Introduction and Aknowlegdements
The threnody of sound builds to a minor cresendo as the speck seen in the distance grows in size. As the small shape begins to grow the slender shape becomes more defined. The growling whine reaches a peak as the aircraft we have been watching becomes more defined. A quick flick of the ailerons and the elliptical wing shape is revealed before the sound fades on the wind and the fighter is gone.
Go to any airshow and amongst the warbird fraternity there will be airframes powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Some will be Mustangs, possibly a Lancaster, even a Hawker Hurricane or two, however it is highly likely that the carrier of the engine will be a Supermarine Spitfire. Each type has its own particular soundwave, and that of the Spitfire is not only distinctive but a source of great pleasure to its many fans. It is also the fighter that characterised the British effort in the Second World War (although fans of the Hawker Hurricane will no doubt disagree.) The Supermarine Spitfire is today seen as one of the greatest fighter aircraft ever.
It owes its conception to one man, R J Mitchell, and to a series of events including the Schneider Trophy races. Although the aircraft that Supermarine would develop in later years bore no direct relationship to the S.6 seaplane racers, the concept behind the streamlining of the airframe and the shoehorning of the largest powerplant possible into the smallest space proved that such an approach was feasible. As these events were happening, the Royal Air Force was still equipping its front-line squadrons with such aircraft as the Bristol Bulldog, the Hawker Fury, and the Gloster Gauntlet and Gladiator series of biplanes.
In Europe one man was in the process of rising to power in Germany and his influence would force that continent into a war that would eventually become almost global in its scope. Against this backdrop the Spitfire would be born. Small, fast, and agile it would be churned out in vast numbers to equip the squadrons of the RAF and its allies. In the seminal Battle of Britain it would share combat honours with the Hawker Hurricane which would in fact claim more victories than its Supermarine rival.
As the war would progress, so the design would develop. Clipped, clapped, and cropped would be the phrase used to describe the Mk.V converted for low-altitude work.
Developments would also see Spitfires operating at the other end of the spectrum as pressurisation was incorporated so that the fighter, complete with modified engine, could chase the Luftwaffe's highaltitude raiders.
Further changes would see bombs, fuel tanks, and even kegs of beer loaded on to the airframe whilst some daring souls would streak across Europe on reconnaissance missions in Spitfires painted, of all colours, pink.
The aircraft also went to sea where it equipped the squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm aboard escort and main fleet carriers. This, then, is the story from a slightly different angle of a fighter that still graces museums and airshows, where the growl of that famous Merlin engine can still be heard.
As always a work such as this is a multi person affair so I would like to thank the following for their much prized assistance: Damien Burke, FAA Archive; Nick Challoner; Dave Stewart; Danny Jacquemin; Chris Michell of Airframe Assemblies; Ray Deacon; Owen Morris; and Sander Wittenaar. Special thanks must go to Peter Russell Smith who yet again came up trumps with those essential photographs; and that doyen of Spitfire historians, Eric B Morgan, who also came to my rescue with those rarities once again.
At the end, but always in the centre, are the team at Specialty Press and my good friend and designer, Dennis R Jenkins, without whose sterling efforts this slim volume would not exist.
Kev Darling - Wales - September 2001
MÀJ : 29 mars 2022
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