Report of General Monthly Meeting - Tuesday 8th February 2022
Spitfire - by Steve Alcock
Elliptical wings and retractable undercarriage
There were no crash landings in February when Steve Alcock gave us a talk about the development of the Spitfire plane. As manager of the Solent Sky museum in Southampton (definitely worth a visit), he was one of those rare speakers who can give a fascinating hour’s talk without the use of any written notes.
He told us about the Supermarine Company set up in Eastleigh before the First World War. Primarily designers of fast streamlined boats, it wasn’t too far a jump to develop a fast aeroplane. They recruited R J Mitchell to engineer their leap into the air and by 1919 they had their first working aircraft, a SeaLion biplane with a huge air-cooled engine mounted behind the pilot.
It took another five years before Mitchell moved onto a much sleeker looking monoplane with an enclosed water-cooled engine. This change allowed the engine to disappear inside the fuselage, giving much better aerodynamics and consequently faster speeds.
In 1927 the primarily wooden structure gave way to an all-metal monocoque body where the design of the steel shell itself gave strength to the plane. Two years after that, a much more powerful Rolls Royce engine was slotted into the frame and it was only then that the Spitfire’s progress really took off. By 1931 the plane reached a hitherto unheard-of speed of 400 miles per hour and the RAF began to take notice. However, it wasn’t until 1938 that this potentially battle-winning plane entered service by which time its designer, R J Mitchell, had died. The Spitfire’s first use was as a high-speed photo-reconnaissance plane but, with additional strengthening, it could be fitted with guns and later, cannons.
Over the years, until 1957, many variations in the basic Spitfire design were produced. If you wanted one of every model, you would need a very large hangar to accommodate them all, from Mark 1 to Mark 24. Because of this requirement, there isn’t a complete set anywhere in the world and only a few specimens have survived, even though over 22,000 were built. But because it is such a well-designed plane and such a joy to fly, you can get a new one built from scratch even today. Now how about that for a new u3a interest group ….?