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 Supermarine Spitfire was designed by Reginald J Mitchell, initially on a private venture basis and 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 a bulky, gull-wing, open cockpit monoplane powered by a 600hp Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine.  It made its first flight in February 1934 but was an immediate disappointment to its designer.
An immediate re-think was called for and Mitchell turned his attention to the previously successful Schneider Trophy seaplane designs such as the S6B.  This led to the submission of the Type 300 although this too was rejected by the Ministry. The Design Team 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’ and with the issue of contract AM361140/34 Mitchell found himself with £10,000 for the production of a prototype.
On 5th March 1936, prototype (K5054) took off from Eastleigh Aerodrome with Capt. Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers at the controls.  The Spitfire was born, 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 and the 10th March 1936 saw the first undercarriage retraction and trials with different propellers in order to increase maximum speeds.  Summers was so satisfied with the aircraft that he handed all test flying to his assistants Jeffery Quill and George Pickering although he did return to fly K5054 to the A & AEE at RAF Martlesham Heath for acceptance trials – A week later the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires.
Meanwhile Mitchell’s health was in severe decline after his initial cancer diagnosis in 1933.  Against all medical advice 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.  Sadly he passed away on 11th June 1937 and 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 Walrus and Stranraer Flying Boats.   
In fact, it was mid-1938 by the time the first Spitfire emerged at Woolston and although outside contractors were supposed to be involved in the aircraft production, 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 Spitfire production by forcing Supermarine into the production of Bristol Beaufighters.  This had the desired effect as the management of Vickers-Armstrongs gave the Ministry an assurance that the delays would be overcome and a further order for 200 Spitfires was placed in March 1938.
Production at Woolston was disrupted again when it was severely damaged by bombing on 26th September 1940 although by this time most of the component jigs had been dispersed to sub-contractors around Southampton and the Home Counties.
Despite the plans for an aircraft factory being laid in 1938, production of Spitfire was troublesome at the new Castle Bromwich Works in Birmingham.  The responsibility for the creation and management of this large shadow factory was given to Morris Motors who failed to secure the necessary skilled workers required for building a stress-skinned aircraft and with the cost of construction spiralling out of control, only half of the factory was complete when production started on the first aircraft in 1940. 
Eventually the Government handed control of the facility to Vickers-Armstrongs who immediately imported key figures from Supermarine’s management and workforce.  At the height of production, the Castle Bromwich Works were producing 320 aircraft per month with the last of the 12,291 Spitfires produced emerging off the production line in June 1949.
The Spitfire was produced in 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 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 with the MK.XII and used also on the Mk.XIV, Mk.XIX and a number of subsequent types.
The development of new models was partly spurred on by enemy aircraft developments such as the Bf109F and FW190 and partly by the demands of new roles, notably high altitude photo-reconnaissance.  There were 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 Spitfire to support progressive and extensive development is reflected in the specification data given below.


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 Grigffon 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 sucessful 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


One 1,030 hp Rolls-Royce          
Merlin II or III
One 2,035 hp Rolls-Royce
Griffon 61
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

Between 20,300 and 20,400     Al  variants                                                              


Spitfire PR Mk.9
(SM520/ G-ILDA)         
Steve Brooks, Goodwood, W Sussex, UK (?)
Spitfire LF Mk.XVI E
(TD248 / G-OXVI)
Spitfire FR Mk.XVIII E
(SM845 / G-BUOS)
Aircraft Restoration Co for Spitfire Ltd, Duxford, Cambs, UK
Spitfire HF Mk.IX E
(TD314 / G-CGYJ)
Spitfire LF Mk.XVI E 
(RW382 / G-PBIX)
Spitfire F Mk.V C
(EE602 /G-IBSY)
Spitfire LF Mk.XVI E
(TE184 / G-MXVI)
Spitfire HF Mk.IX E
(TA805 / G-PMNF)
Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, Biggin Hill, Kent, UK
Spitfire PR Mk.9
(ML407 / G-LFIX)
Carolyn Grace, RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk, UK
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
Spitfire F Mk.V B
(BM597 / G-MKVB)
Spitfire PR Mk.9
(PV202 / G-CCCA)
Historic Aircraft Collection, Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK
Spitfire F Mk.I A
(N3200 / G-CFGJ)
Spitfire F Mk.I A
(X4650 / G-CGUK)
Imperial War Museum,  Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK
Spitfire F Mk.I A
(P9374 / G-MKIA)
Mark One Partnership LLC,  Duxford, UK
Spitfire HF Mk.IX E
(RR232 / G-BRSF)
Martin Phillips, Colerne, Wiltshire, UK
Spitfire LF Mk.IX B 
(MH434 / G-ASJV)
Old Flying Machine Company Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK
Spitfire PPR Mk.9
(MJ627 / G-BMSB)
R.V. Aviation Biggin Hill Airfield, Kent, UK
Spitfire F Mk.II A
Spitfire LF Mk.V B 
Spitfire LF Mk.IX E
Spitfire LF Mk.XVI E 
Spitfire PR Mk.XIX
RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, RAF Coningsby, UK
Spitfire PR Mk.XIX
(PS853 / G-RRGN)
Rolls-Royce plc, East Midlands Airport, UK
Spitfire F Mk.I A 
(AR213 / G-AIST)
Sheringham Aviation, Booker Airfield (?), UK
Spitfire LF Mk.V B 
(EP120 / G-LFVB)
Spitfire FR Mk.XIV E
(MV293 / G-SPIT)
The Fighter Collection, Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK
Spitfire LF Mk.XVI E
Hurricane and Spitfire Memorial Museum, Manston, Kent, UK
Spitfire F Mk.I A
Spitfire F Mk.24
Imperial War Museum, London, UK
Spitfire F Mk21
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, UK
Spitfire F Mk.V B
Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group, East Kirkby, Lincs, UK
Spitfire LF Mk.XVIE
National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Scotland, UK
Spitfire LF Mk.XVI E
Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
Spitfire Mk.I A
Spitfire F Mk.V B
Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, UK
Spitfire FR Mk.XIV E
Spitfire F Mk.24
Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, UK
Spitfire F Mk.I A
Royal Air Force Museum, RAF Cosford, Shropshire, UK
Spitfire F Mk.I A
Science Museum, London, UK
Spitfire F Mk.24
Solent Sky Museum, Southampton, UK
Spitfire LF Mk.IX C
Birmingham Science Museum, Birmingham, UK

More information

RAF Museum (Hendon / Cosford)

Aircraft Restoration Company (Duxford)

Old Flying Machine Company (Duxford)

Imperial War Museum (Duxford)

email: BAE Systems Heritage -

Please note that the information shown is based on that available at the time of the creation of this web page - If you have any additions or corrections please contact: