Regular readers of this site will be familiar with my tale of a nutty bloke I met who was, amongst other eccentricities, somewhat of an expert on the specifications of the Second World War Spitfire aircraft.
So I was interested to see in today’s (English) The Daily Telegraph a Letter to the Editor concerning the Spitty.
SIR – By all means let us have some posthumous honour for RJ Mitchell, the engineering genius behind the Spitfire. However, there are at least two men of equal genius without whom the Spitfire would have been just another aeroplane.
Joseph Smith, who became chief designer at Supermarine after Mitchell’s tragically early death at the age of 42 in 1937, had been Mitchell’s assistant. The Spitfire, though superbly elegant and agile with its elliptic wings and slim, stressed-skin body, was a nightmare to manufacture. It verged on impossible to mass-produce accurately in different factories so that all parts, wherever made, would be interchangeable for service and repair in the field.
Smith solved all these problems during the war for the production of more than 20,000 Spitfires. In addition, he produced a constant flow of modifications to keep ahead of the brilliant and sometimes temporarily superior fighter designs produced by Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf to challenge the Spitfire throughout the war. Smith had to develop three or four new types of Spitfire every year from 1939 to 1945 to keep pace with operational needs. He did so while retaining his mentor’s signature of clean aerodynamics, agility, gun power and sensitive handling.
The genius of Mitchell and Smith would not have been realised without the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which excelled in producing enormous reliable power from a unit slim enough to fit into a highly aerodynamic body. The Merlin powered not only the Spitfire, but also the Hurricane, as well as thousands of Lancaster and Mosquito bombers...
I’m proud to say that the Spitfire is being built again in Brisbane, Australia, albeit as a 80% scale kit plane.
Mike O’Sullivan, a flynut from Outback Queensland has been building them since 1994. They come with a twin overhead cam 24 valve GM V6 of 260 H.P. at a cost of around A$120,000 depending on configuration.
See them here – http://www.supermarineaircraft.com
The original prototype Spitfire made its maiden flight on 5 March 1936 and went into production, as the Mark 1, in July 1938. It was the first all-metal stressed-skin fighter produced in Britain.
When Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, RAF Fighter Command fielded 187 Spitfires in front-line units. Its large elliptical wing gave it the ability to turn very tightly. This was its one major asset when it met the otherwise comparable German Messerschmitt Me109E in the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. However, for a time, the ability of the 109’s direct-injection engine to keep running under negative gravity – as when suddenly going into a dive – proved an embarrassment to the spluttering Merlin with its float-chamber carburettor.
By 1941, the Spitfire VB had been fitted with the more powerful Merlin 45 engine and also much-needed cannon and was a match for the Me109. By the end of the war, the Spitfire was available in 19 different versions. It later served in North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Far East. The final delivery of this legendary plane was made in October 1947.
Now what have I done with that spare $100K I was saving for a rainy day...I’m gonna need a large shed too. And some flying leathers.