The Supermarine Spitfire is one of the most iconic airplanes ever built. It’s best known as the plane flown by pilots during the Battle of Britain (along with the Hawker Hurricane). In honor of our current shirt over at Anglotees, Spitfire Jack, we present 14 facts and figures you probably didn’t know about the Supermarine Spitfire.
- What Makes the Spitfire so special? Its sleek lines, its maneuverability and the power put out by its Merlin engines. It was almost unmatched in the air during the early years of the war.
- The Spitfire was designed as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft by R. J. Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works in Southampton . 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 from cancer in 1937, whereupon his colleague Joseph Smith took over as chief designer, overseeing the development of the Spitfire through its multitude of variants.
- The Germans admired them. Towards the end of the Battle of Britain, Herman Goring was having a heated exchange with his commanders, frustrated that they weren’t winning the Battle of Britain as planned. He asked them what they needed to win and ace pilot Adolf Galland famously responded “I should like an outfit of Spitfires.”
Here is the scene dramatized in The Battle of Britain film from 1968:
- While the Spitfire was in service, there were 20,351 total built. Today there are just 179 left today in various states of decay.
- The Spitfire was the only Allied aircraft to be built during the entire war.
- Because so many Spitfires were built, there were plenty of leftovers after the war. This meant that when filmmakers produced the iconic film Battle of Britain in 1968, they could use the actual planes flown in the battles. Many were also flown by veteran pilots.
- It was one of the first airplanes to feature retractable landing gear. This was so new that many new pilots often crash landed because they forgot to put down their landing gear, assuming it was already down.
- The Spitfire’s maiden flight was on 5 March 1936. It entered service with the RAF in 1938 and remained there until 1955.
- Though it is assumed that ‘Spitfire’ came from the aeroplane’s awesome firing capabilities, it was also an Elizabethan word that meant someone who had a fiery character. The names Snipe and Shrew were also considered for the plane. Thankfully they went with Spitfire!
- If you have a pilot’s license and £5500 (about $8500) you can attend the Boultbee Flight Academy in Kent, England and learn how to fly a real Spitfire. This is on my bucket list.
- Some of the planes had modifications made to their under the wing mountings. Instead of carrying bombs, the planes could carry two small barrels of beer, something that was very popular with pilots!
- The Spitfire continues to be a very popular aircraft, with approximately 55 Spitfires still being airworthy, while many more are static exhibits in aviation museums all over the world including here in the USA. It is even possible to take spitfire flights at three locations in the UK, with Spitfire experience flights for non-pilots and Spitfire flight training for pilots available. You can see more with regard to this on the Spitfires blog article about spitfire rides here. I’ve seen the Spitfire in flight twice now and it was an amazing sight – can’t wait to see it again.
- A single spitfire cost £12,604 to produce in 1939 – about £681,000 in today’s money or about $1.15 Million, which is rather cheap for an aircraft of its ability!
- The maximum top speed of the Spitfire was 363 MPH – quite zippy! It’s range was 991 Nautical Miles but when it was in combat, it’s range was about 410 nautical miles. It could fly up to 36,000 feet, but the cabin was not pressurized.
There was a wonderful British mini series, which also was shown here in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theater around 1990, called “Piece of Cake.” The series followed the fortunes of a fictional RAF fighter squadron from the beginning of the war in Sept 1939 through the Battle of Britain the following year. Great ensemble cast and great flying sequences. It is still available on DVD and through services such as Netflix.
Alan Estes says
Have it and the book by Derek Robinson. Though in the book Hornet Squadron was equipped with Mark I and II Hawker Hurricanes.
Leigh Mariana says
The sound they make is so distinctive and can bring many a person to tears!
Becky B says
Don’t forget you can visit Spitfire Island to see the “Sentinel” sculpture in Birmingham to commemorate the Castle Bromwich factory where many of them were built. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentinel_(sculpture)
Of interest to fans of WWII RAF aeroplanes (including the Spitfire)…see: http://www.raf.mod.uk/bbmf/
They provide a full list of display dates on their site that might prove useful to any visiting overseas fans, as well as display details of other (more modern) RAF display teams.
There are training courses required before you get to fly the Spit and the total cost is £54,375.00, not £5800!!!
Malcolm Alexander says
Worth every penny—IF I had that kind of money.
Reg Prescott says
Remember that there were 24 different variants of the Spitfire. Your speed of 363mph is only true for the mark 1. By the end of the war, Spits were able to do 460mph in level flight. Also, its worth remembering that the Spit could outturn, outroll and outclimb virtually every other plane in the sky. That’s why it was a natural dogfighter. It wasn’t as versatile as other more stable airframes though (Mustang, Hurricane etc.) and it had a low range being designed purely as a point defence fighter.
Ben Stegall says
Everything was very interesting. What does the target zero on the side of the spitfire signify and mean?
It’s the roundel/logo of the RAF.