifications, culminating in the purpose-built Seafire F/FR Mk 47.[129]


In the postwar era, the idea was revived by Supermarine and a number of two-seat Spitfires were built by converting old Mk IX airframes with a second "raised" cockpit featuring a bubble canopy. Ten of these TR9 variants were then sold to the Indian Air Force along with six to the Irish Air Corps, three to the Royal Dutch Air Force and one for the Royal Egyptian Air Force.[124] Currently a handful of the trainers are known to exist, including both the T Mk VIII, a T Mk IX based in the U.S., and the "Grace Spitfire" ML407, a veteran flown operationally by 485(NZ) Squadron in 1944.[126][nb 12]

Supermarine developed a two-seat variant known as the T Mk VIII to be used for training, but none were ordered, and only one example was ever constructed (identified as N32/G-AIDN by Supermarine).[124] In the absence of an official two-seater variant, a number of airframes were crudely converted in the field. These included a 4 Squadron SAAF Mk VB in North Africa, where a second seat was fitted instead of the upper fuel tank in front of the cockpit, although it was not a dual-control aircraft and is thought to have been used as the squadron "run-about."[125] The only unofficial two-seat conversions that were fitted with dual-controls were a small number of Russian lend/lease Mk IX aircraft. These were referred to as Mk IX UTI and differed from the Supermarine proposals by using an inline "greenhouse" style double canopy rather than the raised "bubble" type of the T Mk VIII.[125]

There were 24 marks of Spitfire and many sub-variants. These covered the Spitfire in development from the Merlin to Griffon engines, the high-speed photo-reconnaissance variants and the different wing configurations. More Spitfire Mk Vs were built than any other type, with 6,487 built, followed by the 5,656 Mk IXs.[38] Different wings, featuring a variety of weapons, were fitted to most marks; the A wing used eight .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, the B wing had four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns and two 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano cannon, and the C or Universal Wing could mount either four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon or two 20 mm (.79 in) and four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns. As the war progressed, the C wing became more common.[121] Another armament variation was the E wing which housed two 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and two .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns.[122] Although the Spitfire continued to improve in speed and armament, because of its limited fuel capacity its range and endurance were also limited: it remained "short-legged" throughout its life except in the dedicated photo-reconnaissance role, when its guns were replaced by extra fuel tanks.[123]

Pilots of 611 West Lancashire Squadron lend a hand pushing an early Spitfire Mark IXb, Biggin Hill, late 1942 (RAF Official).

Although R. J. Mitchell is justifiably known as the engineer who designed the Spitfire, his premature death in 1937 meant that all development after that date was undertaken by a team led by his chief draughtsman, Joe Smith, who became Supermarine's chief designer on Mitchell's death. As Jeffrey Quill noted: "If Mitchell was born to design the Spitfire, Joe Smith was born to defend and develop it."[120]



The critical Mach number of the Spitfire's original elliptical wing was higher than the subsequently used laminar-flow-section, straight-tapering-planform wing of the follow-on Supermarine Spiteful, Seafang and Attacker, illustrating that Reginald Mitchell's practical engineering approach to the problems of high-speed flight had paid off.[119]

That any operational aircraft off the production line, cannons sprouting from its wings and warts and all, could readily be controlled at this speed when the early jet aircraft such as Meteors, Vampires, P-80s, etc, could not, was certainly extraordinary.

Jeffrey Quill[118]

On 5 February 1952, a Spitfire 19 of [114]

A Spitfire was modified by the RAE for high-speed testing of the stabilator (then known as the "flying tail") of the Miles M.52 supersonic research aircraft. RAE test pilot Eric Brown stated that he tested this successfully during October and November 1944, attaining Mach 0.86 in a dive.[116]

Beginning in late 1943, high-speed diving trials were undertaken at [114] Martindale was awarded the Air Force Cross for his exploits.[115]

The Spitfire Mk XI flown by Sqn. Ldr. Martindale, seen here after its flight on 27 April 1944 during which it was damaged achieving a true airspeed of 606 mph (975 km/h).

Speed and altitude records

The Spitfire is listed in the appendix to the novel KG 200 as "known to have been regularly flown by" the German secret operations unit KG 200, which tested, evaluated and sometimes clandestinely operated captured enemy aircraft during the Second World War.[112]

During the Second World War, Spitfires were used by the USAAF in the 4th Fighter Group until replaced by Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in March 1943.

In the Mediterranean the Spitfire blunted the heavy attacks on Malta by the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe and, from early 1943, helped pave the way for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. On 7 March 1942, 15 Mk Vs carrying 90-gallon fuel tanks under their bellies took off from HMS Eagle off the coast of Algeria on a 600-mile flight to Malta.[109] Those Spitfires V were the first to see service outside Britain.[110] Over the Northern Territory of Australia, RAAF and RAF Spitfires helped defend the port town of Darwin against air attack by the Japanese Naval Air Force.[111] The Spitfire also served on the Eastern Front: approximately a thousand were supplied to the Soviet Air Force. Though some were used at the frontline in 1943, most of them saw service with the Protivo-Vozdushnaya Oborona (English: "Anti-air Defence Branch"). Spitfire MKVIII's took part in the last battle of WWII involving the Western allies, in Burma as a ground attack role, helping to defeat a Japanese breakout attempt.

The Spitfire continued to play increasingly diverse roles throughout the Second World War and beyond, often in air forces other than the RAF. The Spitfire, for example, became the first high-speed photo-reconnaissance aircraft to be operated by the RAF. Sometimes unarmed, they flew at high, medium and low altitudes, often ranging far into enemy territory to closely observe the Axis powers and provide an almost continual flow of valuable intelligence information throughout the war. In 1941 and 1942, PRU Spitfires provided the first photographs of the Freya and Würzburg radar systems and, in 1943, helped confirm that the Germans were building the V1 and V2 Vergeltungswaffe ("vengeance weapons") by photographing Peenemünde, on the Baltic Sea coast of Germany.[108]

[107] and the Australian Hugo Armstrong (12 e/a).[106][105] (27 e/a)C F Gray (17 e/a) and Alan Deere New Zealanders [104] (27 e/a) from South Africa,"Sailor" Malan e/a) from Canada, 31 Well-known Spitfire pilots included

The operational history of the Spitfire with the Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production.[98] In fact the Hurricane outnumbered the Spitfire throughout the battle, and shouldered the burden of the defence against the Luftwaffe; however, because of its higher performance the overall attrition rate of the Spitfire squadrons was lower than that of the Hurricane units, and the Spitfire units had a higher victory-to-loss ratio.[99] The key aim of Fighter Command was to stop the Luftwaffe's bombers, in practice the tactic, whenever possible, was to use Spitfires to counter German escort fighters, particularly the Bf 109s, while the Hurricane squadrons attacked the bombers.[100]

K9795, the 9th production Mk I, with 19 Squadron in 1938.

Service operations

Operational history

[95] If one cannon seized, the recoil of the other threw the aircraft off aim. Nevertheless, 30 more cannon-armed Spitfires were ordered for operational trials, and they were soon known as the Mk IB, to distinguish them from the Browning-armed Mk IA, and were delivered to No. 19 Squadron beginning in June 1940. The Hispanos were found to be so unreliable that the squadron requested an exchange of its aircraft with the older Browning-armed aircraft of an operational training unit. By August, Supermarine had perfected a more reliable installation with an improved feed mechanism and four .303s in the outer wing panels. The modified fighters were then delivered to 19 Squadron.[95] In June 1939, a single Spitfire was fitted with a single drum-fed

Due to a shortage of Brownings, which had been selected as the new standard rifle calibre machine gun for the RAF in 1934, early Spitfires were fitted with only four guns, with the other four fitted later.[93] Early tests showed that while the guns worked perfectly on the ground and at low altitudes, they tended to freeze at high altitude, especially the outer wing guns. This was because the RAF's Brownings had been modified to fire from an open bolt; while this prevented overheating of the cordite used in British ammunition, it allowed cold air to flow through the barrel unhindered.[94] Supermarine did not fix the problem until October 1938, when they added hot air ducts from the rear of the wing mounted radiators to the guns, and bulkheads around the gunbays to trap the hot air in the wing. Red fabric patches were doped over the gun ports to protect the guns from cold, dirt and moisture until they were fired.[95] Even if the eight Brownings worked perfectly, pilots soon discovered that they were not sufficient to destroy larger aircraft. Combat reports showed that an average of 4,500 rounds were needed to shoot down an enemy aircraft. In November 1938, tests against armoured and unarmoured targets had already indicated that the introduction of a weapon of at least 20 mm calibre was urgently needed.[96] A variant on the Spitfire design with four 20 mm Oerlikon cannon had been tendered to specification F37/35 but the order for prototypes had gone to the Westland Whirlwind in January 1939.[97]


Early in its development, the Merlin engine's lack of fuel injection meant that both Spitfires and Hurricanes, unlike the Bf 109E, were unable to simply nose down into a steep dive. This meant a Luftwaffe fighter could simply "bunt" into a high-power dive to escape an attack, leaving the Spitfire behind, as its fuel was forced out of the carburettor by negative "g". RAF fighter pilots soon learned to "half-roll" their aircraft before diving to pursue their opponents.[91] Carburettors were adopted because, as Sir Stanley Hooker explained, the carburettor "increased the performance of the supercharger and thereby increased the power of the engine."[92] In March 1941, a metal disc with a hole in it was fitted In the fuel line, restricting fuel flow to the maximum the engine could consume. While it did not cure the problem of the initial fuel starvation in a dive, it did reduce the more serious problem of the carburettor being flooded with fuel by the fuel pumps under negative "g". It became known as "Miss Shilling's orifice" as it was invented by Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling. Further improvements were introduced throughout the Merlin series, with Bendix-manufactured pressure carburettors, which were designed to allow fuel to flow during all flight attitudes, introduced in 1942.[92]

Carburettor versus fuel injection

Supermarine developed a new [90]

The new wing of the Spitfire F Mk 21 and its successors was designed to help alleviate this problem; the wing's stiffness was increased by 47%, and a new design of aileron using piano hinges and geared trim tabs meant that the theoretical aileron reversal speed was increased to 825 mph (1,328 km/h).[83][85][86] Alongside of the redesigned wing Supermarine also experimented with the original wing, raising the leading edge by one inch (2.54 cm), with the hope of improving pilot view and reducing drag. This wing was tested on a modified F Mk 21, also called the F Mk 23, (sometimes referred to as "Valiant" rather than "Spitfire"). The increase in performance was minimal and this experiment was abandoned.[87]

As the Spitfire gained more power and was able to manoeuvre at higher speeds, the possibility that pilots would encounter aileron reversal increased, and the Supermarine design team set about redesigning the wings to counter this. The original wing design had a theoretical aileron reversal speed of 580 mph (930 km/h),[83] which was somewhat lower than that of some contemporary fighters. The Royal Aircraft Establishment noted that, at 400 mph (640 km/h) IAS, roughly 65% of aileron effectiveness was lost, due to wing twist.[84]

Improved late wing designs

The ellipse also served as the design basis for the Spitfire's fin and tailplane assembly, once again exploiting the shape's favourable aerodynamic characteristics. Both the elevators and rudder were shaped so that their centre of mass was shifted forward, thus reducing control-surface flutter. The longer noses and greater propeller-wash resulting from larger engines in later models necessitated increasingly larger vertical and, later, horizontal tail surfaces to compensate for the altered aerodynamics, culminating in those of the Mk 22/24 series which were 25% larger in area than those of the Mk I.[81][82]

The light alloy split flaps at the trailing edge of the wing were also pneumatically operated via a finger lever on the instrument panel.[79] Only two positions were available; fully up or fully down (85°). The flaps were normally lowered only during the final approach and for landing, and the pilot was to retract them before taxiing.[nb 10][80]

The airflow through the main radiator was controlled by pneumatic exit flaps. In early marks of Spitfire (Mk I to Mk VI) the single flap was operated manually using a lever to the left of the pilot's seat. When the two-stage Merlin was introduced in the Spitfire Mk IX the radiators were split to make room for an intercooler radiator; the radiator under the starboard wing was halved in size and the intercooler radiator housed alongside. Under the port wing a new radiator fairing housed a square oil cooler alongside of the other half-radiator unit. The two radiator flaps were now operated automatically via a thermostat.[78]

The Spitfire had detachable wing tips which were secured by two mounting points at the end of each main wing assembly: when the Spitfire took on a role as a high-altitude fighter (Marks VI and VII and some early Mk VIIIs) the standard wing tips were replaced by extended, "pointed" tips which increased the wingspan from 36 ft 10 in (11.23 m) to 40 ft 2 in (12.3 m).[75] The other wing tip variation, used by several Spitfire variants, was the "clipped" wing; the standard wing tips were replaced by wooden fairings which reduced the span to 32 ft 6 in (9.9 m)[76] The wing tips used spruce formers for most of the internal structure with a light alloy skin attached using brass screws.[77]

Spitfire HF Mk VII. The shape of the ellipse was altered by the extended "pointed" wing tips used by the high-altitude Mk VI and VIIs, and some early Mk VIIIs.

All of the main flight controls were originally metal structures with fabric covering.[nb 9]Designers and pilots felt that having ailerons which were too heavy to move (in terms of effort, not mass) at high speed would avoid possible aileron reversal, stopping pilots throwing the aircraft around and pulling the wings off. It was also felt that air combat would take place at relatively low speed and that high-speed manoeuvring would be physically impossible.[72] During the Battle of Britain, pilots found the ailerons of the Spitfire were far too heavy at high speeds, severely restricting lateral manoeuvres such as rolls and high-speed turns, which were still a feature of air-to-air combat.[73] Flight tests showed the fabric covering of the ailerons "ballooned" at high speeds, adversely affecting the aerodynamics. Replacing the fabric covering with light alloy dramatically improved the ailerons at high speed.[74]

Another feature of the wing was its washout. The trailing edge of the wing twisted slightly upward along its span, the angle of incidence decreasing from +2° at its root to -½° at its tip.[67] This caused the wing roots to stall before the tips, reducing tip-stall that could otherwise have resulted in a spin. As the wing roots started to stall, the aircraft vibrated, warning the pilot, and hence allowing even relatively inexperienced pilots to fly the aircraft to the limits of its performance.[68] This washout was first featured in the wing of the Type 224 and became a consistent feature in subsequent designs leading to the Spitfire.[69] The complexity of the wing design, especially the precision required to manufacture the vital spar and leading-edge structures, at first caused some major hold-ups in the production of the Spitfire. The problems increased when the work was put out to subcontractors, most of whom had never dealt with metal-structured, high-speed aircraft. By June 1939, most of these problems had been resolved, and production was no longer held up by a lack of wings.[70]

The elliptical planform of a Spitfire PR.Mk.XIX displayed at an air show in 2008. Note the black and white Invasion stripes.

Ahead of the spar, the thick-skinned leading edge of the wing formed a strong and rigid D-shaped box, which took most of the wing loads. At the time the wing was designed, this D-shaped leading edge was intended to house steam condensers for the evaporative cooling system intended for the PV-XII. Constant problems with the evaporative system in the Goshawk led to the adoption of a cooling system which used 100% glycol[nb 8]. The radiators were housed in a new radiator-duct designed by Fredrick Meredith of the RAE at Farnborough; this used the cooling air to generate thrust, greatly reducing the net drag produced by the radiators.[65] In turn, the leading-edge structure lost its function as a condenser, but it was later adapted to house integral fuel tanks of various sizes.[66]

A feature of the wing which contributed greatly to its success was an innovative spar boom design, made up of five square tubes that fitted into each other. As the wing thinned out along its span the tubes were progressively cut away in a similar fashion to a leaf spring; two of these booms were linked together by an alloy web, creating a lightweight and very strong main spar.[64] The undercarriage legs were attached to pivot points built into the inner, rear section of the main spar and retracted outwards and slightly backwards into wells in the non-load-carrying wing structure. The resultant narrow undercarriage track was considered to be an acceptable compromise as this reduced the bending loads on the main-spar during landing.[64]

The wing section used was from the NACA 2200 series, which had been adapted to create a thickness-to-chord ratio of 13% at the root, reducing to 9.4% at the tip.[63] A dihedral of six degrees was adopted to give increased lateral stability.[52]

The elliptical wing was decided upon quite early on. Aerodynamically it was the best for our purpose because the induced drag caused in producing lift, was lowest when this shape was used: the ellipse was ... theoretically a perfection ... To reduce drag we wanted the lowest possible thickness-to-chord, consistent with the necessary strength. But near the root the wing had to be thick enough to accommodate the retracted undercarriages and the guns ... Mitchell was an intensely practical man ... The ellipse was simply the shape that allowed us the thinnest possible wing with room inside to carry the necessary structure and the things we wanted to cram in. And it looked nice.

Beverly Shenstone[62]

In 1934, Mitchell and the design staff decided to use a semi-elliptical wing shape to solve two conflicting requirements; the wing needed to be thin, to avoid creating too much drag, while still able to house a retractable undercarriage, plus armament and ammunition. An elliptical planform is the most efficient aerodynamic shape for an untwisted wing, leading to the lowest amount of induced drag. The ellipse was skewed so that the centre of pressure, which occurs at the quarter-chord position, aligned with the main spar, thus preventing the wings from twisting. Mitchell has sometimes been accused of copying the wing shape of the Heinkel He 70, which first flew in 1932; but as Beverly Shenstone, the aerodynamicist on Mitchell's team, explained "Our wing was much thinner and had quite a different section to that of the Heinkel. In any case it would have been simply asking for trouble to have copied a wing shape from an aircraft designed for an entirely different purpose."[60][nb 7]

Elliptical wing design

The skins of the fuselage, wings and tailplane were secured by rivets and in critical areas such as the wing forward of the main spar where an uninterrupted airflow was required, with flush rivets; the fuselage used standard dome-headed riveting. From February 1943 flush riveting was used on the fuselage, affecting all Spitfire variants.[57] In some areas, such as at the rear of the wing, and the lower tailplane skins the top was riveted and the bottom fixed by brass screws which tapped into strips of spruce bolted to the lower ribs. The removable wing tips were made up of duralumin skinned spruce formers.[58] At first the ailerons, elevators and rudder were fabric-covered. When combat experience showed that fabric-covered ailerons were impossible to use at high speeds, a light alloy replaced the fabric, enhancing control throughout the speed range.[59]

A combination of 14 longitudinal stringers and four main longerons attached to the frames helped form a light but rigid structure to which sheets of alclad stressed skinning were attached. The fuselage plating was 24, 20 and 18 gauge in order of thickness towards the tail, while the fin structure was completed using short longerons from frames 20 to 23, before being covered in 22 gauge plating.[56]

Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVIe side elevation drawing.

The Spitfire's airframe was complex: the streamlined, semi-monocoque duralumin fuselage featured a large number of compound curves built up from a skeleton of 19 formers, also known as frames, starting from frame number one, immediately behind the propeller unit, to the tail unit attachment frame. The first four frames supported the glycol header tank and engine cowlings. Frame 5, to which the engine bearers were secured, supported the weight of the engine and accessories, and the loads imposed by the engine: this was a strengthened double frame which also incorporated the fireproof bulkhead and, in later versions of the Spitfire, the oil tank. This frame also tied the four main fuselage longerons to the rest of the airframe.[54] Behind the bulkhead were five 'U' shaped half-frames which accommodated the fuel tanks and cockpit. The rear fuselage started at the eleventh frame, to which the pilot's seat and (later) armour plating was attached, and ended at the nineteenth, which was mounted at a slight forward angle just forward of the fin. Each of these nine frames were oval, reducing in size towards the tail, and incorporated several lightening holes to reduce their weight as much as possible without weakening them. The U-shaped frame 20 was the last frame of the fuselage proper and the frame to which the tail unit was attached. Frames 21, 22 and 23 formed the fin; frame 22 incorporated the tailwheel opening and frame 23 was the rudder post. Before being attached to the main fuselage, the tail unit frames were held in a jig and the eight horizontal tail formers were riveted to them.[55]

Mitchell's design aims were to create a well-balanced, high-performance bomber interceptor and fighter aircraft capable of fully exploiting the power of the Merlin engine, while being relatively easy to fly.[52] At the time, no enemy fighters were expected to appear over Great Britain; to carry out the mission of home defence, the design was intended to climb quickly to meet enemy bombers.[53]

In the mid-1930s, aviation design teams worldwide started developing a new generation of all-metal, low-wing fighter aircraft. The French Dewoitine D.520[50] and Germany's Messerschmitt Bf 109, for example, were designed to take advantage of new techniques of monocoque construction and the availability of new high-powered, liquid-cooled, in-line aero engines. They also featured refinements such as retractable undercarriages, fully enclosed cockpits and low drag, all-metal wings (all introduced on civil airliners years before but slow to be adopted by the military, who favoured the biplane's simplicity and manoeuvrability).[51]

Spitfire Mk IIa P7350 of the BBMF is the only existing airworthy Spitfire that fought in the Battle of Britain.



When the last Spitfire rolled out in February 1948,[48] a total of 20,351 examples of all variants had been built, including two-seat trainers, with some Spitfires remaining in service well into the 1950s.[3] The Spitfire was the only British fighter aircraft to be in continuous production before, during and after the Second World War.[49]

After a thorough pre-flight check I would take off and, once at circuit height, I would trim the aircraft and try to get her to fly straight and level with hands off the stick ... Once the trim was satisfactory I would take the Spitfire up in a full-throttle climb at 2,850 rpm to the rated altitude of one or both supercharger blowers. Then I would make a careful check of the power output from the engine, calibrated for height and temperature ... If all appeared satisfactory I would then put her into a dive at full power and 3,000 rpm, and trim her to fly hands and feet off at 460 mph IAS (Indicated Air Speed). Personally, I never cleared a Spitfire unless I had carried out a few aerobatic tests to determine how good or bad she was. The production test was usually quite a brisk affair: the initial circuit lasted less than ten minutes and the main flight took between twenty and thirty minutes. Then the aircraft received a final once-over by our ground mechanics, any faults were rectified and the Spitfire was ready for collection. I loved the Spitfire in all of her many versions. But I have to admit that the later marks, although they were faster than the earlier ones, were also much heavier and so did not handle so well. You did not have such positive control over them. One test of manoeuvrability was to throw her 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 flick-rolls but the Mark IX was heavier and you got only one-and-a-half. With the later and still heavier versions, one got even less. The essence of aircraft design is compromise, and an improvement at one end of the performance envelope is rarely achieved without a deterioration somewhere else.[46][47]

Henshaw wrote about flight testing Spitfires:

All production Spitfires were flight tested before delivery. During the Second World War, Jeffrey Quill was Vickers Supermarine's chief test pilot, in charge of flight-testing all aircraft types built by Vickers Supermarine; he also oversaw a group of 10 to 12 pilots responsible for testing all developmental and production Spitfires built by the company in the Southampton area.[nb 6] Quill had also devised the standard testing procedures which, with variations for specific aircraft designs, operated from 1938.[42][43] Alex Henshaw, chief test pilot at Castle Bromwich from 1940, was placed in charge of testing all Spitfires built at that factory, coordinating a team of 25 pilots; he also assessed all Spitfire developments. Between 1940 and 1946, Henshaw flew a total of 2,360 Spitfires and Seafires, more than 10% of total production.[44][45]

Flight testing

Completed Spitfires were delivered to the airfields on large Commer "Queen Mary" low-loader articulated trucks, there to be fully assembled, tested, then passed on to the RAF.[41]

  • Southampton and Eastleigh Airport
  • Salisbury with High Post and Chattis Hill aerodromes[nb 5]
  • Trowbridge with Keevil aerodrome
  • Reading with Henley and Aldermaston aerodromes.
  • An experimental factory at Newbury was the subject of a Luftwaffe daylight raid but all missed their target and bombed a nearby school.

Four towns and their satellite airfields were chosen to be the focal points for these workshops:[40]

Fortunately for the future of the Spitfire, many of the production jigs and machine tools had already been relocated by 20 September, and steps were being taken to disperse production to small facilities throughout the Southampton area.[40] To this end, the British government requisitioned the likes of Vincent's Garage in Station Square Reading, which later specialised in manufacturing Spitfire fuselages, and Anna Valley Motors, Salisbury, which was to become the sole producer of the wing leading-edge fuel tanks for photo-reconnaissance Spitfires, as well as producing other components. A purpose-built works, specialising in manufacturing fuselages and installing engines, was built at Star Road, Caversham in Reading.[41] The drawing office in which all Spitfire designs were drafted was relocated to another purpose-built site at Hursley Park, near Southampton. This site also had an aircraft assembly hangar where many prototype and experimental Spitfires were assembled, but since it had no associated aerodrome no Spitfires ever flew from Hursley.

During the Battle of Britain, concerted efforts were made by the Luftwaffe to destroy the main manufacturing plants at Woolston and Itchen, near Southampton. The first bombing raid, which missed the factories, came on 23 August 1940. Over the next month, other raids were mounted until, on 26 September 1940, both factories were completely wrecked,[40] with 92 people being killed and a large number injured; most of the casualties were experienced aircraft production workers.[41]

This Spitfire PR Mk XI (PL965) was built at RAF Aldermaston in southern England

Production dispersal

By May 1940, Castle Bromwich had not yet built its first Spitfire, in spite of promises that the factory would be producing 60 per week starting in April.[33] On 17 May Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, telephoned Lord Nuffield and manoeuvered him into handing over control of the Castle Bromwich plant to Beaverbook's Ministry.[36] Beaverbrook immediately sent in experienced management staff and experienced workers from Supermarine and gave over control of the factory to Vickers-Armstrong. Although it would take some time to resolve the problems, in June 1940, 10 Mk IIs were built; 23 rolled out in July, 37 in August, and 56 in September.[37] By the time production ended at Castle Bromwich in June 1945, a total of 12,129 Spitfires (921 Mk IIs,[38] 4,489 Mk Vs, 5,665 Mk IXs,[39] and 1,054 Mk XVIs[38]) had been built. CBAF went on to become the largest and most successful plant of its type during the 1939–45 conflict. As the largest Spitfire factory in the UK, by producing a maximum of 320 aircraft per month, it built over half of the approximately 20,000 aircraft of this type.

Under the plan, on 12 July 1938, the Air Ministry bought a site consisting of farm fields and a sewage works next to Castle Bromwich Aerodrome in Birmingham. This shadow factory would supplement Supermarine's original factories in Southampton in building the Spitfire. The Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory ordered the most modern machine tools then available, which were being installed two months after work started on the site.[4] Although Morris Motors under Lord Nuffield (an expert in mass motor-vehicle construction) at first managed and equipped the factory, it was funded by government money. When the project was first mooted it was estimated that the factory would be built for £2,000,000, however, by the beginning of 1939 this cost had doubled to over £4,000,000.[33] The Spitfire's stressed-skin construction required precision engineering skills and techniques outside the experience of the local labour force, which took some time to train. However, even as the first Spitfires were being built in June 1940 the factory was still incomplete, and there were numerous problems with the factory management, which ignored tooling and drawings provided by Supermarine in favour of tools and drawings of its own designs,[34] and with the workforce which, while not completely stopping production, continually threatened strikes or "slow downs" until their demands for higher than average pay rates were met.[35]

In 1935, the Air Ministry approached Morris Motors Limited to ask how quickly their Cowley plant could be turned to aircraft production. In 1936 this informal request for major manufacturing facilities was turned into a formal scheme to boost British aircraft production capacity under the leadership of Herbert Austin, known as the Shadow factory plan. Austin was given the task of building nine new factories, and to supplement the existing British car manufacturing industry by either adding to overall capacity or increasing the potential for reorganisation to produce aircraft and their engines.

Spitfire Mk IIA, P7666, EB-Z, "Observer Corps", was built at Castle Bromwich, and delivered to 41 Squadron on 23 November 1940.[nb 4]

Manufacturing at Castle Bromwich

The final cost of the first 310 aircraft, after delays and increased programme costs, came to £1,870,242 or £1,533 more per aircraft than originally estimated.[4] Production aircraft cost about £9,500. The most expensive components were the hand-fabricated and finished fuselage at approximately £2,500, then the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine at £2,000, followed by the wings at £1,800 a pair, guns and undercarriage, both at £800 each, and the propeller at £350.[32]

In February 1936 the director of Vickers-Armstrongs, Sir Robert MacLean, guaranteed production of five aircraft a week, beginning 15 months after an order was placed. On 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 aircraft, for a price of £1,395,000.[30] Full-scale production of the Spitfire began at Supermarine's facility in Woolston, Southampton, but it quickly became clear that the order could not be completed in the 15 months promised. Supermarine was a small company, already busy building Walrus and Stranraer flying boats, and Vickers was busy building the Wellingtons. The initial solution was to subcontract the work.[30] The first production Spitfire rolled off the assembly line in mid-1938,[1] and was flown by Jeffrey Quill on 15 May 1938, almost 24 months after the initial order.[31]

The British public first saw the Spitfire at the RAF Hendon air-display on Saturday 27 June 1936. Although full-scale production was supposed to begin immediately, there were numerous problems that could not be overcome for some time and the first production Spitfire, K9787, did not roll off the Woolston, Southampton assembly line until mid-1938.[1] The first and most immediate problem was that the main Supermarine factory at Woolston was already working at full capacity fulfilling orders for Walrus and Stranraer flying boats. Although outside contractors were supposed to be involved in manufacturing many important Spitfire components, especially the wings, Vickers-Armstrong (the parent company) was reluctant to see the Spitfire being manufactured by outside concerns and was slow to release the necessary blueprints and subcomponents. As a result of the delays in getting the Spitfire into full production, the Air Ministry put forward a plan that production of the Spitfire be stopped after the initial order for 310, after which Supermarine would build Bristol Beaufighters. The managements of Supermarine and Vickers were able to convince the Air Ministry that the problems could be overcome and further orders were placed for 200 Spitfires on 24 March 1938, the two orders covering the K, L and N prefix serial numbers.[29]

Into production

[28] before any formal report had been issued by the A&AEE; interim reports were later issued on a piecemeal basis.[27] A week later, on 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires,[26] He had been given orders to fly the aircraft and then to make his report to the Air Ministry on landing. Edwardes-Jones's report was positive; his only request was that the Spitfire be equipped with an undercarriage position indicator.[25] (A&AEE). Here, Flight Lieutenant Humphrey Edwardes-Jones took over the prototype for the RAF.Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment and handed the aircraft over to Squadron Leader Anderson of the RAF Martlesham Heath to K5054 A new and better-shaped wooden propeller meant the Spitfire reached 348 mph (557 km/h) in level flight in mid-May, when Summers flew [24]'s new Merlin-powered Hurricane.Sydney Camm was a very good aircraft, but not perfect. The rudder was over-sensitive and the top speed was just 330 mph (528 km/h), little faster than [22][nb 3]

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