^ Spitfire LF Mk IXIntroduction
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries during and after the Second World War. The Spitfire was built in many variants, using several wing configurations, and was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft. It was also the only British fighter to be in continuous production throughout the war. The Spitfire continues to be popular among enthusiasts, with approximately 53 Spitfires being airworthy, while many more are static exhibits in aviation museums throughout the world.
The Spitfire was designed as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft by R. J. Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works (which operated as a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong from 1928). In accordance with its role as an interceptor, Mitchell designed the Spitfire's distinctive elliptical wing to have the thinnest possible cross-section; this thin wing enabled the Spitfire to have a higher top speed than several contemporary fighters, including the Hawker Hurricane. Mitchell continued to refine the design until his death in 1937, whereupon his colleague Joseph Smith took over as chief designer, overseeing the development of the Spitfire through its multitude of variants.
During the Battle of Britain, from July to October 1940, the Spitfire was perceived by the public to be the RAF fighter, though the more numerous Hawker Hurricane shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against the Nazi German air force, the Luftwaffe. Spitfire units, however, had a lower attrition rate and a higher victory-to-loss ratio than those flying Hurricanes because of its higher performance.
After the Battle of Britain the Spitfire superseded the Hurricane to become the backbone of RAF Fighter Command, and saw action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific and the South-East Asian theatres. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire served in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber and trainer, and it continued to serve in these roles until the 1950s. The Seafire was a carrier-based adaptation of the Spitfire which served in the Fleet Air Arm from 1942 through to the mid-1950s. Although the original airframe was designed to be powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine producing 1,030 hp (768 kW), it was strong enough and adaptable enough to use increasingly powerful Merlin and, in later marks, Rolls-Royce Griffon engines producing up to 2,340 hp (1,745 kW); as a consequence of this the Spitfire's performance and capabilities improved over the course of its life.Origins
R. J. Mitchell's 1931 design to meet Air Ministry specification F7/30 for a new and modern fighter capable of 250 mph (400 km/h), the Supermarine Type 224, was an open-cockpit monoplane with bulky gull-wings and a large fixed, spatted undercarriage powered by the 600 horsepower (450 kW) evaporatively cooled Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine. This made its first flight in February 1934. The Type 224 was a big disappointment to Mitchell and his design team, who immediately embarked on a series of "cleaned-up" designs, using their experience with the Schneider Trophy seaplanes as a starting point. Of the seven designs tendered to F7/30, the Gloster Gladiator biplane was accepted for service.
Mitchell had already begun working on a new aircraft, designated Type 300, with a retractable undercarriage and the wingspan reduced by 6 ft (1.8 m). This was submitted to the Air Ministry in July 1934, but was not accepted. The design then went through a series of changes, including the incorporation of a faired, enclosed cockpit, oxygen-breathing apparatus, smaller and thinner wings, and the newly developed, more powerful Rolls-Royce PV-XII V-12 engine, later named the "Merlin". In November 1934 Mitchell, with the backing of Supermarine's owner, Vickers-Armstrong, started detailed design work on this refined version of the Type 300 and, on 1 December 1934, the Air Ministry issued contract AM 361140/34, providing £10,000 for the construction of Mitchell's improved F7/30 design. On 3 January 1935, the Air Ministry formalised the contract and a new specification, F10/35, was written around the aircraft.
^Prototype Spitfire (K5054)
In April 1935, the armament was changed from two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns in each wing to four .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings, following a recommendation by Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley of the Operational Requirements section at the Air Ministry. On 5 March 1936, the prototype (K5054) took off on its first flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport). At the controls was Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers, chief test pilot for Vickers, who is quoted as saying "Don't touch anything" on landing. This eight-minute flight came four months after the maiden flight of the contemporary Hurricane.
K5054 was fitted with a new propeller, and Summers flew the aircraft on 10 March 1936; during this flight the undercarriage was retracted for the first time. After the fourth flight, a new engine was fitted, and Summers left the test-flying to his assistants, Jeffrey Quill and George Pickering. They soon discovered that the Spitfire was a very good aircraft, but not perfect. The rudder was over-sensitive and the top speed was just 330 mph (528 km/h), little faster than Sydney Camm's new Merlin-powered Hurricane. A new and better-shaped wooden propeller meant the Spitfire reached 348 mph (557 km/h) in level flight in mid-May, when Summers flew K5054 to RAF Martlesham Heath and handed the aircraft over to Squadron Leader Anderson of the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE). Here, Flight Lieutenant Humphrey Edwardes-Jones took over the prototype for the RAF. He had been given orders to fly the aircraft and then to make his report to the Air Ministry on landing. Edwardes-Jones's report was positive; his only request was that the Spitfire be equipped with an undercarriage position indicator. A week later, on 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires, before any formal report had been issued by the A&AEE; interim reports were later issued on a piecemeal basis.Into production
The British public first saw the Spitfire at the RAF Hendon air-display on Saturday 27 June 1936. Although full-scale production was supposed to begin immediately, there were numerous problems that could not be overcome for some time and the first production Spitfire, K9787, did not roll off the Woolston, Southampton assembly line until mid-1938. The first and most immediate problem was that the main Supermarine factory at Woolston was already working at full capacity fulfilling orders for Walrus and Stranraer flying boats. Although outside contractors were supposed to be involved in manufacturing many important Spitfire components, especially the wings, Vickers-Armstrong (the parent company) was reluctant to see the Spitfire being manufactured by outside concerns and was slow to release the necessary blueprints and subcomponents. As a result of the delays in getting the Spitfire into full production, the Air Ministry put forward a plan that production of the Spitfire be stopped after the initial order for 310, after which Supermarine would build Bristol Beaufighters. The managements of Supermarine and Vickers were able to convince the Air Ministry that the problems could be overcome and further orders were placed for 200 Spitfires on 24 March 1938, the two orders covering the K, L and N prefix serial numbers.
In February 1936 the director of Vickers-Armstrongs, Sir Robert MacLean, guaranteed production of five aircraft a week, beginning 15 months after an order was placed. On 3 June 1936, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 aircraft, for a price of £1,395,000. Full-scale production of the Spitfire began at Supermarine's facility in Woolston, Southampton, but it quickly became clear that the order could not be completed in the 15 months promised. Supermarine was a small company, already busy building Walrus and Stranraer flying boats, and Vickers was busy building the Wellingtons. The initial solution was to subcontract the work. The first production Spitfire rolled off the assembly line in mid-1938 and was flown by Jeffrey Quill on 15 May 1938, almost 24 months after the initial order.
The final cost of the first 310 aircraft, after delays and increased programme costs, came to £1,870,242 or £1,533 more per aircraft than originally estimated. Production aircraft cost about £9,500. The most expensive components were the hand-fabricated and finished fuselage at approximately £2,500, then the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine at £2,000, followed by the wings at £1,800 a pair, guns and undercarriage, both at £800 each, and the propeller at £350.Manufacturing at Castle Bromwich
In 1935, the Air Ministry approached Morris Motors Limited to ask how quickly their Cowley plant could be turned to aircraft production. In 1936 this informal request for major manufacturing facilities was turned into a formal scheme to boost British aircraft production capacity under the leadership of Herbert Austin, known as the Shadow factory plan. Austin was given the task of building nine new factories, and to supplement the existing British car manufacturing industry by either adding to overall capacity or increasing the potential for reorganisation to produce aircraft and their engines.
Under the plan, on 12 July 1938, the Air Ministry bought a site consisting of farm fields and a sewage works next to Castle Bromwich Aerodrome in Birmingham. This shadow factory would supplement Supermarine's original factories in Southampton in building the Spitfire. The Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory ordered the most modern machine tools then available, which were being installed two months after work started on the site. Although Morris Motors under Lord Nuffield (an expert in mass motor-vehicle construction) at first managed and equipped the factory, it was funded by government money. When the project was first mooted it was estimated that the factory would be built for £2,000,000, however, by the beginning of 1939 this cost had doubled to over £4,000,000. The Spitfire's stressed-skin construction required precision engineering skills and techniques outside the experience of the local labour force, which took some time to train. However, even as the first Spitfires were being built in June 1940 the factory was still incomplete, and there were numerous problems with the factory management, which ignored tooling and drawings provided by Supermarine in favour of tools and drawings of its own designs and with the workforce which, while not completely stopping production, continually threatened strikes or "slow downs" until their demands for higher than average pay rates were met.
By May 1940, Castle Bromwich had not yet built its first Spitfire, in spite of promises that the factory would be producing 60 per week starting in April. On 17 May Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, telephoned Lord Nuffield and manoeuvered him into handing over control of the Castle Bromwich plant to Beaverbook's Ministry. Beaverbrook immediately sent in experienced management staff and experienced workers from Supermarine and gave over control of the factory to Vickers-Armstrong. Although it would take some time to resolve the problems, in June 1940, 10 Mk IIs were built; 23 rolled out in July, 37 in August, and 56 in September. By the time production ended at Castle Bromwich in June 1945, a total of 12,129 Spitfires (921 Mk IIs, 4,489 Mk Vs, 5,665 Mk IXs, and 1,054 Mk XVIs) had been built. CBAF went on to become the largest and most successful plant of its type during the 1939–45 conflict. As the largest Spitfire factory in the UK, by producing a maximum of 320 aircraft per month, it built over half of the approximately 20,000 aircraft of this type.Production dispersal
During the Battle of Britain, concerted efforts were made by the Luftwaffe to destroy the main manufacturing plants at Woolston and Itchen, near Southampton. The first bombing raid, which missed the factories, came on 23 August 1940. Over the next month, other raids were mounted until, on 26 September 1940, both factories were completely wrecked, with 92 people being killed and a large number injured; most of the casualties were experienced aircraft production workers.
Fortunately for the future of the Spitfire, many of the production jigs and machine tools had already been relocated by 20 September, and steps were being taken to disperse production to small facilities throughout the Southampton area. To this end, the British government requisitioned the likes of Vincent's Garage in Station Square Reading, which later specialised in manufacturing Spitfire fuselages, and Anna Valley Motors, Salisbury, which was to become the sole producer of the wing leading-edge fuel tanks for photo-reconnaissance Spitfires, as well as producing other components. A purpose-built works, specialising in manufacturing fuselages and installing engines, was built at Star Road, Caversham in Reading. The drawing office in which all Spitfire designs were drafted was relocated to Hursley Park, near Southampton. This site also had an aircraft assembly hangar where many prototype and experimental Spitfires were assembled, but since it had no associated aerodrome no Spitfires ever flew from Hursley.
Four towns and their satellite airfields were chosen to be the focal points for these workshops:
* Southampton and Eastleigh Airport
* Salisbury with High Post and Chattis Hill aerodromes
* Trowbridge with Keevil aerodrome
* Reading with Henley and Aldermaston aerodromes.
An experimental factory at Newbury was the subject of a Luftwaffe daylight raid but all missed their target and bombed a nearby school.
Completed Spitfires were delivered to the airfields on large Commer "Queen Mary" low-loader articulated trucks, there to be fully assembled, tested, then passed on to the RAF.Flight testing
All production Spitfires were flight tested before delivery. During the Second World War, Jeffrey Quill was Vickers Supermarine's chief test pilot, in charge of flight-testing all aircraft types built by Vickers Supermarine; he also oversaw a group of 10 to 12 pilots responsible for testing all developmental and production Spitfires built by the company in the Southampton area.[nb 6] Quill had also devised the standard testing procedures which, with variations for specific aircraft designs, operated from 1938. Alex Henshaw, chief test pilot at Castle Bromwich from 1940, was placed in charge of testing all Spitfires built at that factory, coordinating a team of 25 pilots; he also assessed all Spitfire developments. Between 1940 and 1946, Henshaw flew a total of 2,360 Spitfires and Seafires, more than 10% of total production.
Henshaw wrote about flight testing Spitfires:
"After a thorough pre-flight check I would take off and, once at circuit height, I would trim the aircraft and try to get her to fly straight and level with hands off the stick ... Once the trim was satisfactory I would take the Spitfire up in a full-throttle climb at 2,850 rpm to the rated altitude of one or both supercharger blowers. Then I would make a careful check of the power output from the engine, calibrated for height and temperature ... If all appeared satisfactory I would then put her into a dive at full power and 3,000 rpm, and trim her to fly hands and feet off at 460 mph IAS (Indicated Air Speed). Personally, I never cleared a Spitfire unless I had carried out a few aerobatic tests to determine how good or bad she was.
The production test was usually quite a brisk affair: the initial circuit lasted less than ten minutes and the main flight took between twenty and thirty minutes. Then the aircraft received a final once-over by our ground mechanics, any faults were rectified and the Spitfire was ready for collection.
I loved the Spitfire in all of her many versions. But I have to admit that the later marks, although they were faster than the earlier ones, were also much heavier and so did not handle so well. You did not have such positive control over them. One test of manoeuvrability was to throw her into a flick-roll and see how many times she rolled. With the Mark II or the Mark V one got two-and-a-half flick-rolls but the Mark IX was heavier and you got only one-and-a-half. With the later and still heavier versions, one got even less. The essence of aircraft design is compromise, and an improvement at one end of the performance envelope is rarely achieved without a deterioration somewhere else.
When the last Spitfire rolled out in February 1948, a total of 20,351 examples of all variants had been built, including two-seat trainers, with some Spitfires remaining in service well into the 1950s. The Spitfire was the only British fighter aircraft to be in continuous production before, during and after the Second World War.Service operations
The operational history of the Spitfire with the RAF started with the first Mk Is K9789, which entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford on 4 August 1938. The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the Battle of Britain, a reputation aided by the famous "Spitfire Fund" organised and run by Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production. In fact the Hurricane outnumbered the Spitfire throughout the battle, and shouldered the burden of the defence against the Luftwaffe; however, because of its higher performance the overall attrition rate of the Spitfire squadrons was lower than that of the Hurricane units, and the Spitfire units had a higher victory-to-loss ratio. The key aim of Fighter Command was to stop the Luftwaffe's bombers, in practice the tactic, whenever possible, was to use Spitfires to counter German escort fighters, particularly the Bf 109s, while the Hurricane squadrons attacked the bombers.
Well-known Spitfire pilots included "Johnnie" Johnson (34 enemy aircraft shot down), who flew the Spitfire right through his operational career from late 1940 to 1945. Douglas Bader (20 e/a) and "Bob" Tuck (27 e/a) flew Spitfires and Hurricanes during the major air battles of 1940, and both were shot down and became prisoners of war while flying Spitfires over France in 1941 and 1942. Paddy Finucane (28–32 e/a) scored all his successes in the fighter before disappearing over the English Channel in July 1942. Some notable Commonwealth pilots were George Beurling (311⁄3 e/a) from Canada, "Sailor" Malan (27 e/a) from South Africa, New Zealanders Alan Deere (17 e/a) and C F Gray (27 e/a) and the Australian Hugo Armstrong (12 e/a).
The Spitfire continued to play increasingly diverse roles throughout the Second World War and beyond, often in air forces other than the RAF. The Spitfire, for example, became the first high-speed photo-reconnaissance aircraft to be operated by the RAF. Sometimes unarmed, they flew at high, medium and low altitudes, often ranging far into enemy territory to closely observe the Axis powers and provide an almost continual flow of valuable intelligence information throughout the war. In 1941 and 1942, PRU Spitfires provided the first photographs of the Freya and Würzburg radar systems and, in 1943, helped confirm that the Germans were building the V1 and V2 Vergeltungswaffe ("vengeance weapons") by photographing Peenemünde, on the Baltic Sea coast of Germany.
In the Mediterranean the Spitfire blunted the heavy attacks on Malta by the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe and, from early 1943, helped pave the way for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. On 7 March 1942, 15 Mk Vs carrying 90-gallon fuel tanks under their bellies took off from HMS Eagle off the coast of Algeria on a 600-mile flight to Malta. Those Spitfires V were the first to see service outside Britain. Over the Northern Territory of Australia, RAAF and RAF Spitfires helped defend the port town of Darwin against air attack by the Japanese Naval Air Force. The Spitfire also served on the Eastern Front: approximately a thousand were supplied to the Soviet Air Force. Though some were used at the frontline in 1943, most of them saw service with the Protivo-Vozdushnaya Oborona (English: "Anti-air Defence Branch"). Spitfire MKVIII's took part in the last battle of WWII involving the Western allies, in Burma as a ground attack role, helping to defeat a Japanese breakout attempt.
During the Second World War, Spitfires were used by the USAAF in the 4th Fighter Group until replaced by Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in March 1943.
The Spitfire is listed in the appendix to the novel KG 200 as "known to have been regularly flown by" the German secret operations unit KG 200, which tested, evaluated and sometimes clandestinely operated captured enemy aircraft during the Second World War.Speed and altitude records
Beginning in late 1943, high-speed diving trials were undertaken at Farnborough to investigate the handling characteristics of aircraft travelling at speeds near the sound barrier (i.e., the onset of compressibility effects). Because it had the highest limiting Mach number of any aircraft at that time, a Spitfire XI was chosen to take part in these trials. Due to the high altitudes necessary for these dives, a fully feathering Rotol propeller was fitted to prevent overspeeding. It was during these trials that EN409, flown by Squadron Leader J. R. Tobin, reached 606 mph (975 km/h, Mach 0.891) in a 45° dive. In April 1944, the same aircraft suffered engine failure in another dive while being flown by Squadron Leader Anthony F. Martindale, RAFVR, when the propeller and reduction gear broke off. The dive put the aircraft to Mach 0.92, the fastest ever recorded in a piston-engined aircraft, but when the propeller came off the Spitfire, now tail-heavy, zoom-climbed back to altitude. Martindale blacked out under the 11g loading, but when he resumed consciousness he found the aircraft at about 40,000 feet with its (originally straight) wings now slightly swept back. Martindale successfully glided the Spitfire 20 mi (32 km) back to the airfield and landed safely. Martindale was awarded the Air Force Cross for his exploits.
A Spitfire was modified by the RAE for high-speed testing of the stabilator (then known as the "flying tail") of the Miles M.52 supersonic research aircraft. RAE test pilot Eric Brown stated that he tested this successfully during October and November 1944, attaining Mach 0.86 in a dive.
On 5 February 1952, a Spitfire 19 of 81 Squadron based at Kai Tak in Hong Kong reached probably the highest altitude ever achieved by a Spitfire. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ted Powles, was on a routine flight to survey outside-air temperature and report on other meteorological conditions at various altitudes in preparation for a proposed new air service through the area. He climbed to 50,000 ft (15,240 m) indicated altitude, with a true altitude of 51,550 ft (15,712 m). The cabin pressure fell below a safe level and, in trying to reduce altitude, he entered an uncontrollable dive which shook the aircraft violently. He eventually regained control somewhere below 3,000 ft (900 m) and landed safely with no discernible damage to his aircraft. Evaluation of the recorded flight data suggested that, in the dive, he achieved a speed of 690 mph (1,110 km/h, Mach 0.96), which would have been the highest speed ever reached by a propeller-driven aircraft, but it has been speculated this figure resulted from inherent instrument errors.
That any operational aircraft off the production line, cannons sprouting from its wings and warts and all, could readily be controlled at this speed when the early jet aircraft such as Meteors, Vampires, P-80s, etc, could not, was certainly extraordinary.
The critical Mach number of the Spitfire's original elliptical wing was higher than the subsequently used laminar-flow-section, straight-tapering-planform wing of the follow-on Supermarine Spiteful, Seafang and Attacker, illustrating that Reginald Mitchell's practical engineering approach to the problems of high-speed flight had paid off.Variants
Although R. J. Mitchell is justifiably known as the engineer who designed the Spitfire, his premature death in 1937 meant that all development after that date was undertaken by a team led by his chief draughtsman, Joe Smith, who became Supermarine's chief designer on Mitchell's death. As Jeffrey Quill noted: "If Mitchell was born to design the Spitfire, Joe Smith was born to defend and develop it.
There were 24 marks of Spitfire and many sub-variants. These covered the Spitfire in development from the Merlin to Griffon engines, the high-speed photo-reconnaissance variants and the different wing configurations. More Spitfire Mk Vs were built than any other type, with 6,487 built, followed by the 5,656 Mk IXs. Different wings, featuring a variety of weapons, were fitted to most marks; the A wing used eight .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, the B wing had four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns and two 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano cannon, and the C or Universal Wing could mount either four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon or two 20 mm (.79 in) and four .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns. As the war progressed, the C wing became more common. Another armament variation was the E wing which housed two 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and two .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns. Although the Spitfire continued to improve in speed and armament, because of its limited fuel capacity its range and endurance were also limited: it remained "short-legged" throughout its life except in the dedicated photo-reconnaissance role, when its guns were replaced by extra fuel tanks.
Supermarine developed a two-seat variant known as the T Mk VIII to be used for training, but none were ordered, and only one example was ever constructed (identified as N32/G-AIDN by Supermarine). In the absence of an official two-seater variant, a number of airframes were crudely converted in the field. These included a 4 Squadron SAAF Mk VB in North Africa, where a second seat was fitted instead of the upper fuel tank in front of the cockpit, although it was not a dual-control aircraft and is thought to have been used as the squadron "run-about." The only unofficial two-seat conversions that were fitted with dual-controls were a small number of Russian lend/lease Mk IX aircraft. These were referred to as Mk IX UTI and differed from the Supermarine proposals by using an inline "greenhouse" style double canopy rather than the raised "bubble" type of the T Mk VIII.
In the postwar era, the idea was revived by Supermarine and a number of two-seat Spitfires were built by converting old Mk IX airframes with a second "raised" cockpit featuring a bubble canopy. Ten of these TR9 variants were then sold to the Indian Air Force along with six to the Irish Air Corps, three to the Royal Netherlands Air Force and one for the Royal Egyptian Air Force. Currently a handful of the trainers are known to exist, including both the T Mk VIII, a T Mk IX based in the U.S., and the "Grace Spitfire" ML407, a veteran flown operationally by 485(NZ) Squadron in 1944.Seafire
The Seafire, a name derived from Sea Spitfire, was a naval version of the Spitfire specially adapted for operation from aircraft carriers. Although the Spitfire was not designed for the rough-and-tumble of carrier-deck operations, it was considered to be the best available fighter at the time, and went on to serve with distinction. The basic Spitfire design did impose some limitations on the use of the aircraft as a carrier-based fighter; poor visibility over the nose, for example, meant that pilots had to be trained to land with their heads out of the cockpit and looking alongside the port cowling of their Seafire; also, like the Spitfire, the Seafire had a relatively narrow undercarriage track, which meant that it was not ideally suited to deck operations. Early marks of Seafire had relatively few modifications to the standard Spitfire airframe; however cumulative front line experience meant that most of the later versions of the Seafire had strengthened airframes, folding wings, arrestor hooks and other modifications, culminating in the purpose-built Seafire F/FR Mk 47.
The Seafire II was able to outperform the A6M5 Zero at low altitudes when the two types were tested against each other during wartime mock combat exercises. However, contemporary Allied carrier fighters such as the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair were considerably more robust and so more practical for carrier operations. Performance was greatly increased when later versions of the Seafire were fitted with the Griffon engines. These were too late to see service in the Second World War.Griffon-engined variants
The first Rolls Royce Griffon-engined Mk XII flew on August 1942, and first flew operationally with 41 Squadron in April 1943. This mark could nudge 400 mph (640 km/h) in level flight and climb to an altitude of 33,000 ft (10,000 m) in under nine minutes.
As American fighters took over the long-range escorting of USAAF daylight bombing raids, the Griffon-engined Spitfires progressively took up the tactical air superiority role, and played a major role in intercepting the V-1 flying bomb, while the Merlin-engined variants (mainly the Mk IX and the Packard-engined Mk XVI) were adapted to the fighter-bomber role. Although the later Griffon-engined marks lost some of the favourable handling characteristics of their Merlin-powered predecessors, they could still outmanoeuvre their main German foes and other, later American and British-designed fighters.
The final version of the Spitfire, the Mk 24, first flew at South Marston on 13 April 1946. On 20 February 1948, almost twelve years from the prototype's first flight, the last production Spitfire, VN496, left the production line. The Spitfire Mk 24 was used by only one regular RAF unit, with 80 Squadron replacing their Hawker Tempests with F Mk 24s in 1947. 80 Squadron continued its patrol and reconnaissance duties from Wunstorf in Germany as part of the occupation forces, until it relocated to Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong in July 1949. During the Chinese Civil War, 80 Squadron's main duty was to defend Hong Kong from perceived Communist threats.
Operation Firedog during the Malayan Emergency saw the Spitfire fly over 1,800 operational sorties against the Malaysian communists. The last operational sortie of an RAF Spitfire was flown on 1 April 1954, by PR Mk 19 Spitfire PS888 flying from RAF Seletar, in Singapore.
The last non-operational flight of a Spitfire in RAF service, which took place on 9 June 1957, was by a PR Mk 19, PS583, from RAF Woodvale of the Temperature and Humidity Flight. This was also the last known flight of a piston-engined fighter in the RAF. The last nation in the Middle East to operate Spitfires was Syria, which kept its F 22s until 1953.
In late 1962, Air Marshal Sir John Nicholls instigated a trial when he flew a Spitfire PR Mk 19 against an English Electric Lightning F 3 (a supersonic jet-engined interceptor) in mock combat at RAF Binbrook. At the time British Commonwealth forces were involved in possible action against Indonesia over Malaya and Nicholls decided to develop tactics to fight the Indonesian Air Force P-51 Mustang, a fighter that had a similar performance to the PR Mk 19. He concluded that the most effective and safest way for a modern jet-engined fighter to attack a piston-engined fighter was from below and behind, contrary to all established fighter-on-fighter doctrine at that time.Specifications
(Spitfire Mk VB)Crew:
29 ft 11 in (9.12 m)Wingspan:
36 ft 10 in (11.23 m)Height:
11 ft 5 in (3.86 m)Wing area:
242.1 ft2 (22.48 m2)Airfoil:
NACA 2209.4(tip)Empty weight:
5,065 lb (2,297 kg)Loaded weight:
6,622 lb (3,000 kg)Max. takeoff weight:
6,700 lb (3,039 kg)Powerplant:
1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 supercharged V12 engine, 1,470 hp (1,096 kW) at 9,250 ft (2,819 m)Maximum speed:
370 mph (595 km/h) (322 kn, 595 km/h)Combat radius:
410 nmi (470 mi (756 km))Ferry range:
991 nmi (1,135 mi (1,827 km))Service ceiling:
36,500 ft (11,125 m)Rate of climb:
2,600 ft/min (13.2 m/s)Wing loading:
27.35 lb/ft2 (133.5 kg/m2)Power/mass:
0.22 hp/lb (0.36 kW/kg)Armament:
A wing: 8x .303 in Browning Mk II* machine guns (350 rounds per gun)
B wing: 2 x 20mm Hispano Mk II (60 rounds per gun), or 4 x .303 in Browning Mk II* machine guns (350 rounds per gun)
C wing: 4x 20mm Hispano Mk II cannon (120 rounds per gun), or 2x 20mm Hispano Mk II (120 rounds per gun)
D wing: 4x .303 in Browning Mk II* machine guns (350 rounds per gun)
E wing: 2x 20mm Hispano Mk II cannon (120 rounds per gun), or 2x .50 in M2 Browning machine guns (250 rounds per gun)