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Spitfire: 80 at 80

5 March 2016 marks the 80th anniversary since the Supermarine Spitfire first took to the skies. To celebrate we're marking the occasion with 80 facts and photos about our iconic heritage aircraft.
  • The first flight of Spitfire was 5 March 1936 at Eastleigh Airport Southampton, still in use as Southampton Airport.
  • The pilot for the first flight was John ‘Mutt’ Summers, Chief Test Pilot for Vickers (Aviation) Ltd.
  • The first flight lasted for 15 minutes. On landing Mutt supposedly said to the ground crew, “Don’t touch a thing”.
  • Jeffrey Kindersley Quill was the second man to fly the Spitfire after Summers. As Vickers' Chief Test Pilot, Quill test-flew every mark of Spitfire.
A squadron of Spitfires in flight
  • Along with the Hawker Hurricane, the Spitfire provided the RAF’s primary fighter force during the Battle of Britain.
  • As a fighter plane the Spitfires were generally paired against the Luftwaffe’s fighters; most commonly the Messerschmidt Me 109.
  • The ‘highest scoring’ Battle of Britain pilot was Pilot Officer Eric Lock who flew with 41 Squadron. He became the highest scoring pilot shooting down 21 enemy aircraft and sharing in the destruction of another.
Pilots line up alongside their Spitfires
  • Air Vice Marshal James Edgar Johnson was the most prolific war time Spitfire pilot. Nicknamed “Johnnie” he was credited with 34 individual victories over enemy aircraft.
  • He flew 700 operational sorties and engaged enemy aircraft on 57 occasions. His ‘score’ made him the highest scoring Western Allied fighter ace against the German Luftwaffe.​
A Spitfire Mk VIII in flight


The Spitfire Fund' was set up during the Second World War as a way of towns contributing to purchasing Spitfires.

A Spitfire over Forth Bridge, Scotland.
  • The Spitfire was originally built by Vickers Supermarine.
  • With the demands for war time production, and the bombing of their works at Woolston and Itchen in Portsmouth, most Spitfires were built at shadow factories across the UK.
  • Their major production facility was the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory.
  • From June 1940 to June 1945 12,129 Spitfires were built here.
Spitfire A58-758 in the air over Temora, Australia

The Spitfire first saw action on 16 October 1939. Six aircraft intercepted nine Junker Ju 88s over Rosyth, shooting down two aircraft and damaging another.


A Spitfire, spitting fire

  • The first Spitfire Mark Is to enter service with the RAF arrived at 19 Squadron, RAF Duxford, on 4 August 1938.
  •  Over the following few weeks aircraft were delivered at the rate of one a week to 19 and 66 Squadron (also based at Duxford)
  • By the outbreak of the Second World War, there were 306 Spitfires in service with the RAF, 71 in reserve, and 2,000 on order.
  • Today 19 Squadron flies the BAE Systems Hawk at RAF Valley, 41 Squadron the Tornado and Typhoon at RAF Coninsby. 66 Squadron was disbanded many years ago.
Spitfire with a Tornado giving chase
  • The Spitfire was designed as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft.
  • Its origin can be traced back to an Air Ministry specification issued in 1930 which asked for a ‘day and night fighter’.
  • The essential requirements were a low landing speed and short landing run, a maximum speed of 250mph, a steep initial climb rate for interception, high manoeuvrability, and good all-round view.
  • The initial proposal resulted in the Supermarine Type 224, emerging in February 1934. However the aircraft was not considered successful and no award was made.

2 Spitfires fly over a Squadron on the ground
  • Sir Robert McLean, Chairman of Supermarine & a Director of Vickers-Armstrong, felt that his design team would be better served using their qualities to develop a "real killer fighter" rather than devoting their time to the official brief.
  • McLean and his opposite number in Rolls-Royce, AF Sidgreaves, decided their two companies should finance the building of such an aircraft.
  • Although the development of the Supermarine Type 300 started as a private venture, it soon became an official Air Ministry project.
  • The action by Sir Robert led the Ministry to issue a contract in December 1934 of £10,000 for the new fighter.

Spitfire PT 462, a rare twin seat Spitfire variant

The specification basically agreed with and approved the Supermarine Type 300 proposals, an aircraft named Spitfire.

A Spitfire stands in front of a US Army blimp


Spitfire supposedly got its name from one of the directors of Supermarine who affectionately called his daughter ‘a spitfire’.

A Spitfire roars to life on the flight apron
  • The majority of the allied nations used the Spitfire, including the US Army Air Force and even the Russians.
  • The militaries of 33 Countries, from Australia to Yugoslavia, flew the Spitfire.
  • The German Air Force flew examples they captured during the war.
  •  Not all countries received their aircraft from Britain; for example Israel acquired their aircraft from Czechoslovakia and Italy.
A Spitfire in Portugal, 2002

'The Spitfire Fund' was set up during the Second World War as a way for towns to contribute towards the purchase of Spitfires.

2 RAF serviceman work bare-chested on a Spitfire
  • The Spitfire Mark I had a top speed of 367 mph and max altitude of 34,500 ft.
  • The final Spitfire, Mark 24, had a top speed of 454 mph with a max altitude of 43,000 ft.
  • The Mk Ia carried 8 x 0.303” machine guns in the wings.
  • The Mark Ib onwards carried 2 x 20 mm cannons as well as 4 x 0.303 machine guns.
  • Later marks were also capable of carrying bombs under the wings and on a central pylon under the fuselage.
  • The majority of the Photo-Reconnaissance (PR) variants were unarmed, relying on their speed and altitude to evade interception.
Spitfire on the flight apron
  • Post war, Vickers realised that there was a market to assist re-establishing air forces, so a Mark VIII Spitfire was converted to a twin seat aircraft in 1946.
  • There were 24 marks of Spitfire, although not all made it to production.
  • In addition, there were 7 marks of the naval variant, the Seafire.
A Seafire on board an aircraft carrier
  • The vast majority of Spitfires had been retired from operational service by the mid-1950s. The last users were the Irish Air Force, retiring their aircraft in 1961.
  • Many Spitfires, known as ‘Presentation Aircraft’, were bought by towns, cities, individuals, or associations around the UK and the world.
  • The number of surviving Spitfires around the world is about 240, of which around 55 are flying.
  • The number of airworthy aircraft continues to rise, with about 110 in store or being restored.
The famous Spitfire MH434 in flight. MH434 was originally flight tested by Alex Henshaw
  • The Spitfire was designed by Reginald Joseph ‘RJ’ Mitchell.
  • Following RJ’s untimely death Joseph ‘Joe’ Smith became Supermarine’s Chief Designer, continuing Spitfire’s evolution.
  • In the words of Canadian aerodynamicist, Beverly Shenstone, “The iconic elliptical wing was simply the shape which allowed us the thinnest possible wing with sufficient room inside to carry the necessary structure and things we wanted to cram in. And it looked nice.”
Spitfire TE 308 flying over Aspen, Colorado
  • The incredibly named Alexander Adolphus Dumfries Henshaw was a famous British air racer in the 1930s and the Chief Test Pilot at Castle Bromwich, leading a team of 25 test pilots.
  • It is estimated that Henshaw flew 10% of all Spitfires and Seafires produced, testing up to 20 aircraft a day.
A Spitfire conducts a low fly past over another taxiing aircraft
  • The Air Ministry released a price list of the major component parts of a Spitfire in the summer of 1940, totalling £9848 18s.
  • The Spitfire was the only allied fighter to be produced before, during, and after WWII.
  • Over 22,000 Spitfires and its naval variant, the Seafire, were built.
  • The final Spitfire built was, in fact a Seafire Mk 47. It left the production line at Supermarine on 28 January 1949.
A Seafire catches an extra wire while landing on a carrier


Spitfires operated with the Hawker Typhoon as part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force (TAF) following the Normandy Invasion of June 1944, an inspiration for our Eurofighter aircraft!

The Spitfire & Typhoon Synchro Pair performing at RIAT 2015

  • Despite looking similar there are many ways to spot the difference between the Spitfire and the Hurricane; One of the most obvious being how wider apart the Hurricane’s under carriage legs are than the Spitfire’s.
  • The most obvious difference in the air is the wing profile, with the Spitfire being instantly recognisable for its famous elliptical wing.​
Spitfire MH 434 soars into the sunset