The iconic Spitfire’s First Flight

March fifth marks the 84th Anniversary of the first flight of the Supermarine Spitfire. The Spitfire is not only an iconic aircraft from WWII but it is also one of the most revered fighters to have come out of WWII. Enthusiasts and historians alike have a passion for the Spitfires. From the first conception to the epic battles over Great Britain in 1940, to Africa, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and of course the epic dogfights over occupied Europe. The history of the multiple variants of the Spitfire goes on and on and lives on today with numerous examples being flown around the world. Needless to say that this is merely going to be an INTRO post as there is no possible way for me to write about the whole legacy of this plane.

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The Spitfire was designed by R.J. Mitchell and his team at Supermarine Aviation Works, a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong, to meet Air Ministry requirement F7/30. Mitchell designed the Supermarine Type 224, an open cockpit monoplane with fixed landing gear and a 600hp engine. It was a disappointment so the team “cleaned” up the design and created the Gloster Gladiator Biplane which was accepted into service. Mitchell then designed Type 300, an improvement on the Gladiator, but wasn’t enough of an improvement and was turned down. Mitchell went back and redesigned the Type 300 with a single thinner wing, breathing apparatus, closed cockpit, and a more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-XII V-12 engine, later named the “Merlin” engine. In December of 1934, Mitchell got the backing by Vickers-Armstrong to go ahead with the improved Type 300 and in December of 1934, the Air Ministry provided the capitol and contract to produce the improved F7/30. On January 3rd, 1935 Air Ministry approved the contract and designated it F10/35.

In April of 1935, the armament was changed from two .303 Vickers Machine guns to four .303 Browning machine guns. Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers took the controls of the prototype (K5054) for the first time on March 5th, 1936 for its maiden eight-minute flight. He was later quoted as saying, “Don’t touch a thing.” The flight of the Spitfire came four months after the first flight of the Hawker Hurricane. Over the next several months the K5054 was flown by several squadron leaders adding in their two cents on various performance issues and possible ways of improvement. Multiple propellers were used to increase maximum speed up to 348mph. While later models would go faster than this. Changes were made to the rudder, a new engine, and an undercarriage position indicator. The Spitfire gradually became more and more refined. On June 3rd, 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires before a formal report was issued by the A&AEE.

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Many features made the Spitfire a unique aircraft, one of the most distinctive was the elliptical wing design. In 1934 the design staff had to solve the need for a thin wing as well as one that was strong enough to house the undercarriage as well as the armament and ammunition. The elliptical design was the most efficient aerodynamic plan for an untwisted wing. Needless to say that I am not an expert on the aerodynamics of drag on wings so in this case, I would recommend looking up the engineering and flight characteristic of how an elliptical wing is better than a straight edge or swept wing design. As the Spitfire evolved to handle multiple roles so were the refinements of flight characteristics. The history of the Spitfire is partly due to the history of the multiple engines, wing, armament, airframe, cockpit, and other characteristic changes. There is in fact too many to write out everyone here.

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This particular Spitfire, NH759, is one of 957 MkXIV’s built. It was built in late 1944 at the Aldermaston factory in Berkshire, England. It went to the 215 MU on 20th May 1945 and having missed the European War went to India in July of 1945 and then to South East Asia Command in August of 1945. However, it missed the war against Japan as well, as NH749 arrived on August 9th. It went into storage until it was sold to the Indian Air Force in December 1947. That history is unknown. In 1979 the Hayden Bailey Brothers brought it back to England. It was restored by Craig Charleston, sold to Keith Wickenden, then to David Price’s Museum of Flying and then in 2005, it was sold to the Commemorative Air Force. It now resides with the CAF SoCal Wing in Camarillo. Note the distinct five-bladed prop on the Spitfire.

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I have only had the pleasure of photographing two Spitfires, the one mentioned above, and the formerly Texas Flying Legends Museum Spitfire MkIX. MK959 was built in March 1944 at the Vickers-Armstrong plant at Castle Bromwich. Its first flight was in April, then assigned to the 38th MU at RAF Colerne. In May of 1944, it was assigned to the 302 Polish Squadron at Chailey England where it did fighter escort roles, providing medium bombers with cover over France before the Normandy Invasion. Nine days after DDAy it was assigned to the 329 Free French RAF Squadron out of Merston. It went on to fly nineteen mission over the D-Day Beachhead. By August of 1944, it was transferred again to 165 Squadron out of Detling. It flew 41 combat operations including Market Garden. MK959 went on to have many more owners in other nations before eventually being restored by Raybourne Thompson who painted MK959 in honor of Andre Rose, the only living pilot who once flew the Spitfire, and the Free French Unit, their mascot being the Half Stork. Thompson went on to sell MK959 to Tom Duffy of Claire Aviation in Millville, NJ and then Duffy eventually sold it to Bruce Eames of the Texas Flying Legends Museum.

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The Spitfire, all variants including the Naval version Seafire, has had a long history of operations throughout many countries. It has produced several of Britain’s top aces including Robert Stanford Tuck who became an inspiration for many pilots after his book Fly For You Life was published in 1956. The Spitfire has a certain quality about it that many pilots lust after. It’s one of the few aircraft that many dreams to fly. In 2016 at Wings Over Houston, the P-51D Mustang Dakota Kid II and MK959 Spitfire took to the skies with Collings Foundation’s ME262. In perhaps the first time in decades, two of the German Luftwaffe’s most iconic enemies met with what was considered one of Germany’s many “wonder weapons.” Bringing this kind of history to life helps to keep the memories and lessons we learned during WWII alive today. If not for the help of the dedicated few, these beautiful machines would be with us today.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Good Read

I’m very pleased to finally have the story of the PA-12 Faust published in EAA’s Sport Aviation. I’ve known Jim Booth and his family for a couple of years now and they are just amazing people. The plane’s history is really fascinating and the article is a good read. If you’re an EAA member be on the lookout for the February issue.

Winter Wonderland

How much snow is needed for a wonderland? It kind of amazes me how so many people haven’t experienced snow or haven’t had a snowy Christmas. In my little world, it’s a perfectly normal thing that occurs every year without fail. Sure, each year it’s different and the amount of snow that falls changes but for the most part it’s there. I guess the point I’m getting at is that it is important to take advantage of the snow opportunities as they present themselves because you never know what the next year will hold.

His Last Victory

The world of aviation is filled with its hero’s but some certainly do stand out more than others. One of those men is Richard Bong, who flew P-38 Lightnings in the Pacific Theater. He was a natural-born flyer and took every chance he could get to be in the skies. He considered his gunnery inaccurate so he got as close as he could to his target in order to score as much damage as possible. With his tactics and skill, he became the highest-scoring American fighter pilot in WWII. By December 17th, 1944, he had racked up his 40th aerial victory. It would also be his last.

A Day in Infamy

78 years later and we still remember that morning when a surprise attack of Japanese aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor and effectively pushed the United States into WWII as an allied power. Many men lost their lives that day and hundreds of thousands more would perish in the years to come. We remember today, not in anger but to learn the lessons of our past and avoid making the same mistakes in our future.

The Back Country Airports

There are some real hidden treasures in the world and it takes a bit of an adventure to find them. On a recent trip to Washington for Thanksgiving, I was fortunate enough to be on one such adventure. Flying in a Cessna 185 and with the Nikon Z50 in my lap, I headed to a backcountry airstrip flying over some amazing country of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. The destination was Magee Strip, a small airstrip which today is used for hunters and fisherman. For us, it was just a fun outing.

Aluminum Looks Best Bright and Shiny

There are many ways to make the aluminum on aircraft to pop in a photograph. Pretty much anytime light hits bare metal it makes the metal turn a different color. The shadows and highlights can define every edge of a plane. With bare metal one of the amazing ways to show off the surface is too use a strong highlight in the background. It’s one of the times that a bright white background actually works well.

Image Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Beauty in the Crop Sprayers

Crop sprayers have their own beauty to them but they often get overlooked. Granted some beautiful light and great clouds never hurt to have but the lines of the planes are just as good either way. Each aircraft has its own story and the lines on each plane help to tell that story. With all photographs the background and foreground are important. With a crop sprayer having the plane parked on the grass makes for a stronger composition then if it was parked on the concrete.

Images captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Fast and Furious

The Hawker Sea Fury was developed too late to see combat in WWII but it saw plenty of action in the decades afterward. Powered by the Bristol Centaurus 18 Cylinder Radial Engine, the Sea Fury was an impressive fighter. With a maximum speed of 460 mph it could easily keep up with the other fighters of its day. Today you can see it flying around the pylons at the Reno Air Races.

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