A two seat Spitfire in flight.

The Supermarine Spitfire is without doubt, one of the most famous aircraft of all time. Widely regarded by many to be the greatest fighter aircraft of world war 2, it is probably the most beautiful. Its thin eliptical wing, and its amazing Rolls Royce Merlin (later versions were powered by the Rolls Royce Griffon) gave it a unique appearance.


Designed by the legendary RJ MItchell, the Spitfire first flew on the 5th March,1936. It was on the first flight, that test pilot Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers was reportedly so delighted his verdict was simply “Don’t touch anything”. The Spitfire soon became a legend. During the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire was perceived by the public as the RAF fighter of the battle, though the more numerous Hawker Hurricane shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against the Luftwaffe. The Spitfire units had a lower attrition rate and a higher victory to loss ratio than those flying Hurricanes.


In 1934, Mitchell and the design staff decided to use a semi-elliptical wing shape to solve two conflicting requirements; the wing needed to be thin, to avoid creating too much drag, while still able to house a retractable undercarriage, plus armament and ammunition. Beverly Shenstone, the aerodynamicist on Mitchell's team, explained why that form was chosen: The elliptical wing was decided upon quite early on. Aerodynamically it was the best for our purpose because the induced drag, that caused in producing lift, was lowest when this shape was used: the ellipse was ... theoretically a perfection ... To reduce drag we wanted the lowest possible thickness-to-chord, consistent with the necessary strength. But near the root the wing had to be thick enough to accommodate the retracted undercarriages and the guns ... Mitchell was an intensely practical man... The ellipse was simply the shape that allowed us the thinnest possible wing with room inside to carry the necessary structure and the things we wanted to cram in. And it looked nice.

Mitchell has sometimes been accused of copying the wing shape of the Heinkel He 70, which first flew in 1932; but as Shenstone explained "Our wing was much thinner and had quite a different section to that of the Heinkel. In any case it would have been simply asking for trouble to have copied a wing shape from an aircraft desig
Heinkel he 70 d-ubof flying

A clear similarity in the wing shape.

ned for an entirely different purpose."


(Spitfire mk.Vb)

General characteristics



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