Thursday, 4 March 2021
Happy Birthday Spitfire! Our favourite 6 or 7 types of Spitfire
The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes manuscript is now with the editor and it’s the Spitfire’s birthday! Let’s talk Spitfires!
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My favourite Spitfire #1 – Spitfire Mk XIV by Paul Beaver
For some time, I have trying to decide which is my favourite of the 73 variants or sub-variants of that most iconic of fighter aeroplanes, the Spitfire. Now I have the opportunity to put my thoughts on paper and it has been most rewarding.
Like many pilots, the first thought is to the aeroplane of which one has personal experience. That would be the Mk IX with both Merlin 66 and Packard-Merlin 266 engines. But what about the Mk V with floats? As a seaplane pilot, I love the challenge of operating off water in such a powerful machine. Then, my thoughts went to those young men who were the spear tip of the Battle of Britain defence of the country, so the Spitfire Mk IIa. The high flying and super-fast PR Mk XI perhaps whose pilots showed another type of courage to go unarmed deep over enemy territory. There’s event the Seafire FR Mk 47 from the Korean war, surely the ultimate warbird of the whole family.
But in the end, it was the Spitfire Mk XIV which won out. I am not alone in thinking the Griffon-powered, bubble-canopy fighter is a favourite. Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown thought so too. Whenever the Spitfire was mentioned, he would talk about low level trials in the Mk VIII or flying high over France in a Mk IX with the Canadians. I have not had those privileges but I am now sure the Mk XIV is the one and as Eric would say “it was the best fighter of the Second World War”.
Paul Beaver FRAeSAuthor of SPITFIRE PEOPLEThe Men & Women who made the Spitfire the Aviation Icon
My favourite Spitfire #2: Like a Duck to Weightlifting, the Seafire LIII
The Spitfire wasn’t a natural carrier aircraft, the undercarriage was weak and narrow, and the fuselage was fragile; the endurance made a permanent combat air patrol impossible if the carrier had to be somewhere other than where the wind was coming from. Fortunately, by the time the Mk III was released to service most of these flaws had been addressed…in the same way credit card debt can be addressed by getting more credit cards. The extra metal of the tail hook, and reinforced fuselage, put the Centre of Gravity right at the aft limit of acceptability. The fix was a 3-lb mass added to the control column that pulled it forwards under g, preventing the pilot pulling too tight a turn (which could make the wings fall off). But by putting the Merlin 55M into the LIII, Supermarine also created the fastest naval fighter of the war below 10,000 feet – where the majority of naval interceptions took place (presumably because that’s where most of the ships were). Around 20mph faster than the Hellcat or Corsair at 6000’, both of which were at least 40mph faster than the Zero, it was also the only one that could out-climb the Zero. In the final days of the war the Seafire LIII flew low level combat air patrols over the fleet as the last layer of defence against the Kamikaze threat, as well as escorting strike missions leading it to claim the last aerial victory of the war over Tokyo Bay. The Griffon Seafires may have had more power, which caused its own problems, but none would be as iconic as an LIII in British Pacific Fleet markings screaming over the waves at low level.
Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer, current Air Safety Officer and struggling Naval History MA student. He also has some great offers on his internal organs now Seafire PP972 is up for sale.
My Favourite Spitfire #3 - the Mk.XIV
Instead of the dainty archetypal Merlin Spitfires, I have always preferred the Griffon powered variants and my favourite is probably the Mk XIV. I love the brutish quality it has when compared to earlier marks with that long, long nose topped off with a five-bladed propeller, the most aesthetically pleasing number of blades. I like its relative obscurity: no Battle of Britain, no Douglas Bader. I love that it was available as a FROG kit complete with a V-1 for it to chase. Like nearly all the most successful Spitfire variants, it was an ad-hoc lash-up, a 2035 hp Griffon 65 bolted onto a barely modified Mk VIII airframe with a potentially dangerous swing on take-off replacing the totally innocuous handling of the Merlin Spitfires.
It was an outstanding aircraft. First combat occurred on 7 March 1944, three months before the showoff P-51D, an aircraft offering 600 less horsepower than the Spitfire and unable to best it it in any performance parameter with the sole exception (critically) of range. In RAF comparative trials against a Mustang III, Tempest V, Me 109G and Fw 190, the Mk XIV possessed “the best all-round performance of any present-day fighter”. But the main appeal for me remains aesthetic, I prefer the high-back non-bubble canopy version coupled with the clipped wingtips that seem almost crude in their abruptness. The whole thing exudes a murderous sense of purpose when compared to the early marks, and finally made the Spitfire look like what it is: a weapon.
— Edward Ward
My Favourite Spitfire #4 by The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti
Few things say ‘Britain’ and ‘aviation’ more than the Supermarine Spitfire. This aircraft has become the icon of a time. Its fame has crossed well beyond the borders of the British Isles and Europe reaching people in different continents and times. Nowadays, the aircraft is part of popular culture. ‘Spitfire’ has become a synonym for World War II fighter aircraft in a similar way to that has made Cessna the generic name for every small, single engine piston-powered aircraft, no matter the actual type or manufacturer. I’m pretty sure I can ask my father or my son “have you ever seen a Spitfire?” and get a “yes” as an answer. Indeed, everyone knows the ‘Spit’.
Although I’m not particularly keen on World War II aircraft (to be honest I’m a technology geek and tend to focus on modern fighters from Generation three onwards) the Spitfire is surely the foreign aircraft from World War II that I love the most. Neither the fastest, not even the most manoeuvrable, nor the sturdiest aircraft of the War — the Spitfire is to my eyes one of the most beautiful. Her gentle curves, attractive aerodynamic shape and signature wing have even contributed to her success because, you know, ‘beautiful aircraft fly better’. I can’t exactly remember when I first saw the iconic aircraft. It must have been at an airshow in the UK or at her ‘home’ at Duxford. Still, I’m sure about the last time I saw one — it was not too long ago, when I once again visited the marvellous Italian Air Force Museum in Vigna di Valle near Rome that hosts a restored —and controversial – because of the slightly modified camouflaged colour scheme — Spitfire Mk. IX in the markings of the 5° Stormo (Wing) of the Aeronautica Militare. What an amazing plane!
David David Cenciotti is the creator of The Aviationist
My favourite Spitfire #5 – Supermarine Spitfire P.R. Mk. XI
In World War II, aerial photo reconnaissance was scientific — a rigorous and methodical observation of the enemy’s strength. The Photo Reconnaissance Spitfire became the chief Allied tool of this undertaking, alongside the de Havilland Mosquito. Allied aerial reconnaissance gave the Manhattan Project and Bletchley Park a run for their war-winning money for its scale and cleverness. Within this effort, the Supermarine Spitfire excelled as an intelligence-gathering machine whose pilots had a secretive, heroic job performed alone over enemy territory.
The Spitfire, born as a fighter, roared into this new role with alacrity. Before even the Battle of Britain it was serving the PR mission with aplomb. Cameras, with lenses wider than our heads, displaced guns. This brought extra capacity for missions eventually to Norwegian fjords, radar sites in occupied France, German industrial cities. Never glamorous in appearance, the P.R. Spits wore mostly grey-blue or dull pink paint schemes, like something from our stealthy era.
Pride of the Kriegsmarine, the battleship Bismarck, was spotted readying for her fatal high seas debut by a P.R. Spitfire pilot. The very last Royal Air Force operational flight by a Spitfire utilised a P.R. Version, in 1954! All the milestone editions of the Spitfire included camera-equipped versions. The P.R. Mark XI, in the very middle of the Spitfire line, is a wonderful thing. Look for camera ports, pointy fin and rudder and an enlargement to the underside of the nose for the bigger engine oil tank needed on those long, cold flights that helped win a war.
Stephen Caulfield is a civilian employee of the Salvation Army “stationed” on the frontlines of North American consumer insanity in a modern recycling plant where he finds the occasional Spitfire.
My Favourite Spitfire #6 the Mk.VIII
“My favourite fighter was the Spitfire VIII with clipped wings. It had power and good armament. It could roll quickly and out-turn any enemy fighter we encountered.”
— Robert Bracken, Spitfire, The Canadians
“The Mk VIII lacks the fame of its relatives. It did not fight in the Battle of Britain as did the Mk I and II. It was not built in the greatest numbers; that was the 6,787-fold Mk V. It did not reset the balance against the Focke-Wulf 190 in 1942; that was the immortal Mk IX’s achievement. Yet the Mk VIII deserves attention. As was not uncommon in the tangled Spitfire family, the Mk VIII entered service 13 months after the Mk IX. It was the intended successor to the (rather out performed) Mk V but necessity prompted the very successful interim option of the Mk IX that remained competitive from its introduction in mid 1942 to the end of the war.
The Mk VIII was the most advanced Merlin powered Spitfire. It was designed from the start for the two-stage 60-series engine and had a beefed up fuselage structure to handle the increased weight and power. It carried more fuel (leading edge tanks) and had the retractable tail wheel (designed for the Mk III) that cut drag and cleaned up the aft lines.
Later versions featured the bigger fin and rudder (for lateral stability) with a better proportioned outline that the original, rather minimal design. In short, it had the performance of the Mk IX and the best looks of any Spitfire, Merlin or Griffon powered. It was suave, refined and very effective; the finest of the Merlin generation.
Paul Stoddart served in the Royal Air Force as an aerosystems engineer officer and now works for the Ministry of Defence. His interests include air power and military aircraft from the 1940s onward. He is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
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