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Despite being a lethal machine of war, the Spitfire has beauty, elegance, style and even charisma. The legendary Spitfire was beloved by its pilots, beloved by the beleaguered British nation during the Battle of Britain and feared by the pilots of the German Luftwaffe.

The Spitfire was the dream child of Reginald Mitchell and first flew in 1936, entering Squadron service in 1938. Unfortunately, due to his death from cancer in 1937, Mitchell himself did not live to see his superlative design enter service. The Spitfire went on to be produced in over twenty variants and continued in RAF service until 1955. It is testimony to the Spitfire’s original design that the original basic air frame could be adapted to increase its maximum speed by almost 100mph whilst also allowing further upgrades in armament, acrobatic performance and range.

The enduring image of the Spitfire is of a graceful elliptic wing form and clean aerodynamic fuselage married to the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. The wing form and unmistakable growl of the Merlin engine making it instantly recognisable. Later variants of the Spitfire, however, also flew with clipped wing tips, Rolls Royce Griffon Engines and bubble canopies.

The Spitfire legend was truly born in the skies over Britain in the late Summer and Autumn of 1940 when, during the Battle of Britain, it’s mettle was to be sorely tested against the Messcherscmitt Bf 109’s of the German Luftwaffe.

During the Battle of Britain the majority of the RAF squadrons engaged were in fact equipped with the Hawker Hurricane and it was the Hurricane that accounted for the great majority of Luftwaffe aircraft shot down. Despite this, it was the Spitfire that Luftwaffe pilots habitually reported when seeing an attacking British aircraft. Where possible it was the faster Spitfire’s which would take on Luftwaffe fighters leaving the rugged Hurricane’s to engage the more cumbersome German bombers.

The Mark I and II Spitfire’s flown in the Battle of Britain were a match for the Messcherscmitt Bf 109 in having a better rate of turn in close combat but were hampered by a somewhat slower rate of dive and climb and lower operational ceiling. Visibility from a Spitfire was, however, far better and the Spitfire’s beautiful handling characteristics meant that even an average pilot could get very good results from the Spitfire compared to the somewhat less forgiving Messerschmitt. In the hands of an expert the Spitfire was a truly formidable weapon.

From 1941 the Spitfire was widely used over France to escort Allied Bombers and to conduct fighter sweeps and hit and run attacks on German airfields, railways and roads. For a short period the Spitfire found itself outclassed by the new German fighter the Focke Wulf 190 but this was remedied by the introduction of the Spitfire Mark IX, which was a match for both the Focke Wulf and the newer variants of the Messcherscmitt Bf109.

Over 20,000 Spitfires were built and there are still at least 40 examples of this beautiful and legendary aircraft still airworthy with many more static examples. The most famous are probably the five flown by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial flight. These five include a Hornchurch veteran, Spitfire P7350, a Mark IIa which flew during the Battle of Britain with 603 City of Edinburgh Auxiliary Squadron. P7350 is the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world and the only example to have flown in the Battle of Britain. P7350 actually still has patched bullet holes on one wing from damage received in combat with a Meschescmitt Bf109 during the Battle of Britain.

The statistics below are for the Mark II Spitfire. Later variants had improved speed, combat radius, operational ceiling and typically carried at least 2 x 20mm cannon and 4 x machine guns.

Type: Single seat monoplane fighter
Powerplant. 1,175 hp Rolls Royce Merlin XII V12
Maximum Speed: 378 mph
Maximum Altitude: c 35,000 feet
Range: c 395 miles
Armament: 8 x .303/7.7mm Browning Machine guns.

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