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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Spitfires on Malta

The Spitfire has a long history throughout WWII as it was used on so many fronts. Since the first time it flew in 1936 to its introduction into service in 1938, the Spitfire went through many changes and variants as its capabilities and potential were continually pushed until production stopped in 1948. To many the Spitfire is the epitome of aviation spirit due to its design and its legacy. For those that flew the plane, they loved it because it got them home safe.

One of the fronts where the Spitfires was used and isn’t talked about as much was in the Mediterranean at a place called Malta. Malta was a 97 sq mi island which operated as a forward base between Gibraltar and Alexandria. Besides being a British Colony it had a surprisingly large population of natives with a combined total population of 250K as recorded by a census in 1937. The strategic importance of the island was great as allied planes and naval vessels could attack vital supply lines of the Axis powers going into Egypt. Rommel desperately needed the supplies to keep up his desert offensive. Thus a tremendous amount of ships, aircraft and personnel were diverted from other fronts between 1940 and 1942 to fight the defenders of the island. Despite victory almost in hand, the fortress was never captured but the losses that Germany took were significant.

On March 7th 1942 the Supermarine Spitfire Mk V made its debut on the island with 16 aircraft being flown off of the carrier HMS Eagle. Throughout 1942 more and more aircraft were flown into Malta by HMS Eagle and USS Wasp. The island had a unique compliment of Swordfish Biplanes, Bristol Blenheims, Bristol Beaufighters, Hawker Hurricanes and Spitfires. No one aircraft can be contributed with the defense of the island but like all battles it was the combined effort of all that made it possible.

The above image was taken a couple years back at Planes of Fame Airshow of Robert Defords home built Spitfire Mk V.

Image Captured with Nikon D4s, 200-400 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Reno From the Ground

As more and more planes start rolling into Stead the opportunities become even better. Each year varies with a different showing of planes in attendance each year. This makes for an ever changing atmosphere to work in. The one nice thing is the background, where the natural light hits, the halogen lights, the access, all of that remains the same so planning out those shots can be challenging and rewarding.

Now this year starts off differently because the Texas Flying Legends Museum brought down some of their planes including their Spitfire Mk.IXc. One aircraft is all that’s needed to make a good day great for a photographer. When it comes to static planes two big elements to control is background and angle. The background at Stead never changes so you can only do so much there but by getting down low, with good light and clouds you can make that “boring airplane at an airport” shot look great. A few years back CAF Camarillo brought up their A6M3 Zero and under the exact same conditions with a little change of angle and morning light, that desert background can look great. With so many great planes and so many shots already taken at Stead it’s challenging and rewarding to come up with new images.

The Cockpit Shot

You wouldn’t think this would be a hard photograph to get since all it is is a simple click while the aircraft is static on the ground. But believe it or not it is rather difficult. Basically there are two main reasons why, first is trust. The cockpit is a very personal space for the person flying that plane. It’s a lot like the inside of someones house or car. You just don’t go around taking pictures of those things without asking. Secondly, it’s a matter of safety. Aircraft are hollow, if you look down and back inside a warbird you’ll see a whole lot of empty space. If something is dropped, it’s gone. Not only that but there are lots of little things that could get bumped or broken when you stick a camera inside a plane. So how do you get that shot?

Well for starters you might be wondering is that shot so important to get? Yes it is, because the cockpit is different in every plane and if you’re trying to tell the story of that plane you want to try and capture every detail. When it comes to the shot your best bet is to ask the pilot if you can. Don’t assume, ask first. Make sure you be polite when you ask and make sure you ask when the pilot ISN’T about to go fly. They don’t need that distraction. Next ask them where is it safe to touch and where it is not. If you have a belt buckle take it off. You don’t want that scratching the side of the plane. Don’t lean on the side of the fuselage or on the wings. Be considerate and be sure to thank the pilot when you’re done. It’s actually a fairly easy shot to acquire with just some basic manners.

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

The British Fighters

You can’t beat photographing a Hurricane and a Spitfire in Britain! One of the best parts about my latest trip to England was having the chance to photograph both of these amazing aircraft at Duxford. Thanks to the nice folks at the Historic Aircraft Collection nine participants at Dad’s UK Aviation Workshop got a chance to see these rare pieces of history up close. While I was helping with instruction, I got a chance to work with them too.

The Hurricane is the unsung hero of the RAF. During the Battle of Britain more Hurricanes were used then any other plane and throughout the war in Europe Hurricanes were used in every front. The Hurricane came out in 1937 and was Britain’s frontline fighter for a long time before the Spitfire came out. While not as fast or agile as the Spitfire, the Hurricane was far more rugged with greater armor. The Hurricane was known for getting their pilots back to the airfield. In many ways the Hurricane and Spitfire are like the P-40 Warhawk and P-51 Mustang.

It was a treat to see the Hurricane but to have a chance to have both in one frame was truly unbelievable. When it comes to working with multiple aircraft it helps if you have the ability to position them to a more flattering angle. If you don’t then it’s best to choose subjects that naturally look good together. After that watching the background and getting low to help show more sky helps with the overall image. Throughout the Battle of Britain the skies were dark and cloudy, including that is not only natural for England but also to recreate that bit of history.

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

Enemies Together

Once a upon a time these two great planes were adversaries over the skies of Europe. The sleek and sizzling Spitfire and the fastest plane in the sky, or at least at that time. We never got to see the true potential of the Me 262 during combat which is probably a good thing for the allies but those that did surely remember it. In 2015 for the first time in North America we had this very Me 262, a P-51 Mustang and this Spitfire grace the skies over Houston. This year the two enemies were back together again.


The ME 262 seen here is flown by the Collings Foundation and the Spitfire is flown by the Texas Flying Legends Museum. Both rare planes and rare moment in history to have the two back together again. Photographically the options were pretty slim. With clutter on all bu tone side of the planes, getting a clean shot was next to impossible without using post processing. Using the D5 and 24-70, this is a simple click capturing the brief moment that the planes were together. The next morning the 262 was back home. Sometimes a few clicks is all you get.

That Early Morning Reward

I’ve seen a lot of really good sunrises and sunsets but it still gets me whenever a great comes along. While down in Houston, TX a week ago we had one spectacular morning shooting at Ellington Field. It was Sunday morning during the Wings Over Houston Airshow that the skies just lit up! At first it seemed liked it might be a dud but then this pocket opened up and the sunlight was just gorgeous. You couldn’t have asked for better.


Shooting was a cinch. It was a matter of combining the great light with the silhouettes of the planes. Now the field was littered with planes so the subject matter was quite extensive but I went for the Spitfire for two reasons. First off in the background is a B-17 Flying Fortress. Historically that’s pretty cool to have two allies that fought together in one photograph. Secondly and this is more important, the white stripes on the wings are great for grabbing the viewers attention. Even with the light in the skies your eyes still go to the white which wouldn’t be seen on any other plane. It’s a little detail but it makes a difference in the end.

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

An Important Day For the Free French Air Force

Today marks a little less known day in the history of the air war during World War II. Five Curtiss H75 Fighters of the French Air Force engage German Bf 109’s and shoot down two. This was the first French air to air victory during WWII and also marks the first for the allies, although the United States hadn’t entered the war at this point. After the German occupation of France the government and thus the air force operated out of England and North Africa. On June 17 1940, five days before the Franco German Armistice, the first airmen took off towards England to help form the new Free French Air Force.


While not many representations of the Free French units exist here in the United States, one example is the Texas Flying Legends Museum’s Spitfire MkIX, a true combat vet and one that served with 329 Free French Squadron RAF unit based out of Merston, England. The Spitfire came off of the assembly line in March 1944, it went to the 302 Polish Unit based in England, it then went on to a couple other units before ending up with the 329 nine days after the invasion of Normandy. MK959 fought bravely throughout the war and represents only one of many allies that fought.

Happy Worldwide Photo Day

As some of you might have heard today is Worldwide Photo Day. IT is a celebration not just for professional photographers but for anyone who enjoys taking pictures. It is meant to honor Joseph Nicèphore Nièpce and Louis Daguerre who in 1837 came up with a photographic process that was recognized in 1839 by the French Academy of Sciences. The Daguerreotype was the first practical photographic process.


While today marks a significant moment in the history of photography it is also a day for everyone to go out and express themselves with their photography. Of course no photo would be complete is it’s not shared with others, you can go to the World Photo Day website and download your image to be seen with everyone else.

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