Supermarine Spitfire MK XIV

Supermarine Spitfire MK XIV

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Supermarine Spitfire MK XIV

The Mk XIV was the most important of the Griffon powered Spitfires, and the only one to see significant wartime service. It used the two-speed two-stage supercharged Griffon 61 or 65, giving 2,050 hp and a significantly improved performance at higher altitudes when compared to the earlier Griffon powered Mk XII. The Mk XIV was based on the Mk VIII fuselage, already strengthened to cope with the Merlin 61 engine. Early models used the “c” type universal wing (four 20mm cannon or two 20mm cannon and four .303in machine guns), while later production used the “e” wing (two .50in machine guns instead of the .303s).

The Griffon engine improved the performance of the Spitfire at all heights. Tests in early 1944 found it to be faster than the Mk IX at every altitude, with the best rate of climb yet seen. The only area not to see any improvement was manoeuvrability, which did not rely on the engine but on the airframe. It had a similar advantage over the Fw 190A, which had a similar performance to the Mk IX. The only problem posed by the Griffon was that it span in the opposite direction to the Merlin. Merlin powered Spitfires had tended to veer left on takeoff. The Mk XIV veered to the right instead.

The superior performance of the Mk XIV made it the ideal aircraft to deal with the menace of the V-1. No.91 Squadron, based at West Malling, ended up with the best record against the flying bomb, shooting down 184 with its Mk XIVs.

From September 1944 the Mk XIV was used with the 2nd Tactical Air Force. It equipped all twenty Spitfire squadrons on the continent between D-Day and VE-Day. Its role in Europe was normally armed reconnaissance, searching for any enemy targets behind the German lines. It could carry up to 1000 lbs of bombs, or in a FR role 500 lbs of bombs and a camera.


Mk I

Mk V




Merlin II or Merlin III

Merlin 45, 46, 50

Merlin 61 or 63

Griffon 65 or 66


990 hp or 1,030 hp

1440 (45)
1190 (46)
1230 (50)

1560 (61)
1690 (63)

2035 at 7,000 ft (65)


36’ 10”

36’ 10”

36’ 10”

35’ 10”


29’ 11”

29’ 11”

31’ .5”

32’ 8”

Empty Weight

4,810 lb

5,065 lb

5,610 lb

Full Weight

6,200 lb

6,750 lb

7,500 lb

8,385 lb



“a”, “b”, “c”

“c” or “e”

“c” or “e”


31,900 ft


43,000 ft

43,000 ft


362 mph at 18,500 ft

369 mph at 19,500 ft

408 mph at 25,000 ft

446mph at 25,400ft (prototype)

Cruising Speed

272 mph at 5,000 ft

324 mph at 20,000 ft

362 mph at 20,000 ft

Speed at Sea Level

312 mph

357 mph

Climb rate

2,530 ft/min

4,750 ft/min

4,100 ft/ min

4,580 ft/ min

Prototypes - Mk I - Mk II - Mk III - Mk V - Mk VI - Mk VII - Mk VIII - Mk IX - Mk XII - Mk XIV - Mk XVI - Mk XVIII - Mk 21 to 24 - Photo Reconnaissance Spitfires - Spitfire Wings - Timeline

Design and development [ edit | edit source ]

By 1942, Supermarine designers had realised that the aerodynamics of the Spitfire's wing at high Mach numbers might become a limiting factor in increasing the aircraft's high-speed performance. The main problem was the aeroelasticity of the Spitfire's wing at high speeds the relatively light structure behind the strong leading edge torsion box would flex, changing the airflow and limiting the maximum safe diving speed to 480 mph (772 km/h) IAS [nb 1] . If the Spitfire were to be able to fly higher and faster, a radically new wing would be needed. Ώ]

Joseph Smith and the design team were aware of a paper on compressibility, published by A D Young of the R.A.E, in which he described a new type of wing section the maximum thickness and camber would be much nearer to the mid-chord than conventional airfoils and the nose section of this airfoil would be close to an ellipse [nb 2] . In November 1942 Supermarine issued Specification No 470 which (in part) stated:

A new wing has been designed for the Spitfire with the following objects: 1) To raise as much as possible the critical speed at which drag increases, due to compressibility, become serious. 2) To obtain a rate of roll faster than any existing fighter. 3) To reduce wing profile drag and thereby improve performance.
The wing area has been reduced to 210 sq ft (20 m 2 ) and a thickness chord ratio of 13% has been used over the inner wing where the equipment is stored. Outboard the wing tapers to 8% thickness/chord at the tip. Ώ]

Specification 470 described how the wing had been designed with a simple straight-tapered planform to simplify production and to achieve a smooth and accurate contour. The wing skins were to be relatively thick, aiding torsional rigidity which was needed for good aileron control at high speeds. Although the prototype was to have a dihedral of 3° it was intended that this would be increased in subsequent aircraft. Ώ] Another change, to improve the ground-handling, was replacing the Spitfire's narrow-track, outward-retracting undercarriage with a wider-track, inward-retracting system. The Air Ministry were impressed by the proposal and, in February 1943, issued Specification F.1/43 for a single seat fighter with a laminar flow wing there was also to be provision made for a wing folding scheme to meet possible Fleet Air Arm requirements. The new fighter was to use a fuselage based on a Spitfire VIII. ΐ]

The new wing was fitted to a modified Spitfire XIV NN660, in order to make a direct comparison with the earlier elliptical wing, and was first flown on 30 June 1944 by Jeffrey Quill. Although the new Spitfire's speed performance was comfortably in excess of an unmodified Spitfire XIV, the new wing displayed some undesirable behaviour at the stall which, although acceptable, did not come up to the high standards of Mitchell's earlier elliptical wing. NN660 crashed on 13 September 1944, killing pilot Frank Furlong. No reason for the loss was officially established. Α] In the meantime, the opportunity had been taken to redesign the Spitfire's fuselage, to improve the pilot's view over the nose and to eliminate a slight directional instability by using a larger fin and rudder. This instability had been apparent since the introduction of the more powerful Griffon engine. The instability was exacerbated by the increase in propeller blade area due to the introduction of the four-bladed and subsequent five-bladed Rotol airscrews for the next aircraft, NN664 (for which Specification F.1/43 had been issued). The updated design incorporated the new fuselage (although lacking the enlarged fin/rudder) and, as it was now substantially different from a Spitfire, the aircraft was named "Spiteful" (although "Victor" had been originally proposed).

Building an Accurate Spitfire Mk. XIVc in 1/48 Scale

At present there are thirteen 1/48th scale Spitfires on my flight line including a Mk.XII made from bits left over from five different kits, however most models are from the traditional sources with only a few minor tweaks here & there.

The subject of this article, the Spitfire Mk.XIVc, also falls into the bits & pieces category, using parts from kits that are surplus, or the spares box .

Fuselage Nose

Academy has been praised for its moulding detail quality & criticised for the contour inaccuracy of their Mk.XIVc kit (and the ‘e’) in this area. The fuselage depth is around 2mm. too deep & results in a rather overweight representation of the real thing.

This was solved by cutting the nose horizontally under the exhausts, removing the surplus & re-gluing to match the dimensions of the next part of the fuselage.

Main Fuselage

As I had several Tamiya Mk.V. kits in the cupboard, I picked one to provide this part as well as the tailplanes, cockpit details & windshield. I elected to use a vac-form canopy after comparison with Tamiya only because of the thinner transparency & marginally greater length. The fillets on the Tamiya fuselage have always struck me as being too ‘fat’ & these were sanded down to what I feel were better proportions, giving a much slimmer appearance to the fuselage.


I used an Italeri Mk.XVI wing as this had a number of advantages: No carving or rescribing necessary, no bulges to remove, no holes to fill in plus the wing root matches the Tamiya shape almost perfectly. The wing chord is too broad however & some trimming of the trailing edge inboard of the ailerons helped to correct this.

A bonus is that the Tamiya wingtips are an excellent fit to the Italeri wings.

Fin & Rudder

I have removed the Tamiya fin forward of the centre panel line & have done likewise to the central part from the Academy fin as an aid to vertical alignment.

The Academy rudder has been retained, but given some reshaping to the mass balance & the repositioning of the hinge line by adding a sliver of card to the rudder’s leading edge.

Radiators & Intakes

The Academy radiators have the advantage over others in that they are of sufficient depth although a trifle too narrow. Plastic sheet added to each side & sanded to a subtle curve seemed to fit the bill. Radiator flaps & carb. Intakes were used as is.

Spinner & Propeller blades

Spinner courtesy of one of my IPMS colleagues who provided me with a resin example. (Thanks Dave). Prop. blades: The Academy prop. blades are too short & thick & have too long a spigot at the base. I have added the necessary 1 ½ mm to the base of each blade on the mounting spigot & sanded to shape as well as thinned them considerably. Not much alternative as the Griffon engine goes ‘round the other way to the Merlin. I have used a magnificent new set of exhausts from Quick Boost – a fabulous fit they provide the finishing touch to what is my favourite model.


Tail wheel doors from spares box thinned to look better. Spare Hasegawa housing to suit the retractable style. Wheels & oleos were taken from Academy, both for tail & main units (stolen from an unwanted earlier effort).

Painting & Decaling

The standard European three colour scheme has been used but with variations which came into being in the early part of 1945, i.e.: Spinner painted black & tail band painted out. Upper wing roundels have not been modified as this alteration seems to have been ignored in many cases (plus I couldn’t find any photo references showing this on an early production ‘c’ wing Spitfire XIV.)

Paints used were from Gunze, Aeromaster & Polyscale. Surprisingly little filler was required & all I needed was some Squadron white filler & some correction fluid.

Decals used were from Academy, Italeri, & the generic Aeromaster code sheet.
Additional bits: Whip aerial installed on fuselage spine, IFF aerial mounted under starboard wing. Scratch built seat belts. Radio access hatch filled on port side & re-scribed in correct position for Mk. XIV on stb’d side.

So there we have it – major & minor parts from five or six different sources to make one Spitfire Mk.XIVc.

Late mark Spitfire Aces. Osprey
Spitfire in Action. Squadron Signal Publications.
Spitfires – The Anzacs. Malcolm Laird & Steve Mackenzie. Ventura Publications
Spitfire. Wilson S. Aerospace Publications.
Spitfire, Mustang & Kittyhawk in Australian Service. Wilson S. Aerospace Publications

Instructions: As the parts come from Tamiya, Academy, Hasegawa, Italeri, Aeroclub & Falcon, kit plans etc are pointless. General Arrangement & Details were sourced from the above references & detailed plans from “The Supermarine Spitfire Pt.2, Griffon Powered”, by Robert Humphreys – Modellers Datafile – SAM Publications.

The Spitfire Mk XIV in Aces High II [ edit ]

There really are mixed opinions on the SpitXIV in general. Used in it's element it is a wonderful plane, but used outside of that is just another Spitfire, but that's not a bad thing. To control the use of the SpitXIV it has a perk cost attached to it, so you need to use it wisely and not just throw it away by getting into poor situations and not giving yourself a chance to escape. The Spit XIV is a killer, no doubt, and at some altitudes can show every other propeller driven plane exactly what the Spitfire is all about, a killer.

The Spitfire Mk XIV is an excellent plane, although it is one that shows its advantages under certain conditions while also showing that it is quite "ordinary" under others. Ordinary isn't a bad thing, but is certainly isn't worth risking the perks to take one out of the hanger when a Spit IX or Spit XVI are free and could be flown in the same fashion. That's what it really comes down to in the case of the Spit XIV though, you need to know how to fly it. Too many Spit drivers simply fly them all the same, usually as turn-fighters, where the Spit XIV can show you what a great energy fighter can do.

Engine Power [ edit ]

Engine power is incredible, though some people simply don't realize it. Here is why: at sea-level the Spit XIV can cruise at 332mph, nothing good in that number. With WEP that can be brought up to 358mph, a big difference but still not a number that will turn heads in any way. At those speeds an La5 is going to be able to keep up, let alone mention something like a 190D9, La7, 109G14, or Typhoon. If you climb up to about 12.5K though the situation is dramatically different: 400mph cruise. Need a bit of a sprint at 12K, kick in the WEP and you'll quickly see 420mph. Bump that up to 28K and you are seeing 427mph in cruise. Punch in the WEP up high and at 26K you are pulling 448mph. Those are pretty big numbers, larger than pretty much anything else. Not only that, look at the climb rate of the Spit XIV from sea-level, 5,000ft/minute all the way up to about 9K. Nothing can match that, not the 109K4, not the La7, nothing. Trips to 12K are only a little over 2 minutes away and pretty much ensure that your 400mph speed is going to bring at least parity with anyone else up at 12K (though it is a tight race against some opponents). WEP is important too, without it you are likely comparable to the best fighters at similar altitudes, with it you are likely better. Don't burn your WEP up in transit or during climbs, chances are with the attention you are bound to attract you will need it all for the fight ahead.

Aces High II Performance Charts [ edit ]

Firepower [ edit ]

Firepower is standard Spitfire, twin 20mm Hispano cannons backed up either four .303s or twin .50s. The Hispanos really are the key to this package, they add the real punch while the other guns are mostly just supporting. The .50s option seems to give the better results as the hitting power of a .50 is more than twice that of a .303 for most purposes in the game. The .50 also seems to give an increased number of critical hits over the .303 which can be important to swing an enemy into a position where they need to end the fight quickly or escape. The Hispanos have 120 rounds/gun while the .50s have 250. Once the Hispanos are fired away though it's time to leave and reload with more.

Maneuverability [ edit ]

Maneuverability is almost exactly like a Spit IX, or at least almost impossible to tell any/much difference. If you are turn-fighting with the Spit XIV though you are missing the point and may as well just take a Spit IX. Maneuverability in the Spit XIV is only used to get the guns into position when taking snapshots or during BnZ attacks. The only time to get into sustained turn-fights is when you are completely alone with an enemy you know can't out-turn you. Any other time is likely to lead to an awfully quick ending for you since everyone knows you are in a Spit XIV and will hunt you like a pack of hungry wolves.

Fighting in the Spitfire Mk XIV [ edit ]

Offensively, BnZ or slash attack opponents who are at your altitude or lower. Don't get engaged too low as the Spit loses too much performance even with WEP at very low altitudes. Cruise at a comfortable altitude where you don't expect to see many/any enemy cons above you. Always remember that your icon is special and every enemy within icon range will be screaming that there is a Spit XIV in the area, thus you attract a lot of attention, quickly. Best to be above trouble in such a situation. Never accept Head-Ons, though the Hispanos will likely make a draw, you certainly wouldn't want to risk the perk points in such a manner against an inferior opponent. You should never find yourself in a situation in a Spit XIV where, one on one, you don't have a clear advantage in some area of the fight. Energy fighting is beautiful in the Spit XIV, the climb, acceleration, top speed, and handling all aid this. Try and fight that sort of fight while remaining out of harm's way.

Defensively, don't immediately dive to the deck for speed since the engine performs worse at sea-level and you will never actually break off enemies who are chasing you because they give up. The only way to lose an enemy is to show him pure horsepower in speed and climb. Too many opponents can easily catch a Spit XIV low. Make maneuvers that are just violent enough to avoid attack and try to build up energy parity. The Spit can put on speed and climb instantly and make many opponents with equal speed very envious. You don't want to get stuck in a constant turning duel down low against multiple opponents as your options in such a fight are typically low. Try to initiate a climbing spiral turn and use the Spit XIV's extraordinary climb rate to quickly pull you above the enemy while your great turn-rate will defeat their attempts to get a gun lead on you. Always be trying to build up energy advantage though after a defensive maneuver. Many planes find it very difficult to replace lost energy and you can quickly build up a big energy surplus on them before they realize it.

A couple of last notes, the Spit XIV is a big target, which is unfortunate. Every enemy within radio range will know you are there and be hunting you to the point of making suicidal attacks just to deny you the ability to land your plane. People will completely forget everything else around them and immediately dive in on you, so expect that and keep your situational awareness high. Bringing a Spit XIV to a furball is just too unpredictable and likely to draw too much attention. You should always have some sort of advantage in a Spit XIV though against an opponent, often many, in speed, climb, and/or turn-rate.

Fighting against the Spitfire Mk XIV [ edit ]

The lucky thing is, most Spit XIV pilots fly it just like any other Spit and then cry when they lose it. They think it should turn like a Zero and sprint like a La7 on the deck and fly it like that, throwing caution to the wind and expecting the plane to haul their butts out of trouble. Unfortunately, it can't be flown like that successfully, or at least not typically. That said, you should always fear a Spit XIV, because if the pilot at the controls has any clue on how to properly use it he will quickly show you how dominant it can be.

Offensively, you need to corner a Spit XIV, typically not an easy task. An altitude advantage is usually a requirement though if you can catch one at low altitudes (under 5K) there are a number of aircraft that can stay on the tail of a Spit and force it to defend. Driving a Spit XIV low is a good start, make it defensive and maneuver as such but be very careful to preserve your own energy and not bleed much in your attacks. It is rare that you can catch a Spit in one maneuver so plane on this being a bit of an extended battle where you will need all your energy. The lower the fight, the more parity a plane like the La7, 190D9 or 109K4 is going to have in energy building. Watch each Spit maneuver closely and make sure he isn't just building energy on each defense. If you drive him lower, you need to get him to bleed speed, and not just climb back up. Be aggressive and continue the pressure. Unless you are greedy, having a second plane help you is best. Likely, you will find though that every friendly plane within icon range will be trying to beat you to the kill. I hate to recommend taking a Head On, but sometimes against a Spit XIV it can be about the best option available and shows that the Spit driver is getting desperate.

Defensively, you need to try and get into a position where you have some advantage. Some fighters can out-turn the Spit XIV, namely the other Spits, N1K, Hurricanes or Zero] so you can try that. Chances are the Spit isn't likely to play that game with you unless it is out of options. Never try and fight in the vertical against one as it will totally dominate you unless you have an excellent position to start with. The combination of turn-rate and climb rate will make 190s, 109s and La7s pretty envious. In a real speed demon you can probably out-run the Spit XIV down low, especially if you think he has been using WEP in other fights recently (and doesn't have full WEP time left). Diving to top speed, then maintaining that at sea-level is your best chance in cases like that. The Spit XIV knows it's not best at sea-level and may not follow at all since it would put them at a disadvantage. Extend a long way though, the Spit XIV is likely building energy like crazy while you are running away and you will need to build at least that amount of energy if you are thinking about coming back with any sort of honest offensive effort later.

The Spit XIV tends to draw a lot of attention, so it is likely you will have lots of help in the same way people chase Me262s around forever with no hope of actually catching one. The Spit is catchable by a number of planes down low, even non-perk ones, so if you see one circling low it is at it's most vulnerable.

Källor [ redigera | redigera wikitext ]

Noter [ redigera | redigera wikitext ]

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  2. ^ [ab] Johnson, David Alan (november 1994). ”Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes: World War II Aircraft”. Aviation History . .  
  3. ^ [ab] ”Supermarine Spitfire”. Aviastar . . Läst 9 mars 2017 .  
  4. ^ [abc] Robinson, Keith (4 mars 2011). ”Spitfire – History of the Spitfire's design and development”. Military History Monthly . .  
  5. ^ [ab] Webb, Jeff (15 april 2010). ”Supermarine Spitfire Variants – The Initial Merlin-Powered Line”. The Spitfire Site . .   Hungnes, Olav (14 april 2010). ”Spitfire Mk. IX, XI and XVI – Variants Much Varied”. The Spitfire Site . .   ”Spitfire Mk XIV versus Me 109 G/K – A Performance Comparison”. . . Läst 12 mars 2017 .  
  6. ^ [ab] Riley, Cam. ”Australian Spitfires in the Pacific During World War II”. Arkiverad från originalet den 30 augusti 2017 . . Läst 12 mars 2017 .   ”Belgian Spitfires”. Letletlet Warplanes . 1 juni 2013 . .   ”350 (Belgian) Squadron RAF”. 15 januari 2017 . .   Brackx, Daniel (1 december 2016). ”Supermarine Spitfire F(R).14”. Belgian Wings . Arkiverad från originalet den 31 mars 2017 . . Läst 31 mars 2017 .   ”Myanmar Air Force”. Engelskspråkiga Wikipedia . . Läst 15 mars 2017 .  
  7. ^ [ab] Clark, Charles (15 september 2015). ”Man who tried to dig up 140 Spitfires in Burma”. Business Insider . .   Halifax, Justine (30 augusti 2013). ”New image holds key in hunt for Brum’s Spitfires in Burma”. Birmingham Mail . .   Sundsig-Hansen, M. (17 december 2011). ”The Danish Spitfires”. . Arkiverad från originalet den 17 september 2017 . . Läst 31 mars 2017 .   Plannthin, Mikkel (19 april 2010). ”Danish Presentation Spitfires”. The Spitfire Site . .   Sundsig-Hansen, M. (17 december 2011). ”Spitfires in The Royal Danish Air force”. . Arkiverad från originalet den 7 augusti 2017 . . Läst 31 mars 2017 .   Isby, David (2012). ”Fighters in a Cold War World – After 1945”. The Decisive Duel – Spitfire vs 109 . London: Hachette Digital. ISBN 9780748123612  
  8. ^ [abcde] ”Israel vs the RAF – caught in the middle – air combat between Israel and the RAF”. 29 maj 2008. Arkiverad från originalet den 14 april 2018 . . Läst 31 mars 2017 .   ”Free French Spitfires”. The Spitfire Site . 11 februari 2011 . .   Alcott, William (24 juni 2010). ”French Spitfires in the Indochina War” . .   Mansolas, Ioannis (19 april 2010). ”Spitfires in Greece”. The Spitfire Site . .   Singh, Polly (10 september 2010). ”Lord, Let Thy Servant go in peace – The Supermarine Spitfire” . .  
  9. ^ [abcde] ”The Israel Air Force – Spitfires Over Israel”. World Machal . . Läst 16 mars 2017 .  
  10. ^ [ab] ”The IAF's Spitfires”. אוסף "חותם ההיסטוריה" של בולי ישראל. Arkiverad från originalet den 1 april 2017 . . Läst 16 mars 2017 .   ”Spitfire Co-Belligerent”. WWII in color . . Läst 23 mars 2017 .   Hayles, John (12 augusti 2008). ”Italian Air Force Aircraft Types”. Aeroflight . .   Imalko (16 augusti 2009). ”Yugoslav Airmen And Their Aircraft in World War 2”. . .   ”Spitfires in the Balkan Air Force”. The Spitfire Site . 8 december 2008 . .  
  11. ^ [ab] Renner, Robert (11 november 2016). ”Canadian Spitfires”. Skies Magazine . .   Russwurm, Lance (18 juni 2003). ”Rommel under attack” . .   ”Canada and the Second World War – Overseas”. Veterans Affairs Canada. 23 oktober 2014 . .   Mathisrud, Nils (17 april 2010). ”Spitfire Mk. V: The Norwegians”. The Spitfire Site . .   Waligorski, Martin (16 april 2010). ”In Royal Norwegian Service”. The Spitfire Site . .   Waligorski, Martin (16 april 2010). ”Reconnaissance Spitfires PR Mk. XI in Norway”. The Spitfire Site . .   Edwards, Martin Cowan, Brendan (17 april 2012). ”NZDF-serials – New Zealand Military Aircraft Serials & History” . .   ”No. 485 Squadron and Spitfire Mk. IX”. The Spitfire Site . 25 januari 2011 . .   Matusiak, Wojtek (2015). Polish Spitfire Aces . London: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1472808371  
  12. ^ [abc] Williamson, Mitch (16 mars 2015). ”British Aircraft in Russian Service”. Soviet Hammer . .   Zlobin, Igor. ”Spitfires over the Kuban”. Arkiverad från originalet den 20 mars 2017 . . Läst 31 mars 2017 .   ”Brewster air-to-air victory credits”. Arkiverad från originalet den 22 mars 2017 . . Läst 31 mars 2017 .   Giles, Nicki (16 februari 2016). ”The history and service of the Spitfire”. Forces War Records . .   ”Stories of the Battle of Britain 1940 – The Battle is Won”. The Spitfire Site . 5 oktober 2010 . .   ”Battle of Britain: without the hurricane the battle would have been lost”. The Telegraph. 28 juni 2010 . .   Douglas, Sholto (12 april 2010). ”1941: The Difficult Year”. The Spitfire Site . sid.ك . .   Douglas, Sholto (12 april 2010). ”1941: The Difficult Year”. The Spitfire Site . sid.ل . .  
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Tryckta källor [ redigera | redigera wikitext ]

  • Widfeldt, Bo Hall, Åke (2005). Svenskt militärflyg – Svenska militära flygplan och helikoptrar 1911–2005 . Nässjö: Air Historic Research AB. sid.𧅾. Libris9962242. ISBN 91-975467-1-2  
  • Andersson, Lennart Hellström, Leif (2002). Bortom horisonten – svensk flygspaning mot Sovjetunionen 1946–1952 . Stockholm: Stenbom. ISBN 91-7243-015-X  

Valiant Wings Publishing | Airframe & Miniature 13: The Supermarine Spitfire Part 2

UK publisher Valiant Wings Publishing has released Number 13 in its Airframe & Miniature series, entitled The Supermarine Spitfire Part 2 (Griffon-powered) including the Seafire: A Complete Guide to The Famous Fighter. The author is Richard Franks, and the illustrations are shared between Richard Caruana, Juraj Jankovic, and Wojciech Sankowski. The terrific cover art is by Jerry Boucher. This is a follow-up to Part 1, which covered the Merlin-powered variants.

The first thing that struck me when I picked up this book was how heavy it is at a massive 272 pages plus a gatefold section of scale drawings, it is indeed a weighty tome—possibly the largest Valiant Wings has yet produced. It's extremely well printed on quality glossy paper, and the reproduction of all drawings and photographs is first-class.

The contents are broken up into nine separate chapters, grouped into two distinct sections:

  • Airframe Chapters
    1. Evolution - Mk XII to Mk 24
    2. Evolution - Seafire Mk XV to FR Mk 47
    3. Spiteful and Seafang
    4. Camouflage and Markings and Colour Profiles
  • Miniature Chapters
    1. Spitfire & Seafire (Griffon-powered) Kits
    2. Building a Selection
    3. Building a Collection
    4. In Detail: The Supermarine Spitfire & Seafire

There is also a preface, along with a collection of appendices at the rear of the book:

The sample images below (courtesy Valiant Wings Publishing) should give a good indication of the nature and style of the book's contents:

While not mentioned in the table of contents, the Preface weighs in at a substantial 32 pages, and describes a potted history of the Griffon-engined Spitfire, which provides useful support for the subsequent technical information.

The sequence of chapters covering the evolution of the airframe also spans 32 pages, and consist of brief summaries supported by crisply-rendered greyscale profile drawings. They are clear and easy to follow, and form a handy guide for discerning what features distinguished which variants.

The Camouflage & Markings section covers 33 pages, and includes a four-view stencil placement guide, based on the Mk XIV & F Mk 21 airframes. Rather than a dedicated section for colour profiles, they are instead interspersed throughout the text as necessary. They are by Richard Caruana as usual, and are very nicely rendered indeed. A set of profiles for aircraft in foreign service is also provided.

Missing is the usual cross-referenced colour chart for modelling paints. This is a feature of nearly all Valiant Wings publications, so its exclusion here is puzzling.

Chapter 5 features a brief description of the commonly available Griffon-powered Spitfire and Seafire model kits. In 1/32 scale, only the ancient Matchbox (and more recently, Revell) kit is mentioned in passing but not discussed. Perhaps one day soon, one of the mainstream manufacturers will bless us with a new-tool LSP Griffon-engined Spitfire.

The modelling section features four kit builds, comprising 1/72 Fujimi FR Mk XIVe and Xtrakit/Special Hobby F Mk 22 by Libor Jekl, and 1/48 Airfix Mk XIV and Special Hobby Seafire Mk XV by Steve Evans. These builds are extremely well done, and will serve as inspiration and guidance for our own Spitfire builds when we get to them.

Chapter 7 is called Building a Collection, and features a series of annotated isometric 3D line drawings by Juraj Jankovic. These are designed to illustrate the salient differences between the various prototype and production airframes as the series developed, and form a perfect companion to the earlier 'evolution' chapters.

Chapter 8, In Detail, features an extensive selections of photographs and diagrams, including a series of walkaround detail photos of surviving airframes. The walkaround photos have been selected with a modeller's eye, which is not only welcome, but very handy.

The four appendices cover the usual list of available kits, aftermarket, decals, and mask sets, as well as a concise bibliography for further research.

Interestingly, the scale plans that are usually included at the very back of the book, have in this title been secured inside the front cover. They consist a set of 1/48 scale plans in gatefold format, and are printed on heavy, non-glossy plain stock, covering the following airframes:

  • Spitfire F Mk 22
  • Spitfire F Mk 24
  • Spiteful F Mk 14
  • Seafire F Mk XV
  • Seafire Mk XVII
  • Seafire FR Mk XVII
  • Seafire F Mk 45
  • Seafire FR Mk 46
  • Seafire FR Mk 47

These are drawn by Richard Caruana and look very nicely done.


Not being a Spitfire expert, I can't give a considered evaluation of the accuracy or veracity of the text itself, and so will leave that to more knowledgeable readers. All other elements of the book ooze quality however, from the clear photography to the beautiful profiles and the detailed scale plans. Contemporary photographs are plentiful and very nicely reproduced. Overall it's an impressive attempt to be the Complete Guide the title alludes to. Recommended!

Thanks to Valiant Wings Publishing for the review copy.

Related Content

This review was published on Friday, September 13 2019 Last modified on Friday, September 13 2019

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Prototypes Bewerken

In 1931 gaf het Britse Air Ministry opdracht tot het ontwerpen van een eendekker jachtvliegtuig met acht machinegeweren en een Rolls-Royce PV-12-motor die een snelheid van 350 mijl (580 km) per uur diende te kunnen ontwikkelen. [2] Vliegtuigbouwer Reginald Mitchell, ontwerper van onder andere de Sea Lion II en winnaar van een Schneider Trophy, ontwierp een prototype, de Type 224. Dit was een eendekker met een lage vleugel, en een open cockpit. Het toestel bestond volledig uit metaal. Het landingsgestel was niet intrekbaar. De bewapening bestond uit vier machinegeweren, twee vooraan in de cockpit en twee in de vleugels, die de vorm hadden van meeuwenvleugels. Tijdens testvluchten bleek het koelsysteem sterk onvoldoende. Het ontwerp werd daarom door het Air Ministry afgekeurd.

Mitchell gaf echter niet op en bleef met steun van de eigenaar van Supermarine, Vickers-Armstrong Ltd, het prototype verbeteren. Een nieuw model was voorzien van een aantal grote verbeteringen, waaronder een intrekbaar landingsgestel, zuurstofapparatuur, een gesloten cockpit en een andere motor. Naast deze ingrijpende veranderingen werden de vleugels ook nog dunner en werd de spanwijdte verkleind. Het vliegtuig was ook niet meer volledig uit metaal gebouwd, maar werd grotendeels bespannen met textiel.

Type 300 Bewerken

In 1935 gaf het Air Ministry opnieuw een order uit voor de bouw van een eendekker. De nieuwe Supermarine werd echter afgewezen, aangezien de specificaties eisten dat er acht machinegeweren werden geïnstalleerd en de Supermarine plaats had voor vier machinegeweren. [3]

Er kwam echter een oplossing voor dit probleem. Mitchell paste de vleugels aan, naar het voorbeeld van enkele Heinkels. De vleugels kregen een elliptische vorm, waardoor er meer plaats was voor de machinegeweren maar ook de voordelen van het eerdere vleugelontwerp gehandhaafd bleven. Deze aanpassing was voldoende voor het Air Ministry, dat prompt een nieuwe specificatie, F.10/35, [4] uitgaf, in volledige overeenstemming met het ontwerp van de nieuwe Supermarine, het Type 300.

In maart 1936 was het prototype (K5054) klaar voor de eerste vlucht, die plaatsvond op 5 maart. [5] Het Air Ministry was onder de indruk van de proefvluchten en bestelde op 3 juni 1936, nog voor het officiële einde van de tests, 310 vliegtuigen van het nieuwe model dat de naam Spitfire kreeg. De naam was een verwijzing naar een meisje of vrouw met een sterk temperament. [6]

De eerste grote onderverdeling in de Spitfire is het onderscheid tussen de varianten bedoeld voor de luchtmacht, onder de naam Spitfire en de varianten bedoeld voor de marine, de Seafires. De naam Seafire werd afgeleid van de naam Supermarine Sea Spitfire. [7] Hoewel deze varianten zich op verschillende wijze verder ontwikkelden, bleef er toch een constante, namelijk de gebruikte motor. Tot 1942 werd uitsluitend de Merlin-variant gebruikt, zowel bij de Seafire als bij de Spitfire. Vanaf dat jaar schakelde men echter over op de Griffon-variant. In totaal waren er 24 Marks bij de Spitfire. [8] Het talrijkst waren de Mk V's, met in totaal 6.479 exemplaren.

Merlin Bewerken

Tot aan Mk XII maakten alle Spitfires gebruik van de Merlin-motor, die ook in het prototype werd ingebouwd. Iedere versie had ook een aantal verschillende wapensystemen, samengebracht in vier vleugelvarianten, van A tot en met E, met uitzondering van variant D. Het verschil bij deze varianten zat in het aantal en het soort wapens waarover het toestel kon beschikken. De A-variant beschikte over acht .303 machinegeweren, de B over vier .303 machinegeweren en twee 20 mm Hispano Suiza-kanonnen. De C-variant was de meest gebruikte, vandaar ook de verwijzing Universal Wing. Deze variant beschikte ofwel over vier 20 mm kanonnen ofwel twee 20 mm kanonnen en vier .303 machinegeweren. Als laatste werd de E-variant ontwikkeld, die beschikte over twee 20 mm kanonnen en twee .50 inch Browning-machinegeweren.

Griffon Bewerken

In 1942 kwam een nieuwe versie, de Mk XII, in gebruik, die gebruik maakte van de Griffon-motor. Deze kwam echter pas in 1943 in volle dienst. De nieuwe versies had enkele belangrijke verbeteringen, zoals een grotere maximumsnelheid en een krachtige motor, die het toestond om tot 10.000 m (30.000 voet) te stijgen in minder dan acht minuten. Het grote probleem van de Spitfire was en bleef het feit dat de brandstoftanks en dus het vliegbereik onvoldoende waren voor langeafstandsvluchten. Uitsluitend de types gebruikt als verkenners kregen extra brandstoftanks, maar dit ging ten koste van de bewapening.

Deze belangrijke tekortkoming was mede de reden dat Amerikaanse toestellen het escorte over lange afstand van bommenwerpers op zich moesten nemen. De Griffons werden nog ingezet als onderscheppingsjagers tegen Duitse V-1's en jachtbommenwerpers. De Merlins daarentegen werden zelf ingezet als jachtbommenwerpers boven vijandelijk gebied.

Slag om Engeland Bewerken

Toen de Spitfires eenmaal besteld werden, duurde het tot 4 augustus 1938 voordat ze werkelijk geleverd werden. De eerste werden geleverd aan het 19e Squadron van de RAF in Duxford. Tot aan de Tweede Wereldoorlog werden er nog eens 400 geleverd en er waren er 2.000 extra besteld. [9]

In september 1939 brak de Tweede Wereldoorlog uit. Echte oorlogshandelingen kwamen er voor het nieuwe type niet tot in 1940, toen de Slag om Engeland begon. De Spitfires worden samen met de Hawker Hurricanes genoemd als de overwinnaars van de Slag om Engeland en de Spitfire als het beste vliegtuig van de oorlog. De Hurricane werd echter in grotere aantallen gebruikt tijdens de slagen van 1940.

De bewapening van de oudste Spitfires en Hurricanes was gelijk ze hadden elk acht 7,696 mm machinegeweren, maar bij de Hurricane waren ze zo geplaatst dat ze geconcentreerder konden vuren. De Spitfire had dan weer het voordeel dat hij sneller was en beter wendbaar op grote hoogtes. De standaard RAF-tactiek was dan ook om de Hurricanes de trage Duitse bommenwerpers te laten aanvallen en de Spitfires de escortes, die meestal uit Messerschmitt Bf 109's bestonden. Dit vliegtuig bleek een taaie tegenstander, hoewel het iets trager was dan de Spitfire. In totaal hebben de Hurricanes meer toestellen van de Luftwaffe neergeschoten dan de Spitfires, maar dit kan verklaard worden door het grotere aantal Hurricanes in de lucht. 70% van de Duitse verliezen kwamen op het conto van de Hurricanes, maar hun verliezen waren ook aanzienlijk hoger dan die van de Spitfires.

Een groter nadeel van beide types was dat ze de .303 Browning machinegeweren gebruikten, die niet effectief door het pantser van de Duitse toestellen konden boren. Naarmate de slag om Engeland voortging kregen de vijandelijke vliegtuigen namelijk extra pantser in de kritieke delen van het toestel. De oplossing voor dit probleem was het monteren van minder wapens, maar wel van een groter kaliber in de latere versies van de Spitfire. Zo kwam de Mark V in 1941 in dienst met twee 20 mm kanonnen en vier .303-machinegeweren, wat de standaard zou worden tijdens de oorlog.

De sterkste tegenstander was de Duitse Messerschmitt Bf 109. Dit toestel was ongeveer gelijkwaardig aan de Spitfire, zowel qua grootte als bewapening. [10] Er waren echter enkele kleine verschillen die de strijd in het voordeel van de Spitfire beslechtten.
De Spitfire was sneller en wendbaarder dan de Messerschmitt en de cockpit van de Spitfire was ruimer en de perspex kap boller. Dit zorgde voor een beter uitzicht en was een belangrijk voordeel op zijn Duitse tegenstander.

De Messerschmitt had echter een groot voordeel op de Spitfire (en de Hurricane), namelijk dat daarmee een erg steile duikvlucht gemaakt kon worden. De Merlinmotor had namelijk geen brandstofinjectie. Bij een steile duikvlucht werd de brandstof door de negatieve g-kracht in de vlotterkamer van iedere carburateur naar boven geduwd zodat de motor te weinig brandstof kreeg. Na enige tijd viel dan de vlotter zelf op de bodem van de vlotterkamer en werd juist een veel te rijk mengsel aangeleverd waardoor de motor meteen 'verzoop' en daardoor helemaal uitviel. Door deze tekortkoming kon de Spitfire geen negatieve g-manoeuvres uitvoeren. De piloten van de RAF vonden hiervoor een oplossing: ze maakten eerst een halve rol en voerden de duikvlucht aldus boogvormig uit. Dat kostte evenwel tijd en zo konden de tragere Messerschmitts veelal toch ontkomen. In maart 1941 kwam een eerste technische oplossing, bestaande uit een metalen ring met gekalibreerde opening die halverwege de vlotterkamer werd gemonteerd, waardoor nooit méér dan de bij vol vermogen benodigde hoeveelheid brandstof, kon passeren. Deze werd door de piloten Miss Shilling's orifice gedoopt, naar de vrouwelijke ingenieur Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling die het dingetje in al zijn briljante simpelheid - het onderscheidde zich niet wezenlijk van een gewone sluitring met een klein gaatje - had bedacht. Een nadere verbetering werd later gevonden in de verplaatsing van de brandstofuitloop van de bodem van de vlotterkamer naar de zijkant ervan, precies halverwege. In 1943 werd ten slotte een vorm van brandstofinjectie ingevoerd, maar al in 1942 werd begonnen met het bouwen van een nieuwe motorvariant, de Griffon.

Europa (1941 - 1943) Bewerken

Aan het einde van 1941 introduceerde de Luftwaffe een nieuw toestel in het luchtruim boven het Kanaal. Deze opvolger voor de Messerschmitt Bf109, de Focke Wulf Fw 190 betekende een groot probleem voor het Fighter Command van de RAF. Dit nieuwe toestel was in alle opzichten superieur aan de toen vliegende versie van de Spitfire, de Mark VB. [11] Gedurende het grootste deel van het jaar 1942 verkreeg de Luftwaffe de superioriteit in de lucht en een groot deel van de Spitfires ging verloren. Om dit probleem voorlopig op te lossen kreeg een aantal squadrons een aangepaste versie van de Mark V, waarbij vier voet van de vleugeltop werd verwijderd, waardoor de vliegtuigen sneller een rol konden uitvoeren. De Merlin-motor werd ook aangepast, zodat op lagere hoogte betere prestaties mogelijk waren. Een echte oplossing kwam echter pas met de invoering van de Mark IX, die een nieuwe Merlin 61-motor had.

Vanaf het einde van 1942 begon de rol van de Spitfire te veranderen. Het toestel werd toen steeds minder gebruikt voor de verdediging van Engeland en steeds meer voor het escorteren van de grote groepen bommenwerpers die het Britse Bomber Command en later de Amerikaanse 8th Air Force uitstuurde. [12] Het feit dat de Spitfire echter maar 395 mijl (635,7 km) [13] kon vliegen, betekende dat de bommenwerpers hun bescherming verloren zodra ze Noordwest-Europa verlieten. Toen er steeds meer gebombardeerd werd in Centraal-Europa, verving men de Spitfires door Amerikaanse toestellen, zoals de P-47 Thunderbolt, de P-38 Lightning en de P-51 Mustang.

Zuid-Europa (1942 - 1945) Bewerken

Het belangrijkste steunpunt voor de Britten in de Middellandse Zee was het eiland Malta. Dit eiland lag strategisch ten opzichte van de vaarroute van de asmogendheden naar het gevechtsgebied in Noord-Afrika. De luchtstrijdkrachten die opereerden vanaf het eiland moest zich tot maart 1942 behelpen met Hawker Hurricanes. [14] In die maand kwamen Spitfires (Mk V) beschikbaar vanaf het vliegdekschip HMS Eagle. Uiteindelijk waren er ongeveer 275 Spitfires aanwezig.

Later dat jaar en in 1943 werden er ook Spitfires naar de slagvelden van Noord-Afrika gestuurd, zij het dan vooral de verbeterde versie Mk VIII. Later werden ook de USAAF en de South African Air Force versterkt met Spitfires. Om te verhinderen dat de motor van het vliegtuig het zou begeven door woestijnstof werd onder de neus een Vokes luchtfilter geplaatst. Dit had echter als nadeel dat het toestel minder goed presteerde dan die van de Luftwaffe.

Vanaf 9 september 1943 werd ook de Italiaanse luchtmacht, die aan de zijde van de geallieerden vocht sinds de val van Mussolini, uitgerust met enkele Spitfires. Op 31 december 1944 waren er 17 Spitfires Mk V in dienst bij de Italianen en aan het einde van de oorlog waren dat er 40. De laatste missie die werd gevlogen in Europa, op 5 mei 1945 werd uitgevoerd door twee Italiaanse Spitfires.

Azië Bewerken

In Azië was de belangrijkste gebruiker van de Spitfire niet de RAF, maar de Royal Australian Air Force twee squadrons van de RAAF en een squadron van de RAF waren in februari 1943 met Spitfires Vb uitgerust. Ze werden door de RAAF met name gebruikt om Japanse luchtaanvallen op Noord-Australië af te weren. De Spitfire bleek echter een onverwacht nadeel te hebben tegenover de Japanse toestellen, zoals de Zero. De Spitfire-piloten konden niet zo snel draaien als hun tegenstanders. Om dit te compenseren namen ze tactieken over van de Duitsers, ze gebruikten hun hoge (duik)snelheid en achtervolgden de Japanse toestellen tot die geen brandstof meer hadden.

Europa (1944 - 1945) Bewerken

Tijdens de landing in Normandië werd de Spitfire in combinatie met de andere gevechtsvliegtuigen van de geallieerde luchtvloot gebruikt om het luchtoverwicht te veroveren en te behouden. Na de landing kon de Spitfire echter opereren vanaf vliegvelden op het vasteland en zo dichter in de buurt van vijandelijk gebied. Door het geallieerde luchtoverwicht kreeg de Spitfire niet veel kansen meer om de Luftwaffe effectief te bevechten en moest zich dientengevolge tevreden stellen met een rol als ondersteuning voor grondtroepen. Het nadeel hieraan was dat het Merlin-glycolkoelsysteem heel kwetsbaar was voor geweervuur. Dit kon, in het slechtste geval, leiden tot het volledig vernietigen van het vliegtuig.
Een andere taak voor de Spitfire, vooral voor de nieuwere, snellere versies, was het afweren van het V-1 kruisvluchtwapen, dat vanaf juni 1944 als vergeldingswapen op Brits grondgebied werd afgestuurd. De meeste van die vliegtuigen werden echter voor het einde van de oorlog al overgeplaatst naar het vasteland.

Europa (1945 - 1955) Bewerken

Tijdens de Koude Oorlog gebruikte de Zweedse luchtmacht een spionage-eenheid, bestaande uit 50 Mk XIX, gestationeerd in Nyköping. Deze eenheid was opgericht om de marine- en luchtmachtbases in de Oostzee en het Kolaschiereiland te fotograferen en te bespioneren. Om deze taak te vervullen namen ze het niet zo nauw met de internationale regels. Er waren flagrante schendingen van het Sovjetluchtruim en incidenteel ook van het Finse. Deze operaties, waarbij overigens geen enkel toestel verloren ging, waren mogelijk doordat geen enkel Sovjettoestel de vlieghoogte had van de Mk XIX. Toen dat wel het geval was, rond het begin van de jaren vijftig, werden de vluchten gestaakt. Rond 1955 werden ze uitgevoerd met de Saab S 29C.

Een belangrijke rol was weggelegd voor de Spitfire in de Griekse Burgeroorlog, gedurende oktober en december van het jaar 1944. De toestellen werden daar gevlogen door piloten van de Royal Air Force en de Zuid-Afrikaanse luchtmacht. Vanaf 1946 werden deze toestellen overgedragen aan de Griekse luchtmacht die ze bleef gebruiken tot het einde van de oorlog in augustus 1949.

Anno 2021 beschikt de Nederlandse luchtmacht nog steeds over een squadron vintage Spitfires Mk.IX afkomstig uit deze periode. Deze zijn gestationeerd op de luchtmachtbasis Gilze-Rijen, en daar ondergebracht in de hangar van de Koninklijke Luchtmacht Historische Vlucht en er wordt nog geregeld mee gevlogen.

Midden-Oosten (1948 - 1955) Bewerken

Tijdens de Arabisch-Israëlische Oorlog van 1948 werden voor het laatst Spitfires bij gevechtshandelingen ingezet. Opmerkelijk was dat beide kanten de beschikking hadden over Spitfires, de Israëlische werden gevlogen door ex-RAF-piloten. De Egyptische luchtmacht had zelfs de beschikking over RAF-spitfires.

Tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog was er nog weinig bekend over het gedrag van een vliegtuig in de buurt van de geluidssnelheid. Daarom werden er tests gedaan, in 1943 in Farnborough, Hampshire, om dit te onderzoeken. Een Spitfire Mk XI werd daarvoor gebruikt omdat dit vliegtuig de hoogste snelheid kon bereiken. Het toestel werd uitgerust met een nieuwe propeller om overspeed tegen te gaan. Tijdens een van deze tests bereikte het toestel, met als piloot J. R. Tobin, een snelheid van 975 km/u (Mach 0,891) in een duikvlucht.

Negen jaar na dit record, in 1952, bereikte een ander toestel, een Spitfire Mk XIX, de hoogste vlieghoogte die ooit werd bereikt door een Spitfire. Deze vlucht werd ondernomen in Hongkong om de luchttemperatuur en andere meteorologische verschijnselen te rapporteren. Het toestel bereikte een hoogte van 15.240 m (50.000 voet), maar door een fout in de apparatuur vloog hij in werkelijkheid op 15.712 m (51.550 voet). Hierdoor werd de druk in de cabine gevaarlijk laag, de piloot, Ted Powles, moest overgaan tot een duikvlucht. Hij slaagde er na een enorme duikvlucht in om de controle over het toestel te hernemen op 900 m hoogte. De apparatuur gaf aan dat hij een snelheid van 1.110 km/u (Mach 0,94) zou bereikt hebben, maar dit wordt toegeschreven aan fouten in de instrumenten.

Supermarine Spitfire MK XIV - History

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Military vehicle collection

The first Spitfire joined the British RAF in 1936. Over the years this remarkable fighter aircraft was improved further. In 1943 the Mk. XIV (= 14th version) entered service. It turned out to be a superb V-1 flying bomb interceptor: the Dutch pilot Rudy Burgwal (RAF 322 Squadron) took down five V-1&rsquos on July 8th, 1944. Unfortunately, Burgwal himself was shot down over France one month later and got killed.

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Supermarine Spitfire

The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and other Allied countries before, during, and after World War II. Many variants of the Spitfire were built, using several wing configurations, and it was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft. [ citation needed ] It was also the only British fighter produced continuously throughout the war. The Spitfire continues to be popular among enthusiasts nearly 60 remain airworthy, and many more are static exhibits in aviation museums throughout 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. Mitchell pushed the Spitfire's distinctive elliptical wing with cutting-edge sunken rivets (designed by Beverley Shenstone) [4] to have the thinnest possible cross-section, helping give the aircraft a higher top speed than several contemporary fighters, including the Hawker Hurricane. Mitchell continued to refine the design until his death in 1937, whereupon his colleague Joseph Smith took over as chief designer, overseeing the Spitfire's development throughout its multitude of variants.

During the Battle of Britain, from July to October 1940, the public perceived the Spitfire to be the main RAF fighter, though the more numerous Hurricane shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against Nazi Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe. However, Spitfire units had a lower attrition rate and a higher victory-to-loss ratio than those flying Hurricanes because of the Spitfire's higher performance. During the battle, Spitfires were generally tasked with engaging Luftwaffe fighters—mainly Messerschmitt Bf 109E-series aircraft, which were a close match for them.

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 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 that 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 Merlins and, in later marks, Rolls-Royce Griffon engines producing up to 2,340 hp (1,745 kW). As a result, the Spitfire's performance and capabilities improved over the course of its service life.

Development and production


In 1931 the Air Ministry released specification F7/30, calling for a modern fighter capable of a flying speed of 250 mph (400 km/h). R. J. Mitchell designed the Supermarine Type 224 to fill this role. The 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] It made its first flight in February 1934. [6] Of the seven designs tendered to F7/30, the Gloster Gladiator biplane was accepted for service. [7]

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. [7] This led to the Type 300, with retractable undercarriage and a wingspan reduced by 6 ft (1.8 m). This design was submitted to the Air Ministry in July 1934, but was not accepted. [8] It then went through a series of changes, including the incorporation of an 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]

On 1 December 1934, the Air Ministry issued contract AM 361140/34, providing £10,000 for the construction of Mitchell's improved Type 300, design. [10] On 3 January 1935, they formalised the contract with a new specification, F10/35, written around the aircraft. [11] 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, [12] following a recommendation by Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley of the Operational Requirements section at the Air Ministry. [13]

On 5 March 1936, [14] [nb 1] the prototype (K5054), fitted with a fine-pitch propeller to give more power for takeoff, 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. [15] [nb 2] This eight-minute flight [13] came four months after the maiden flight of the contemporary Hurricane. [17]

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. [18] After the fourth flight, a new engine was fitted, and Summers left the test flying to his assistants, Jeffrey Quill and George Pickering. They soon discovered that the Spitfire [nb 3] [21] was a very good aircraft, but not perfect. The rudder was oversensitive, and the top speed was just 330 mph (528 km/h), little faster than Sydney Camm's new Merlin-powered Hurricane. [23] A new and better-shaped two bladed wooden propeller allowed the Spitfire to reach 348 mph (557 km/h) in level flight in mid-May, when Summers flew K5054 to RAF Martlesham Heath and handed the aircraft over to Squadron Leader Anderson of the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE). Here, Flight Lieutenant Humphrey Edwardes-Jones took over the prototype for the RAF. [24] He had been given orders to fly the aircraft and then to make his report to the Air Ministry on landing. Edwardes-Jones' report was positive his only request was that the Spitfire be equipped with an undercarriage position indicator. [25] A week later, on 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires, [26] before the A&AEE had issued any formal report. Interim reports were later issued on a piecemeal basis. [27]

Initial production

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, numerous problems 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]

In February 1936 the director of Vickers-Armstrong, 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, at a cost of £1,395,000. [28] Full-scale production of the Spitfire began at Supermarine's facility in Woolston, but the order clearly 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 Wellington bombers.

The initial solution was to subcontract the work. [28] 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. [29]

As a result of the delays in getting the Spitfire into full production, the Air Ministry put forward a plan that its production 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 production problems could be overcome, and a further order was placed for 200 Spitfires on 24 March 1938. The two orders covered the K, L, and N prefix serial numbers. [29]

The first production Spitfire came 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. [30] 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. [31] A production aircraft cost about £9,500. The most expensive components were the hand-fabricated and finished fuselage at roughly £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]

Manufacturing at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham

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 replaced by a formal scheme, known as the shadow factory plan, to boost British aircraft production capacity under the leadership of Herbert Austin. He was given the task of building nine new factories, and to supplement the British car manufacturing industry by either adding to overall capacity or increasing the potential for reorganisation to produce aircraft and their engines. [33]

In 1938, construction began on the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory (CBAF), next to the aerodrome, and the installation of the most modern machine tools then available began two months after work started on the site. [31] Although Morris Motors, under Lord Nuffield (an expert in mass motor-vehicle construction), managed and equipped the factory, it was funded by the government. By the beginning of 1939, the factory's original estimated cost of £2,000,000 had more than doubled, [34] and even as the first Spitfires were being built in June 1940, the factory was still incomplete, and suffering from personnel problems. The Spitfire's stressed-skin construction required precision engineering skills and techniques that were beyond the capabilities of the local labour force, and some time was required to retrain them. There were difficulties with management, who ignored Supermarine's tooling and drawings in favour of their own, and the workforce continually threatened strikes or "slow downs" until their demands for higher wages were met. [35]

In spite of promises that the factory would be producing 60 per week starting in April, by May 1940 Castle Bromwich had not yet built its first Spitfire. [34] [36] On 17 May, Minister of Aircraft Production Lord Beaverbrook telephoned Lord Nuffield and manoeuvred him into handing over control of the Castle Bromwich plant to his ministry. [37] Beaverbrook immediately sent in experienced management staff and workers from Supermarine, and gave control of the factory to Vickers-Armstrong. Although resolving the problems took time, in June 1940, 10 Mk IIs were built 23 rolled out in July, 37 in August, and 56 in September. [38] By the time production ended at Castle Bromwich in June 1945, a total of 12,129 Spitfires (921 Mk IIs, [39] 4,489 Mk Vs, 5,665 Mk IXs, [40] and 1,054 Mk XVIs [39] ) had been built, at a maximum rate of 320 per month, making CBAF the largest Spitfire factory in the UK and the largest and most successful plant of its type during the 1939–45 conflict.

Production dispersal

During the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe made concerted efforts 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 destroyed, [41] with 92 people killed and a large number injured. Most of the casualties were experienced aircraft production workers. [42]

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. [41] 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. [42] The drawing office in which all Spitfire designs were drafted was relocated to 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.

Four towns and their satellite airfields were chosen to be the focal points for these workshops: [41] Southampton's Eastleigh Airport Salisbury's High Post and Chattis Hill aerodromes [nb 5] Trowbridge's Keevil aerodrome [43] and Reading's Henley and Aldermaston aerodromes.

An experimental factory at Newbury was the subject of a Luftwaffe daylight raid, but the bombs missed their target and hit a nearby school.

Completed Spitfires were delivered to the airfields on large Commer "Queen Mary" low-loader articulated lorries (trucks), there to be fully assembled, tested, then passed on to the RAF. [42]

Flight testing

All production aircraft 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 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 devised the standard testing procedures, which with variations for specific aircraft designs operated from 1938. [44] [45] Alex Henshaw, chief test pilot at Castle Bromwich from 1940, was placed in charge of testing all Spitfires built at that factory. He co-ordinated a team of 25 pilots and assessed all Spitfire developments. Between 1940 and 1946, Henshaw flew a total of 2,360 Spitfires and Seafires, more than 10% of total production. [46] [47]

Henshaw wrote about flight testing Spitfires:

After a thorough preflight 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 (740 km/h) 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. [48] [49]

When the last Spitfire rolled out in February 1948, [50] 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. [51]



In the mid-1930s, aviation design teams worldwide began developing a new generation of fighter aircraft. The French Dewoitine D.520 [52] and the German 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. These advances had been introduced on civil airliners years before, but were slow to be adopted by the military, who favoured the biplane's simplicity and manoeuvrability. [53]

Mitchell's design aims were to create a well-balanced, high-performance fighter aircraft capable of fully exploiting the power of the Merlin engine, while being relatively easy to fly. [54] At the time, with France as an ally, and Germany thought to be the most likely future opponent, no enemy fighters were expected to appear over Great Britain. German bombers would have to fly to the UK over the North Sea, and Germany did not have any single-engine fighters with the range to accompany them. To carry out the mission of home defence, the design was intended to allow the Spitfire to climb quickly to intercept enemy bombers. [55]

The Spitfire's airframe was complex. The streamlined, semi-monocoque, duralumin-skinned fuselage featured a number of compound, vertical 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 five, to which the engine bearers were secured, supported the weight of the engine and its accessories. 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. [56] Behind the bulkhead were five U-shaped half-frames which accommodated the fuel tanks and cockpit. The rear fuselage started at the 11th frame, to which the pilot's seat and (later) armour plating were attached, and ended at the 19th, which was mounted at a slight forward angle just forward of the fin. Each of these nine frames was 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. [57]

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. [58]

The skins of the fuselage, wings, and tailplane were secured by dome-headed rivets, and in critical areas such as the wing forward of the main spar where an uninterrupted airflow was required, with flush rivets. From February 1943 flush riveting was used on the fuselage, affecting all Spitfire variants. [59] 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. [60]

At first, the ailerons, elevators, and rudder were fabric-covered, but once 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. [61]

Elliptical wing design

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, but it had to be thick enough to house the retractable undercarriage, 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, preventing the wings from twisting. Mitchell has sometimes been accused of copying the wing shape of the Günter brothers-designed Heinkel He 70, [62] which first flew in 1932, but as Beverley 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." [63] [nb 7]

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.

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. [65] A dihedral of 6° was adopted to give increased lateral stability. [54]

A wing feature that 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. [66] 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 an acceptable compromise as this reduced the bending loads on the main-spar during landing. [66]

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 Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough, Hampshire. This used the cooling air to generate thrust, greatly reducing the net drag produced by the radiators. [67] 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 [68] — a feature patented by Vickers-Supermarine in 1938. [69] The airflow through the main radiator was controlled by pneumatic exit flaps. In early marks of the 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 by a thermostat. [70]

Another wing feature 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. [71] This caused the wing roots to stall before the tips, reducing tip-stall that could otherwise have resulted in a wing drop, often leading to a spin. As the wing roots started to stall, the separating air stream started to buffet (vibrate) the aircraft, warning the pilot, allowing even relatively inexperienced pilots to fly it to the limits of its performance. [72] This washout was first featured in the wing of the Type 224, and became a consistent feature in subsequent designs leading to the Spitfire. [73] The complex wing design, especially the precision required to manufacture the vital spar and leading-edge structures, caused some major delays in the production of the Spitfire at first. 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. [74]

All the main flight controls were originally metal structures with fabric covering. [nb 9] Designers and pilots felt that having ailerons which required a degree of effort to move at high speed would avoid unintended aileron reversal, throwing the aircraft around and potentially pulling the wings off. Air combat was also felt to take place at relatively low speeds and high-speed manoeuvring would be physically impossible. 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. [76] [77] During the Battle of Britain, pilots found the Spitfire's ailerons 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. [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 (12.24 m). [79] 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 by 3 ft 6 in (1.07 m). [80] The wing tips used spruce formers for most of the internal structure with a light alloy skin attached using brass screws. [81]

The light alloy split flaps at the trailing edge of the wing were also pneumatically operated via a finger lever on the instrument panel. [82] Only two positions were available fully up or fully down (85°). Flaps were normally lowered only during the final approach and for landing, and the pilot was to retract them before taxiing. [nb 10] [83]

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, 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. [84] [85]

Improved late wing designs

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), [86] which was somewhat lower than that of some contemporary fighters. The Royal Aircraft Establishment noted that, at 400 mph (640 km/h) indicated airspeed, roughly 65% of aileron effectiveness was lost due to wing twist. [87]

The new wing of the Spitfire F Mk 21 and its successors was designed to help alleviate this problem. Its stiffness was increased by 47%, and a new aileron design using piano hinges and geared trim tabs meant the theoretical aileron reversal speed was increased to 825 mph (1,328 km/h). [86] [88] [89] Alongside the redesigned wing, Supermarine also experimented with the original wing, raising the leading edge by 1 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. [90]

Supermarine developed a new laminar-flow wing based on new aerofoil profiles developed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in the United States, with the objective of reducing drag and improving performance. These laminar-flow airfoils were the Supermarine 371-I used at the root and the 371-II used at the tip. [91] Supermarine estimated that the new wing could give an increase in speed of 55 mph (89 km/h) over the Spitfire Mk 21. [92] The new wing was initially fitted to a Spitfire Mk XIV. Later, a new fuselage was designed, with the new fighter becoming the Supermarine Spiteful. [93]

Carburetion versus fuel injection

Early in its development, the Merlin engine's lack of fuel injection meant that 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. [94] Sir Stanley Hooker explained that the carburettor was adopted because it "increased the performance of the supercharger and thereby increased the power of the engine". [95] [nb 11]

In March 1941, a metal disc with a hole 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". Invented by Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling, it became known as "Miss Shilling's orifice". Further improvements were introduced throughout the Merlin series, with Bendix-manufactured pressure carburettors, designed to allow fuel to flow during all flight attitudes, introduced in 1942. [95]


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. [97] 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, 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. [98] 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. [99]

The decision on the arming of the Spitfire (and the Hurricane) is told in Captain C. H. Keith's book I Hold my Aim. Keith held various appointments with the RAF dealing with designing, development and technical policy of armament equipment. He organised a conference, with Air Commodore Tedder in the chair, on 19 July 1934. He says "I think it can be reasonably contended that the deliberations of that conference made possible, if not certain, of the winning of the Battle of Britain, almost exactly six years later". [100] At that meeting, scientific officer Captain F. W. "Gunner" Hill presented charts based on his calculations showing that future fighters must carry no less than eight machine-guns, each of which must be capable of firing 1,000 shots a minute. Hill's assistant in making his calculations had been his teenage daughter. [101]

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 with a calibre of at least 20 mm was urgently needed. [102] 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. [103]

In June 1939, a Spitfire was fitted with a drum-fed Hispano in each wing, an installation that required large blisters on the wing to cover the 60-round drum. The cannon suffered frequent stoppages, mostly because the guns were mounted on their sides to fit as much of the magazine as possible within the wing. In January 1940, P/O George Proudman flew this prototype in combat, but the starboard gun stopped after firing a single round, while the port gun fired 30 rounds before seizing. [99] 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 they 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. [99]

Operational history

Service operations

The operational history of the Spitfire with the RAF began with the first Mk Is K9789, which entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford on 4 August 1938. [31] [nb 12] The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the Battle of Britain, a reputation aided by the "Spitfire Fund" organised and run by Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production. [104]

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. [105]

The key aim of Fighter Command was to stop the Luftwaffe's bombers in practice, whenever possible, the tactic was to use Spitfires to counter German escort fighters, by then based in northern France, particularly the Bf 109s, while the Hurricane squadrons attacked the bombers. [106]

Well-known Spitfire pilots included "Johnnie" Johnson—34 enemy aircraft (e/a) shot down [107] —who flew the Spitfire right through his operational career from late 1940 to 1945. Douglas Bader (20 e/a) and "Bob" Tuck (27 e/a) flew Spitfires and Hurricanes during the major air battles of 1940. Both were shot down and became prisoners of war, while flying Spitfires over France in 1941 and 1942. [108] Paddy Finucane (28–32 e/a) scored all his successes in the fighter before disappearing over the English Channel in July 1942. [109] Some notable Commonwealth pilots were George Beurling (31 1 ⁄ 3 e/a) from Canada, "Sailor" Malan (27 e/a) from South Africa, [110] New Zealanders Alan Deere (17 e/a) and C F Gray (27 e/a) [111] [112] and the Australian Hugo Armstrong (12 e/a). [113]

The Spitfire continued to play increasingly diverse roles throughout the Second World War and beyond, often in air forces other than the RAF. For example, the Spitfire 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 Vergeltungswaffen ("vengeance weapons") rockets by photographing Peenemünde, on the Baltic Sea coast of Germany. [114]

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 (970 km) flight to Malta. [115] Those Spitfire Vs were the first to see service outside Britain. [116]

The Spitfire also served on the Eastern Front with the Soviet Air Force (VVS). The first deliveries of the Spitfire Mk VB variant took place at the start of 1943, with the first batch of 35 aircraft delivered via sea to the city of Basra, Iraq. A total of 143 aircraft and 50 furnished hulls (to be used for spare parts) followed by March of the same year. Though some aircraft were used for front line duty in 1943, most of them saw service with the Protivo-Vozdushnaya Oborona (English: "Anti-air Defence Branch"). [117] In 1944, the USSR received the substantially improved Mk IX variant, with the first aircraft delivered in February. Initially, these were refurbished aircraft, but subsequent shipments were factory new. A total of 1,185 aircraft of this model were delivered through Iran, Iraq and the Arctic to northern Soviet ports. Two of these were the Spitfire HF Mk IX (high-altitude modification) while the remainder were the low-altitude LF Mk IX. The last Lend-Lease shipment carrying the Mk IX arrived at the port of Severodvinsk on 12 June 1945.

The Spitfire also served in the Pacific Theatre, meeting the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Lt. Gen. Claire Chennault said: "The RAF pilots were trained in methods that were excellent against German and Italian equipment, but suicide against the acrobatic Japs." [118] Although not as fast as the Spitfire, the Zero could out-turn the Spitfire, could sustain a climb at a very steep angle, and could stay in the air for three times as long. [119] To counter the Zero, Spitfire pilots adopted a "slash and run" policy and use their faster speed and diving superiority to fight, while avoiding turning dogfights. The Allies achieved air superiority when the Mk VIII version was introduced to the theatre, replacing the earlier Mk V. In one memorable encounter, New Zealand ace Alan Peart fought a solo dogfight against two dozen Japanese aircraft attacking the Broadway airstrip, shooting down one.

That Southeast Asia was a lower-priority area also did not help, and it was allocated few Spitfires and other modern fighters compared to Europe, which allowed the Japanese to easily achieve air superiority by 1942. [120] [121] [122] Over the Northern Territory of Australia, Royal Australian Air Force and RAF Spitfires assigned to No. 1 Wing RAAF helped defend the port town of Darwin against air attack by the Japanese Naval Air Force, [123] suffering heavy losses largely due to the type's limited fuel capacity. [124] Spitfire MKVIIIs took part in the last battle of World War II involving the Western allies in Burma, in the ground attack role, helping defeat a Japanese break-out attempt. [125]

During the Second World War, Spitfires were used by the United States Army Air Forces in the 4th Fighter Group until they were replaced by Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in March 1943. [126]

Several Spitfires were captured by the Germans and flown by units that tested, evaluated, and sometimes clandestinely operated enemy aircraft. [127]

Speed and altitude records

Beginning in late 1943, high-speed diving trials were undertaken at Farnborough to investigate the handling characteristics of aircraft travelling at speeds near the sound barrier (i.e., the onset of compressibility effects). Because it had the highest limiting Mach number of any aircraft at that time, a Spitfire XI was chosen to take part in these trials. Due to the high altitudes necessary for these dives, a fully feathering Rotol propeller was fitted to prevent overspeeding. During these trials, EN409, flown by Squadron Leader J. R. Tobin, reached 606 mph (975 km/h) (Mach 0.891) in a 45° dive.

In April 1944, the same aircraft suffered engine failure in another dive while being flown by Squadron Leader Anthony F. Martindale, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, when the propeller and reduction gear broke off. The dive put the aircraft to Mach 0.92, the fastest ever recorded in a piston-engined aircraft, but when the propeller came off, the Spitfire, now tail-heavy, zoom-climbed back to altitude. Martindale blacked out under the 11 g loading, but when he resumed consciousness, he found the aircraft at about 40,000 feet with its (originally straight) wings now slightly swept back. [128] Martindale successfully glided the Spitfire 20 mi (32 km) back to the airfield and landed safely. [129] Martindale was awarded the Air Force Cross for his exploits. [130]

RAE Bedford (RAE) modified a Spitfire 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. [131]

On 5 February 1952, a Spitfire 19 of 81 Squadron based at Kai Tak in Hong Kong reached probably the highest altitude ever achieved by a Spitfire. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Edward "Ted" Powles, [132] was on a routine flight to survey outside air temperature and report on other meteorological conditions at various altitudes in preparation for a proposed new air service through the area. He climbed to 50,000 ft (15,000 m) indicated altitude, with a true altitude of 51,550 ft (15,710 m). The cabin pressure fell below a safe level, and in trying to reduce altitude, he entered an uncontrollable dive which shook the aircraft violently. He eventually regained control somewhere below 3,000 ft (910 m) and landed safely with no discernible damage to his aircraft. Evaluation of the recorded flight data suggested he achieved a speed of 690 mph (1,110 km/h), (Mach 0.96) in the dive, which would have been the highest speed ever reached by a propeller-driven aircraft if the instruments had been considered more reliable. [129]

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.

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. [134]



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." [135]

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. [39] 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. [136] 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. [137] Although the Spitfire continued to improve in speed and armament, its limited fuel capacity restricted range and endurance: it remained "short-legged" throughout its life except in the dedicated photo-reconnaissance role, when its guns were replaced by extra fuel tanks. [138]

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). [139] 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". [140] The only unofficial two-seat conversions that were fitted with dual-controls were a few 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. [140]

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 Netherlands Air Force and one for the Royal Egyptian Air Force. [139] Currently several of the trainers are known to exist, including both the T Mk VIII, a T Mk IX based in the US, and the "Grace Spitfire" ML407, a veteran flown operationally by 485(NZ) Squadron in 1944. [141] [nb 13]


The Seafire, a name derived from sea, and 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 the best available fighter at the time. 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 along the port cowling of their Seafire. [142] Like the Spitfire, the Seafire also had a relatively narrow undercarriage track, which meant that it was not ideally suited to deck operations. [143] Early Seafire marks 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. [144]

The Seafire II was able to outperform the A6M5 Zero at low altitudes when the two types were tested against each other during wartime mock combat exercises. [145] However, contemporary Allied carrier fighters such as the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair were considerably more robust and so more practical for carrier operations. [146] Performance was greatly increased when later versions of the Seafire were fitted with the Griffon engines. These were too late to see service in World War II. [147]

Griffon-engined variants

The first Rolls-Royce Griffon-engined Mk XII flew in 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. [148]

As American fighters took over the long-range escorting of United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) daylight bombing raids, the Griffon-engined Spitfires progressively took up the tactical air superiority role, and played a major role in intercepting V-1 flying bombs, while the Merlin-engined variants (mainly the Mk IX and the Packard-engined Mk XVI) were adapted to the fighter-bomber role. [149] 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. [138]

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. Spitfire Mk 24s were used by only one regular RAF unit, with 80 Squadron replacing their Hawker Tempests with F Mk 24s in 1947. [150] With these aircraft, 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. [151]

Operation Firedog during the Malayan Emergency saw the Spitfire fly over 1,800 operational sorties against the Malayan Communists. [152] The last operational sortie of an RAF Spitfire was flown on 1 April 1954, by PS888 a PR Mk 19 Spitfire of 81 Squadron.It was flying from RAF Seletar, in Singapore to photograph an area of jungle in Johore, Malaysia, thought to contain Communist guerrillas. To mark the special occasion, ground crewmen had painted 'The Last' on the aircraft's nose. [153]

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. [154] The last nation in the Middle East to operate Spitfires was Syria, which kept its F 22s until 1953. [152]

In late 1962, Air Marshal Sir John Nicholls instigated a trial when he flew Spitfire PM631, a PR Mk 19 in the custody of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, 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. [155] The first airframe (PM631) developed mechanical issues which removed it from the trial. Another PR Mk 19, PS853, which is now owned by Rolls-Royce, was on gate-guard duties at Binbrook, having been retired from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) one year before. It had been maintained in running condition by ground crews at Binbrook, and after a short time was participating in the trials. At the end of the trials, RAF pilots found that Firestreak infra-red guided missiles had trouble acquiring the Spitfire due to a low exhaust temperature, and decided that the twin ADEN 30 mm (1.2 in) cannons were the only weapons suited to the task, which was complicated by the tight turning circle of the Spitfire, and the Lightning's proclivity for over-running the Spitfire. It was concluded that the most effective and safest way for a modern jet-engined fighter to attack a piston-engined fighter was to engage full afterburner at an altitude lower than the Spitfire, and circle behind it to perform a hit-and-run attack, contrary to all established fighter-on-fighter doctrine at that time. [156] [157]

Watch the video: James Holland gives us an exclusive look at the Mk 1 Supermarine Spitfire