Spitfire, Supermarine

Supermarine Spitfire

An uncompromised, fast and maneuvrable fighter. The remarkable thin elliptical wing made the Spitfire capable of very high speeds. It served as first-line fighter throughout WWII in increasingly fast and powerful versions, first with the Merlin, later with the Griffon engine. The Spitfire was continously changed to meet all kinds of treats and demands, as low- and high altitude fighter, tropicalized, navalized, or equipped as unarmed photo-reconaissance aircraft. Probably the most famous military aircraft ever. 20351 built. The RAF retired its last Spitfires -- PR Mk. 19 recce aircraft -- in 1954.

Type: Spitfire Mk. IA
Country: UK
Function: fighter
Year: 1938
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 1030 hp R.R. Merlin II
Wing Span: 11.23 m
Length: 9.12 m
Height: 3.86 m
Wing Area: 22.48 m2
Empty Weight: 2049 kg
Speed: 571 km/h
Ceiling: 10360 m
Range: 805 km
Armament: 8*mg7.7mm

Type: Spitfire Mk.VC
Function: fighter
Year: 1940
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 1185 hp R.R. Merlin 45
Wing Span: 11.23 m
Length: 9.12 m
Height: 3.86 m
Empty Weight: 2313 kg
Max.Weight: 3078kg
Speed: 602 km/h
Ceiling: 11280 m
Range: 756 km
Armament: 2*g 20 mm 4*mg 7.7 mm

Type: Spitfire Mk. IX
Function: fighter
Year: 1942
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 1565 hp R.R. Merlin 61
Wing Span: 11.23 m
Length: 9.47 m
Height: 3.86 m
Wing Area: 22.48m2
Empty Weight: 2556 kg
Max.Weight: 4309 kg
Speed: 656km/h
Ceiling: 13400 m
Range: 700 km
Armament: 2*g20mm 4*mg7.7mm

Type: Spitfire Mk. XIV
Function: fighter
Year: 1944
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 2050hp R.R. Griffon 65
Wing Span: 11.23 m
Length: 9.96 m
Height: 3.86 m
Wing Area: 22.48m2
Empty Weight: 2994 kg
Max.Weight: 3856 kg
Speed: 721km/h
Ceiling: 13560 m
Range: 1368 km
Armament: 2*g 20mm 4*mg 7.7mm b225 kg

The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-seat fighter used by the RAF and many Allied countries in World War II. Produced by Supermarine, the Spitfire was designed by R.J. Mitchell, who continued to refine it until his death in 1937. The elliptical wing had a thin cross-section, allowing a faster top speed than the Hurricane and other contemporary designs; it also resulted in a distinctive appearance. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire saw service during the whole of World War II, in all theatres of war, and in many different variants.

More than 20,300 examples of all variants were built, including two-seat trainers, with some Spitfires remaining in service well into the 1950s. It was the only fighter aircraft to be in continual production before, during and after the war.

The aircraft was dubbed Spitfire by Sir Robert MacLean, director of Vickers (the parent company of Supermarine) at the time, and on hearing this, Mitchell is reported to have said, "...sort of bloody silly name they would give it." The word dates from Elizabethan times and refers to a particularly fiery, ferocious type of person, usually a woman. The name had previously been used unofficially for Mitchell's earlier F.7/30 Type 224 design.


Supermarine's Chief Designer, R.J. Mitchell, had won four Schneider Trophy seaplane races with his designs (Sea Lion II in 1922, S.5 in 1927, S.6 in 1929 and S.6b in 1931), combining powerful Napier Lion and Rolls Royce 'R' engines with minute attention to streamlining. These same qualities are equally useful for a fighter design, and in 1931 Mitchell produced such a plane in response to an Air Ministry specification (F7/30) for a new and modern monoplane fighter.

This first attempt at a fighter resulted in an open-cockpit monoplane with gull-wings and a large fixed spatted undercarriage. The Supermarine Type 224 did not live up to expectations; nor did any of the competing designs which were also deemed failures. Mitchell immediately turned his attention to an improved design as a private venture, with the backing of Supermarine's owners Vickers. The new design added gear retraction, an enclosed cockpit, oxygen gear, and the much more powerful newly developed Rolls Royce PV-12 engine, later named the Merlin.

By 1935 the Air Ministry had seen enough advancement in the industry to try the monoplane design again. T hey eventually rejected the new Supermarine design on the grounds that it did not carry the required eight-gun load, and did not appear to have room to do so.

Once again Mitchell was able to solve the problem. It has been suggested that by looking at various Heinkel planes he settled on the use of an elliptical planform, which had much more chord to allow for the required eight guns, while still having the low drag of the earlier, simpler wing design. Mitchell's aerodynamicist, Beverley Shenstone, however, has pointed out that Mitchell's wing was not directly copied from the Heinkel He 70, as some have claimed; the Spitfire wing was much thinner and had a completely different section. In any event, the elliptical wing was enough to sell the Air Ministry on this new Type 300, which they funded by a new specification, F.10/35, drawn up around the Spitfire.

The elliptical wing was chosen for superior aerodynamic attributes but it was a complex wing to construct and the Messerschmitt Bf 109's angular and easy to construct wing offered similar performance (model per model) to the Spitfire. It has been reported that the Bf 109 took one-third the man hours to construct as the Spitfire.

One flaw in the thin wing design of the Spitfire manifested itself when the plane was brought to very high speeds. When the pilot attempted to roll the plane at these speeds, the aerodynamic forces subjected upon the ailerons were enough to twist the entire wingtip in the direction opposite of the aileron deflection (much like how an aileron trim tab will deflect the aileron itself). This resulted in the Spitfire rolling in the opposite direction of the pilot's intention.

The prototype (K5054) first flew on March 5, 1936, from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport). Testing continued until May 26, 1936, when Mutt Summers (Chief Test Pilot for Vickers (Aviation) Ltd.) flew K5054 to Martlesham and handed the aircraft over to Squadron Leader Anderson of the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE). The Air Ministry placed an order for 310 of the aircraft on 3rd June 1936, before any formal report had been issued by the A&AEE, interim reports being issued on a piecemeal basis.

A feature of the final Spitfire design that has often been singled out by pilots is its washout feature, which was unusual at the time. The incidence of the wing is +2 at its root and -½ at its tip. This twist means that the wing roots will stall before the tips, reducing the potentially dangerous rolling moment in the stall known as a spin. Many pilots have benefited from this feature in combat when doing tight turns close to the aircraft's limits because when the wing root stalled it made the control column shudder giving the pilot a warning that he was about to reach the limit of the aircraft`s performance.

Speed and altitude records

During the spring of 1944, high-speed diving trials were being performed at Farnborough to investigate the handling of aircraft near the sound barrier. 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. It was during these trials that EN409, flown by John Martindale, reached 606 mph (975 km/h) in a 45-degree dive. Unfortunately the engine/propeller combination could not cope with this speed and the propeller and reduction gear broke off. Martindale successfully glided the 20 miles (30 km) back to the airfield and landed safely.
"That any operational aircraft off the production line, cannons sprouting from its wings and warts and all, could readily be controlled at this speed when the early jet aircraft such as Meteors, Vampires, P-80s, etc could not, was certainly extraordinary" -- Jeffrey Quill

On 5 February 1952 a Spitfire Mk. 19 of No. 81 Squadron RAF based in Hong Kong achieved probably the highest altitude ever achieved by a Spitfire. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ted Powles, 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 feet (15,240 m) indicated altitude, with a true altitude of 51,550 feet (15,712 m), which was the highest height ever recorded for a Spitfire.

Text : Partially from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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