Vickers
Supermarine
Spitfire

The most famous fighter aircraft of World War II

Please note: The Vickers Supermarine Spitfire is probably the most famous of all British aircraft and deserves much more space and detail than can be afforded on this web page.  

Whilst we identify some of the basic elements of this iconic aircraft, we urge further interest via the numerous books and websites that describe the type’s design and development such as Jeffrey Quill’s autobiography 'Spitfire: A Test Pilot’s Story' which provides an excellent starting point.

There are a number of both airworthy and display aircraft listed below whilst the Vickers Supermarine Seafire developments are presented on a separate page.


 
Supermarine Spitfire MkIIa (BBMF) Supermarine Spitfire MkIIa (BBMF)
 
The Vickers Supermarine Spitfire, designed by Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd initially on a private venture basis, was highly influenced by a desire to offer a higher performance than had been previously achieved by the F.7/30 design.  This, combined with a further desire to advance the potential of the Rolls-Royce Merlin and Griffon engines, saw their parallel development form an integral part of the Spitfire story.
 
Designed to meet Air Ministry Specification F7/30, which called for a 4 machine gun carrying fighter aircraft capable of at least 250 mph, the Vickers Supermarine Type 224 was submitted. It was a bulky, gull-wing, open cockpit monoplane, powered by a 600hp Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine and made its first flight in February 1934. Unfortunately, it was an immediate disappointment to its designer.
 
An immediate re-think was called for and Chief Designer R.J. Mitchell turned their attention to the previously more successful Schneider Trophy seaplane designs such as the S6B.  This led to the submission of the Vickers Supermarine Type 300 although this too was rejected by the Ministry. The Supermarine Design Team immediately instigated a number of significant changes, such a enclosing the cockpit and smaller, thinner elliptical wings. 
 
November 1934, saw the introduction of the Rolls-Royce PV-XII V12 engine, later simply known as ‘the Merlin’. This engine, combined with the new submission saw the issue of contract AM361140/34 and Mitchell found himself with £10,000 for the production of a prototype.
 
On 5th March 1936, the prototype (K5054) took off from Eastleigh Aerodrome, piloted by Captain Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers. With this flight a legend was born.
 
The first true flight of the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire came just 4 months after the maiden flight of what is considered to be its partner aircraft, the Hawker Hurricane.
 
Supermarine Spitfire Prototype K5054 first flight 5th March 1936 Supermarine Spitfire Prototype K5054 first flight 5th March 1936
 
Development flying of the new aircraft continued at a pace and 10th March 1936, saw the first undercarriage retraction, alongside trials of different propellers in order to increase maximum speeds. Such was the satisfaction with the aircraft that Summers handed all test flying to his assistants, Jeffery Quill and George Pickering. He did however, return to fly the aircraft (K5054) to the A & AEE at RAF Martlesham Heath for acceptance trials.
 
A week later, the Air Ministry declared their enthusiasm with the design to such a degree that they placed an immediate order for 310 Vickers Supermarine Spitfires.
 
Meanwhile sadly, R.J. Mitchell’s health was in severe decline after his initial cancer diagnosis in 1933. Against all medical advice nevertheless, he continued to work and even gained his pilot’s licence in July 1934.  Although he was unable to attend the maiden flight when the cancer returned 2 years later, Mitchell was often seen watching the Spitfire fly from his garden in nearby Russell Place, Portswood, Southampton. Sadly R.J. Mitchell, the Father of the Spitfire, passed away on 11th June 1937.  His aircraft and his story is reflected in the 1942 Hollywood movie 'The first of the Few', starring Leslie Howard and David Niven.  
 
With Mitchell's death, the design and development responsibility for his iconic aircraft passed to Joseph (Joe) Smith.
 
Initially, full-production was beset with problems, the biggest of which was a lack of capacity at Supermarine’s Woolston factory which was producing the Supermarine Walrus and Supermarine Stranraer Flying Boats. In fact, it was mid-1938 by the time the first production Vickers Supermarine Spitfire emerged at Woolston, and although outside contractors were supposed to be involved in the aircraft manufacture, Supermarine’s parent company (Vickers-Armstrongs) was not keen to release the blueprints to external manufacturers.
 
As a result, the Air Ministry threatened to stop production totally by forcing Supermarine into the sub-contract production of Bristol Beaufighters.  This had the desired effect and the management of Vickers-Armstrongs gave the Ministry an assurance that the delays would be overcome and a further order for 200 Vickers Supermarine Spitfires was placed in March 1938.
 
Production at Woolston was disrupted once again when it was severely damaged by daytime bombing raids on the Portsmouth and Southampton Dockyards on 24th and 26th September 1940. Whilst the main target during the 'Southampton Blitz' was generally the shipping, the Supermarine Aviation Works was specifically targeted. Thankfully, by this time most of the component jigs had been dispersed to sub-contractors around Southampton and the Home Counties. More importantly however, much of the production buildings and 110 people were lost, emphasising the importance of spreading aircraft manufacturing throughout the UK.
 
In the Midlands, and despite the plans for an aircraft factory being laid down in 1938, production of Spitfire was troublesome at the Castle Bromwich Works in Birmingham.  The responsibility for the creation and management of this growing shadow factory was initially given to Morris Motors. Unfortunately, they failed to secure the necessary skilled workforce required for building stress-skinned aircraft. Because of this, and with the cost and delays in the factory construction spiralling out of control, only half of the facility was completed when production finally started on the first aircraft in 1940. 
 
Eventually, the Government handed control of the facility to Vickers-Armstrongs who immediately imported key figures from Vickers Supermarine’s management and workforce. Things changed very quickly and at the height of its production, Castle Bromwich Works were producing 320 aircraft per month, with the last of their 12,291 Spitfires emerging off the production line in June 1949.
 
The Vickers Supermarine Spitfire was produced across 24 marks, with total production thought to be between 20,300 and 20,400 aircraft.
 
Vickers Supermarine Spitfire HFVII AB450 prototype in flight Vickers Supermarine Spitfire HFVII AB450 prototype in flight
 
Numerically, the most important marks were the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire MK.I, MK.V, MK.VII, MK.IX and MK.XIV, of which the MK.V (Merlin 45) and MK.IX (with Merlin 61 and two-speed / two-stage supercharger) contributed more than half of the production total.
 
The Rolls-Royce Griffon engine was introduced in the MK.XII and mainly used on the Mk.XIV, Mk.XIX, as well as a number of subsequent types.
 
The development of new Vickers Supermarine Spitfire models was partly spurred on by enemy aircraft developments such as the Messerschmitt Bf109 and Focke-Wulf 190 as well as the demands of new roles, notably high altitude photo-reconnaissance. There were also a number of interesting variants, one of which was a 'Hooked' Mk V version which formed the basis for the Supermarine Seafire. 
 
FV (Hooked) probably P8537 stbd front view landing on with MB345 'K' and MB360 'C' and one other parked on outriggers Spitfire FV (Hooked) possibly P8537 landing on HMS Formidable.
 
Although there were plans for 50 'folded wings' aircraft to be built, the order was cancelled by Winston Churchill in favour of the Fairey Fulmar.
 
The ability of the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire to support progressive and extensive development is reflected in the specification data given below.

 

Variants


Spitfire Mk.I                                        Original Merlin-engined, 8 machine gun interceptor fighter
Spitfire Mk.IIA & Mk.IIB
920 Built
Mk.I with uprated engine and armour and other improvements, some with cannons.
Spitfire Mk.III Retractable tailwheel and improved Merlin XX engine
Spitfire Mk.IV 1st Griffon engine variant with more armaments
Spitfire MK.V Mk.II with further uprated Merlin 45 engine and redesigned wing for greater armament options (cannon, bombs, drop tanks)
Spitfire Mk.VI Based on Mk.V, high altitude interceptor with pressurised cockpit and a 4 blade propeller.
Spitfire Mk.VII               Mk.VI with uprated engine, retractable tailwheel, larger radiators and pointed fin.  High altitude variant with Merlin 71 engine and sliding canopy.
Spitfire Mk.VIII Mk.VII without pressurised cockpit with a mix of Merlin 66 and 70 engines.
Spitfire Mk.IX Mk.V with higher powered two-stage supercharged engine, some with teardrop canopy - the most produced version.
Spitfire Mk.X & Mk.XI Reconnaissance variant with cameras.
Spitfire Mk.XII First Griffon engined version to go into service.
Spitfire Mk.XV & Mk.XVIII Navalised variants which became the Supermarine Seafire.
Spitfire Mk.XIV Mk.VIII with Griffon engine and larger tail - the most produced Griffon  engined version and successful intercepting German V1 Flying Bombs.
Spitfire Mk.XVI Mk.IX with Merlin engine built by Packard Motor Company in the USA.
Spitfire Mk.XVIII Improved Mk.XIV with increased fuel capacity and cockpit improvements.
Spitfire Mk.XIX Last reconnaissance variant with pressurised cockpit and increased fuel capacity (3½ times that of the original Spitfire).
Spitfire Mk.21 / 22 / 24 Totally revised Mk XVIII with new wing and a 2-stage supercharged Griffon 61 engine. The Mk.24 was the last Spitfire variant to be delivered in February 1948,
Spitfire PR Mk.IA, 1B, IC, ID, IE, IF & IG Spitfire Mk.I fighter with cameras in the wings and additional fuel
Spitfire PR Mk.XI Spitfire Mk.IX fighter with cameras in the fuselage and additional fuel
Spitfire PR Mk.XIX Spitfire Mk.XIV fighter with cameras in the fuselage and additional fuel

 

Specification


                                                        
Mk.I 
F.Mk.21  
Powerplant
 
One 1,030 hp Rolls-Royce          
Merlin II or III
One 2,035 hp Rolls-Royce
Griffon 61
Span
36 ft 10 in
36 ft 11 in                             
Maximum Weight
5,800 lb
9,182 lb
Capacity and armament
Pilot only, eight forward-firing
0.303 Vickers machine guns
Pilot only, four 20 mm
Hispano cannon
Maximum Speed
364 mph at 18,500 ft
450 mph at 19,000 ft
Endurance/ range
395 miles at 210 mph
580 miles at 230 mph

 

Number built (Estimated)


Between 20,300 and 20,400     Al  variants                                                       

 

Survivors


AIRWORTHY  
Spitfire PR Mk.9 (SM520/G-ILDA)         
Steve Brooks, Goodwood, W Sussex, UK (?)
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE (TD248/G-OXVI)
Spitfire FR Mk.XVIIIE (SM845/G-BUOS)
Aircraft Restoration Co for Spitfire Ltd, Duxford, Cambs, UK
www.arc-duxford.co.uk
Spitfire HF Mk.IXE (TD314/G-CGYJ)
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE (RW382/G-PBIX)
Spitfire F Mk.VC (EE602/G-IBSY)
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE (TE184/G-MXVI)
Spitfire HF Mk.IXE (TA805 / G-PMNF)
Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, Biggin Hill, Kent, UK
www.bigginhillheritagehangar.co.uk
Spitfire PR Mk.9 (ML407/G-LFIX)
Carolyn Grace, RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk, UK
https://www.warbirdflights.co.uk/the-aircraft/spitfire-ml407
Spitfire PR Mk.9 (PT462/G-CTIX)
Dragon Flight Abergele, North Wales, UK
Spitfire PR Mk.XI (PL965/G-MKXI)
Hangar 11 Collection, North Weald, Essex, UK
www.hangar11.co.uk
Spitfire F Mk.VB (BM597/G-MKVB)
Spitfire PR Mk.9 (PV202/G-CCCA)
Historic Aircraft Collection, Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK
www.historicaircraftcollection.ltd.uk
Spitfire F Mk.IA (N3200/G-CFGJ)
Spitfire F Mk.IA (X4650/G-CGUK)
Imperial War Museum,  Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK
www.iwm.org.uk
Spitfire F Mk.IA (P9374/G-MKIA)
Mark One Partnership LLC,  Duxford, UK
Spitfire HF Mk.IXE (RR232/G-BRSF)
Martin Phillips, Colerne, Wiltshire, UK
Spitfire LF Mk.IXB (MH434/G-ASJV)
Old Flying Machine Company Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK
www.old-flying-machine-company.co.uk
Spitfire PPR Mk.9 (MJ627/G-BMSB)
R.V. Aviation Biggin Hill Airfield, Kent, UK
Spitfire F Mk.IIA (P7350)
Spitfire LF Mk.VB (AB910)
Spitfire LF Mk.IXE (MK356)
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE (TE311)
Spitfire PR Mk.XIX (PM631)
RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, RAF Coningsby, UK
www.raf.mod.uk/bbmf
Spitfire PR Mk.XIX (PS853/G-RRGN)
Rolls-Royce plc, East Midlands Airport, UK
www.rolls-royce.com
Spitfire F Mk.I A (AR213/G-AIST)
Sheringham Aviation, Booker Airfield (?), UK
Spitfire LF Mk.VB (EP120/G-LFVB)
Spitfire FR Mk.XIVE (MV293/G-SPIT)
The Fighter Collection, Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK
www.fighter-collection.com/cft
ON DISPLAY  
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE (TB752)
Hurricane and Spitfire Memorial Museum, Manston, Kent, UK
www.spitfiremuseum.org.uk
Spitfire F Mk.IA (R6915)
Spitfire F Mk.24 (VN485)
Imperial War Museum, London, UK
www.iwm.org.uk
Spitfire F Mk21 (LA198)
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, UK
www.museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk
Spitfire F Mk.VB (BL655)
Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group, East Kirkby, Lincs, UK
www.lincsaviation.co.uk
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE (TE462)
National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Scotland, UK
www.nms.ac.uk/flight
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE (RW388)
Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
www.stokemuseums.org.uk
Spitfire Mk.IA (X4590)
Spitfire F Mk.VB (BL614)
Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, UK
www.rafmuseum.org.uk/london
Spitfire FR Mk.XIVE (MT847)
Spitfire F Mk.24 (PK724)
Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, UK
www.rafmuseum.org.uk/london
Spitfire F Mk.IA (K9942)
Royal Air Force Museum, RAF Cosford, Shropshire, UK
www.rafmuseum.org.uk/cosford
Spitfire F Mk.IA (P9444)
Science Museum, London, UK
www.sciencemuseum.org.uk
Spitfire F Mk.24 (PK683)
Solent Sky Museum, Southampton, UK
www.solentskymuseum.org
Spitfire LF Mk.IXC (ML427)
Birmingham Science Museum, Birmingham, UK
www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/thinktank

 

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