80 years on: Supermarine Spitfire

On March 5, 1936, Spitfire took to the skies in her maiden flight from Eastleigh, Southampton, with Vickers’ chief test-pilot Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers in the cockpit.

80 years on she is still celebrated as one of Britain’s masterpieces of aerodynamic engineering.

Designed by R. J. Mitchell, who sadly died of cancer in June 1937, the Spitfire’s iconic and adaptable design allowed for constant improvements, and as such production eventually reached Mark 24.

Our first beloved Spitfire prototype, registered as K5054, was built with a narrow fuselage and the famous elliptical wings that tapered to slender tips. Whilst the unsuccessful Supermarine Type 224 had an open cockpit, Type 300 was enclosed, fitted with breathing apparatus. Originally fitted with a two-blade, fixed-pitch wooden propeller, the K5054 was also home to a Merlin C engine. Throughout Spitfire’s service during the war, the propeller would get through 13 different designs.

After Mitchell’s death, his successor and collaborator, Joseph Smith took over design and production. On August 4, 1938, the Mark I, K9789, was officially entered into service with No 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire. They were the first RAF Squadron to receive the Spitfire. 

Throughout the war, Spitfire was indispensable. She fought alongside Hawker Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain in 1940, played an important role in D-Day 1944 and was sent as far as the Middle East in order to fight in every operational theatre of war.

Development and adaptations of the Spitfire continued until the end of the war. Eventually, new engines were put in place, and from Mark XII onwards, Rolls-Royce Griffon engines were fitted.

Mark XIV, with a maximum speed of 443mph at 30,000ft, was the first Allied plane to take down the first operational jet-fighter, German-built Messerschmitt Me 262. Unfortunately, the Messerschmitt would take over from Spitfire, and lead the way to modernisation of jet-fighters. As such, Spitfire’s post-war production would come to an end, and her service ended in 1954.

By the end of Spitfire’s reign over the skies, her immense development and production saw incredible improvements from the original 300 prototype. Her maximum speed had increased by a third and her engine carried twice the power.

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