At the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, as the Germans sustained increasing losses in the face of the heroic RAF, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring summoned the top Luftwaffe fighter ace Adolf Galland to his headquarters.
Frustrated by the Reich’s failure to gain aerial supremacy over southern England, a vital precursor to Hitler’s planned invasion, Göring asked Galland what he needed. ‘Give me a squadron of Spitfires,’ came the reply.
Those words perfectly encapsulate the unequalled reputation that the fighter plane had earned in combat. Its power, speed and manoeuvrability were a source of terror to the Germans and reassurance to the British.
A revolutionary aircraft that transformed the capability of the RAF, the Spitfire rightly became a symbol of national defiance, turning what could have been Britain’s darkest hour into our finest.
A German bomber airman, shot down over Malta, said the ‘most terrifying thing’ that he experienced in combat ‘was the sight of 12 Spitfires all firing cannon and machine guns and coming head-on at our formation. All the front gunners had frozen stiff with fear’.
But perhaps the Spitfire’s greatest asset was its manoeuvrability, due to its sleek, aerodynamic design, its thin, elliptical wings and the responsiveness of its controls. ‘There was no heaving or pushing or pulling or kicking. You breathed on it. I’ve never flown anything sweeter,’ said George Unwin of 19 Squadron.
Without the Spitfire, the course of European history might have been very different.
Pilot Neville Duke wrote that in the plane he felt ‘part of a fine machine, made by a genius’.
He added: ‘It is said that the Spitfire is too beautiful to be a fighting machine. I sometimes think that is true but then what better fighter could you want?’
Spitfires were flown with equal courage by Czechs and Poles, as well as Commonwealth pilots such as New Zealander Al Deere. During the summer of 1940, in the process of destroying 17 German planes, he was shot down seven times, bailed out three times, collided with a Messerschmitt 109 and had one of his Spitfires blasted at 150 yards by a bomb. Another exploded just seconds after he had scrambled clear of the wreckage.
The climax of the battle came on September 15, when the Luftwaffe lost 56 planes, forcing Hitler to abandon his plans for the conquest of Britain. But the Spitfire fought on. As ever more powerful, faster versions were developed, it turned out to be crucial in a host of different theatres, including the successful campaign against General Rommel — the Desert Fox — in North Africa in 1942, the fight against Japan in Burma, the drive through western Europe after D-Day, and the destruction of German V-weapon sites in France.
The greatest Spitfire ace of them all, Johnnie Johnson, claimed his record-breaking 33rd kill during the summer of 1944, when he shot down a Messerschmitt 109 over northern France. ‘I hit his ugly yellow nose with a long, steady burst,’ said Johnson, who recorded 38 kills in all during the war.
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That's a pretty cool photo.
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Watching Dunkirk last night on DVD and loved the Spitfires. Saw one years ago at Duxford and the Farnborough Air Show. Amazing what they did.
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Dailymail wrote:But perhaps the Spitfire’s greatest asset was its manoeuvrability, due to its sleek, aerodynamic design, its thin, elliptical wings and the responsiveness of its controls. ‘There was no heaving or pushing or pulling or kicking. You breathed on it. I’ve never flown anything sweeter,’ said George Unwin of 19 Squadron.
The Spitfire airframe was nearly perfect...too perfect, it seems. It's wing was designed in the most perfect configuration to keep the frame aloft: the most efficient way to create lift is to generate it in an elliptical (spanwise) distribution across the wing.
Anyone who has seen a leaf fly knows that you need a little airflow interruption to give the pilot control. The Spitfires perfect flying maneuverability fought against the pilot's ability to direct the aircraft:
Wiki wrote:The almost uniform lift distribution of a constant-aerofoil section elliptical wing can cause the entire span of the wing to stall simultaneously, potentially causing loss of control with little warning. To improve the stalling characteristics and give the pilot some warning, designers use a non-uniform aerofoil. For example, the wing of the Supermarine Spitfire was both thinned towards the tips and twisted to give washout, reducing the load on the tips so that the inner wing would stall first. Such compromises depart from the theoretical elliptical lift distribution, increasing induced drag. Thus, in practice the elliptical planform seldom achieves the theoretical efficiency of an elliptical lift distribution.
Damn near too perfect.
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