A British Lady, Aerial Legend, and True War Thoroughbred

Supermarine Spitfire, was genetically engineered from the long line of thoroughbred, award-winning, sea air-racer series that preceded its birth during the interwar years, all massaged to peak performance by equally gifted Supermarine head aircraft engineer Reginald J Mitchell. His first, yet-to-be-named, Spitfire prototype, model designate K5054, received its air-birth on 5 March 1936 when it took off for its first test flight while motivated by a two bladed propeller driven by a Rolls-Royce Merlin II/C power-plant developing 900 hp. Its pedigreed past instantly visually apparent to onlookers admiring its extremely clean, eye pleasing lines, taking in its swooping nose assembly partly creating the crafts svelte overall image of beauty, with its cockpit just to the rear of the fuselage centre. The rear section of its fuselage it sported a raised spinal column to allow extended internal volume, arriving at the expense of an obstructed rear viewing arc, the raised spine flowing into a conventional empennage showing off a distinctively curving vertical tail fin, with its uniquely recognisable elliptically-shaped monoplane wing assemblies were low set in the fuselage.

Supermarine Spitfire

The airframe’s undercarriage design employed in a narrow track layout which allowed the aircraft’s weight to be displaced directly onto the landing gear through the fuselage, this arrangement allowed additional interior wing space for munitions and armament. Most other aircraft of the day utilised underwing mountings for its landing gear, which necessitated a heavier wing design to cope with the added stresses of take-off on rough terrain. This together with the ever present danger of heavy landings due to combat damage left far less internal space for munitions and armament.

Armament could be housed in several wing bays, initially armament consisted of the standard machine-gun arrangement that was certain to change in the course of the war. The aircraft showed such promise during early flights and testing an immediate order for 370 aircraft was placed, the Mk I arrived into service on 4 August 1938 and by the end of production several years after the end of the war this remarkable fighter package reached a total of 20 model designates due to a cumulative effect of major innovations, improvements, and retrofitted modifications. The sheer number of model designates and its extremely long wartime active frontline duty life, serves to illustrate the utter brilliance of its design, commonly wartime airframes tend to serve fairly short lifespans due to technological dead-ends that may be reached with any one design due to the incredible rate of progress seen in wartime technology.

Supermarine Spitfire1

The aircraft’s first two test of skill and capabilities arrived too soon with the Battle of Britain that raged over British skies from July to October 1940. The battle became both famous and infamous marking a number of military firsts in history; it was the first major military campaign to be fought entirely in the air. It was also the largest air battle in history, it was also the most extensive and sustained aerial bombing operation up until that date although this new milestone was to change several times in later years during the war. By the end of the battle the Spitfire had thoroughly proven its mettle as most deadly wartime aerial combat tool alongside its faithful and near equally capable but rapidly ageing Hurricane wartime companion.

That at the outset of the battle Hitler directed an air force arm, consisting of 1200 fighter aircraft as well as 1350 aerial bombers, at the British Isles to destroy airfields, shipping, and lastly towns. The aerial battle reached its climax on 15 September 1940, on this day the all-conquering German Luftwaffe received a bloodied nose with 56 planes lost compared to the RAF’s 28, the cumulative total of destroyed aircraft during its 12 weeks reached 1733 German aeroplanes, in comparison to 915 British air fighters. The number of losses attributable to the venerable Spitfire during this battle and the rest of the war wherever entrenched it as a legend in the annals of air history.