The basis for the Spitfire was made as early as 1922 when aircraft constructor Supermarine
entered her Sea Lion II for the Schneider Trophy Race. The Italians had won the race twice
already and a third win would bring the Trophy permanent to Italy. But it was not to be,
the design by the 26 year old Reginald Mitchell beat the Italians.
Supermarine Sea Lion II
The following year at the Trophy the Americans beat the Sea Lion III. In 1925 Mitchell developed
a complete new plane, the S.4. It was a slim and aerodynamic aircraft. Before the S.4 went to the
United States for the Schneider race, it broke the world speed record when it reached 226.75 m/h.
Disaster struck the day before the race when the plane crashed in Chesapeake Bay. The cause was
found in the absents of wires to strengthen the vibrating wings. Mitchell was not just the designer
of race planes. He also worked on the development of other aircraft for Supermarine. For instance,
he worked on the Southampton, a long distance flying boat for connecting the British Empire in the world.
But the more imaginative planes for designer Mitchell were the aircraft for the Schneider Trophy.
For the race of 1927 the S.5 was developed with a Napier Lion VIIA/B engine. Three versions were built,
the N219, N220 and the N222. The wings were still made out of wood, but the fuselage was made out of metal,
a great improvement. In Venice Flight Lieutenant S.N. Webster won the race with N220. His average speed
was around 218.65 m/h. Later in the year an S.5 flew a new British record when it reached 319.57 m/h.
The RAF was impressed with the performance and took over the S.5´s for evaluation. In 1928 N221 crashed
into the sea near Calshot. This left two S.5´s for further ‘High Speed Flight’ testing. In the same year,
Supermarine was taken over by Vickers. This mend a better financial situation for
Supermarine and the team of designers and technicians was enlarged.
A Supermarine S.5's in 1927
The year 1928 was significant when these two companies went together and lay the basis that would give
the world the Spitfire. The Napier Lion was underpowered and could not be made any better. The Ministry of
Air invited Rolls-Royce to built a new engine. In November the work started on the Rolls-Royce ‘R’. It was
developed out of the ‘Buzzard’ that was juiced up to become the ‘Kestrel´ engine. The old Napier Lion had
an output of 875 hp, the new ‘R’ almost doubled the power to 1900 hp!
A Supermarine S.6 with de Rolls-Royce 'R' motor
Two S.6’s (N247 en de N248) were
ordered for the race in1929. To counter the torsion of the engine, a fuelcel was installed into the starboard
float. With an average speed between 328 and 332 miles an hour, the circuits were closed as winners.
During September 1929 the S.6 flew an offical new speed worldrecord of 357.7 miles an hour.
In 1930 the British goverment stopt paying for the 1931 Schneider Race. Thankfully in December 1930 Lady Houston stept
into the ring and donated £100.000 to develop a new plane for the the race in 1931. But time was too short for
a new design, so the S.6 was upgraded and improved. The N247 and the N248 became the S.6A, followed
by the S.6B, S1595 and S1596.
Supermarine S.6, N248
The Schneider Trophy for September 1931 was held in England. For unknown reasons
(were the other nations afraid for losing from the Supermarine plane?), only the British S.6B was present.
With an average speed of 340 m/h pilot Flt. Lt. John N. Boothman brought the Schneider Trophy permanent
to Great-Brittan. Later S1595 reached a speed of 407,5 m/h, the absolute speed record. It was the first
aircraft that broke the 400 mile barrier!
Supermarine S.6B, S1595 flew as first the 400 mile barrier!
Meanwhile a request was given to the British aircraftindustry to produce a fighterplane. With
Specification F7/30 it had to be able to fly with a speed of at least 200 m/h and an armament of
four machineguns. Mitchell designed the Supermarine Type 224. It had a Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine.
To give way for the large propeller it was given a so called ‘gull wing’. This bended wing gave the
plane a robust view, far from a fast and slim fighter.
Supermarine Type 224
Problems with the engine and the weight slowed down the construction of the first prototype.
On 20 Februari, 1934 the plane took to the air for the first time. The promise maid by Mitchell
was not met, and the Type 224 was declared a failure. But Supermarine was already in the process
to develop a brand new and much better design.
Reginald Joseph Mitchell
The first of the many
In July 1934 Mitchell delivered his new proposal to the Air Ministry. These had their goal upgraded
with Specification F5/35. The new fighter had to have at least eight guns. Mitchells design had only
room for four machineguns but the basis was there to become a good fighter. It had a retractable
undercarriage, un enclosed cockpit, a thin wing and a powerful engine (a Rolls-Royce PV-12, the later
The famous shape of the Spitfire-wing
But the wing was a problem for the asked for eight guns. Vickers gave the go ahead to
finance self the project and to built a prototype, Type 300. The Air Ministry saw the potential
outcome and donated 10.000 pound to the project. In April 1935 the wooden mock-up was ready for
inspection. But if Supermarine wanted the order for production, it had to have the eight guns.
Designer Alf Faddy convinced Mitchell to go for the elliptical wing so the eight machineguns
could be built into it without losing the performance.
Maurice ‘Mutt’ Summers took prototype K5054 on 5 March 1936 from Eastleigh into the air.
During the first test flights a speed was recorded of 348 m/h.
On 26 May, 1936 K5054 was flowen in front of the RAF. These were at once enthusiastic and reported
this to the Air Ministry which resulted in a first order for 300 fighters. On 28 July, 1936 the name
Spitfire was officially adopted after a proposal by Supermarine to the Air Counsil.
This same name was in an early stage proposed for the failed Type 224. but now put forward
to the new design from Mitchell (who detested the name ‘Spitfire’).
Prototype K5054 with testpilot Jefferey Quill in the cockpit
Beside the fighter from
Supermarine, Vickers also built a fighter for Specification F5/35. This plane, Type 279
‘Venom’ flew, also in the hands of Mutt Summers, on 17 June, 1936. Summers, who flew the
Spitfire three months before, could compare both. History shows that the Venom disappeared
from view when the Spitfire showed all the signs of a winner
Mitchell would never see the Spitfire in action. On 11 June, 1937 he died of cancer
just 42 years old. His successor was Joseph Smith, who stayed Chief Designer during the Spitfire years.
Because of the difficult construction the production made a slow start. The first production
Spitfire, the K9787, made it’s maidenflight on 14 May, 1938. On 4 August, 1938 the first Spitfire
Mk I, K9789 was delivered at Duxford to No. 19 Squadron.
Spitfire Mk I's, from No. 19 Squadron
(K9794 in the foreground)
The training demanded all knowledge from the pilots. A trainer version was not available
and the pilot had to fly the Spitfire ‘by the seat of the pants’. When the war broke out, just
ten squadron were equipped with the Spitfire. By then, already there were 27 lost through accidents.
On 3 September, 1939, 150 Spitfires were combat ready. On 16 October of the same year the first encounter
with enemy aircraft was made by the Spitfires. Six Spitfires from No. 602 and 603 Squadron jumped
German Junkers Ju 88 of KG30 when those attacked British ships near Rosytt. Three Spitfires from 603
Squadron downed a Ju 88 and made the first victory for a Spitfire. Moment later, 602 also managed to
shoot down a Ju 88. On 20 November, 1939 the first Heinkel He 111 was downed by Spitfires from 74 Squadron.
Spitfire Mk IA, X4179 (QV-B) from 19 Squadron
On 10 Juli, 1940, the ‘Battle of Britain’ started. Around this time Fighter Command had 19 squadrons
equipped with Spitfires and 38 squadrons with Hurricanes. On average 465 Hurricanes and 290 Spitfires were
serviceable on a daily basis. Within four months 628 Spitfires were built and 1025 Hurricanes. In October,
1940 the production was equally for both fighters. Around that time the Spitfire Mk II was introduced to
many squadrons. The first Mk II was delivered on 17 July, 1940 to 152 Squadron. First action for the Mk II came
on 31 August of that year with 611 Squadron.
First action for the Spitfire Mk II was with 611 Squadron
The first important improvement came with the production of the Spitfire Mk V. The first
Mk V flew on 20 December, 1940. Powered with a Merlin 45, the Mk Vb was equipped with two 20mm
cannons beside the four .303 inch Browning machineguns (the Mk VA held her eight machineguns).
The world was ready to accept the next generation of Spitfires,… the Mk IX. This fighter version
would be used widely on many frontlines, during and after the war. After the war the Mk IX was sold
to many countries. Among these was Holland who had to built a complete new air force
A sight of a Spitfire Mk VB we prefer,...
Below the Mk IX, MK291 is shown that once flew in post-war Holland
with the code H-55 (and H-116). Later she was sold to Belgium. She survived the smelter and went
to the United States where she flew with the Confederate Air Force. Here she wore, among other
codes, the code from ace Johnnie Johnson (pictured). The fighter was lost during a fire in February,
1993 in Canada.
Click on the
picture below to go the Spitfires that flew in Holland.
(Sorry, still in Dutch)