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Captain's Log

March 2011

75th Anniversary of Supermarine Spitfire maiden flight

75th Anniversary of Supermarine Spitfire maiden flight

75th Anniversary of Supermarine Spitfire maiden flight

This month we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first flight of the Supermarine Spitfire - on 5 March 1936, from Eastleigh Aerodrome (now Southampton Airport). Test pilot Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers was reportedly so delighted his verdict was simply “Don’t touch anything”.

The Spitfire was designed, by Reginald J Mitchell (creator of the magnificent Supermarine seaplanes which won three successive Schneider Trophy contests), as a short-range interceptor in response to an Air Ministry request for a new, modern fighter aircraft. It would take advantage of new manufacturing techniques, including all-metal monocoque construction, and high-powered liquid-cooled engines such as the Rolls Royce Merlin Engine. It was fast, able to climb to 33,000ft in around nine minutes to meet enemy bombers, and its outstanding handling qualities made it relatively easy to fly.

Sadly Mitchell died in 1937, aged only 42, but the development of the Spitfire continued, led by Joe Smith, with the first production versions eventually rolling off the Supermarine production line at Woolston in mid-1938.

The Battle of Britain, in the summer of 1940, is widely regarded as the Supermarine Spitfire’s finest hour. Although its contemporary, the more numerous Hawker Hurricane, was at least as crucial to victory in the skies over southern England, the Spitfire had a higher victory to loss ratio and subsequently became the backbone of RAF Fighter Command seeing action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific and the South-East Asian theatres. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire went on to serve in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber, carrier-based fighter, and trainer.

On the 20 February 1948, almost twelve years from the prototype's first flight, the final production Spitfire left the production line. More than 12,000 had been built. Spitfires remained in service with the RAF, particularly in Southeast Asia, until 1954.

Spitfire P7350, a MKIIa built at Castle Bromwich, is the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world and the only one to have fought in the Battle of Britain. She now flies as part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight alongside two Hawker Hurricanes and an Avro Lancaster.

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