View Full Version : Spitfire - reputation and reality

11th Sep 2003, 06:58
I'm doing some work towards an article on the "cult" of the Spitfire, trying to trace how and why a front-line fighter aircraft has over the years achieved such an extraordinary status and public appeal.

If anybody has any opinions or theories on the following topics, I would be interested in hearing them!

1. Why do you think the Spitfire has taken such deep root in the public conciousness, to the exclusion of almost every other contemporary aircraft?

2. Does the Spitfire deserve the public reputation it has acquired?

3. Has the reputation of any contemporary machine being reduced because of the public's all-encompassing hero-worship of the Spitfire?

Thank you for reading this, and for any comments you may care to make. I must point out that I'm as besotted with Mitchell's masterpiece as everybody else; this is just an academic exercise!

Shaggy Sheep Driver
11th Sep 2003, 18:22
1. Why do you think the Spitfire has taken such deep root in the public conciousness, to the exclusion of almost every other contemporary aircraft?

firstly, because it is the most beutiful aeroplane ever built. Secondly, because it is associated with winning the Battle of Britain, a time when only the fighters of the RAF stood between freedom and invasion by Hitler. Actually, it's the Hurricane that really deserves the BoB plaudits - but the Spit is sexier and has a sexier name and such things often prevail above truth.

2. Does the Spitfire deserve the public reputation it has acquired?

For the reasons stated above, no. But for being such a beutiful and (I'm told) superb flying machine - yes!

3. Has the reputation of any contemporary machine being reduced because of the public's all-encompassing hero-worship of the Spitfire?

See my answer to (1) re the Hurricane. Other than that, no.


You want it when?
11th Sep 2003, 18:58
Agree with SSD.

1. It became a symbol to the populace in what were very dark times. Dashing/Glory etc. and it is a very pretty aircraft - it simply looks right.

2. Yes. Nuff said.

3. Only the Hurricane, but it also overshadowed the whole air fleet of the time. Rightly so - without it our history and the rest of Europes would have been different. I think it also pushed bi-planes out of the picture totally which is a shame as the Gladiator was a good bit of kit if Norway and Malta are anything to go by. You could argue that the Lancaster was late into production as all the Merlins were going into Spitfire production and / maybe the Manchester with twin Merlins would have made a good medium bomber. But that is more 1941 I belive.

11th Sep 2003, 19:06
Thank you SSD!

This business about the Spit winning the Battle of Britain is a major whinge of mine! The facts are fairly clear and well-reported, but public opinion still excludes the Hurricanes, Defiants, fighter-variant Blenheims, Gladiators and the ground defences; the crucial roles of the Observer Corps, RDF (radar) and above all the decision by Hitler to change target from the airfields to London.

Many downed Luftwaffe pilots in 1940 claimed to have been shot down by Spitfires even if there were none involved in the combat - "Spitfire Snobbery" operates in many ways!

Anybody else want to have their say?

11th Sep 2003, 19:32
I agree with pretty much all that has been said here - but if I could fly any ONE aircraft before I go it would still be the Spitfire!:ok:

11th Sep 2003, 20:24
The whole BoB story is quite a mix of fact, hearsay, legend and misunderstanding. After all, the Hurricane had a pretty sexy name too, but of course everyone wanted to say they had flown, worked on, seen, or been shot down by a Spitfire.

I was privileged enough to meet 'Ginger' Lacey once, he recounted that if every man who said he had flown in the Battle had actually done so, there wouldn't have been room to manoevre in the skies!

My own personal opinion is that the UK government wanted something they could use to a) inspire the British public, and b) strike fear into the enemy.

So, whenever possible, newscasts would say how many Spitfires had risen to beat off the Hun, and shot down hordes of them with minimal loss to ourselves.

The Spit was an advanced aircraft for its' time, comparing it to the Hawker products of the thirties, and so the mantle of 'wonder plane' fitted it quite well.

I've just finished Alfred Price's 'The Spitfire Story' which is an absolute gem of a book - it goes deeply into the development of the aircraft itself, in contrast to the many other books on the subject which concentrate more on those who flew them.

11th Sep 2003, 21:10
Government spin of the day then - Weapons of mass interception?

From an engineering standpoint, to have the development capability on the basic design to transition from nominally 1000hp and a fixed pitch two blade prop to 2200hp and a six blade contra-prop whilst substatially increasing the fire power and the top speed by about 100mph is nothing short of phenomenal.

Mark22 (biased) :O

PPRuNe Pop
11th Sep 2003, 21:17
NT, the better book about the development of the Spitfire has to be Jeffrey Quill's "Spitfire - a Test Pilot's Story" a truly great read. Almost every detail of it's development must be there I would think.

I am reading again for about the 6th time.

12th Sep 2003, 02:50
No 1 It saved our countrys Arse.

No2 Its the most graceful man made object ever to fly

No 3 It sounds magnificent when at full chat

No4 it only cost about 3.5k to build

No5 Talk to any German flyer, who was ever shot down and it was always a Spitfire that got him

No6 SPITFIRE what a name!!:ok:

Iron City
12th Sep 2003, 03:39
Out of curiosity Mark22 how much of the original design Spifire (by piece part number) was there left to go with the 6 blade prop, bubble canopy, Griffon engine, etc, etc in the last mark Spitfire?

12th Sep 2003, 05:38
Not very much.

That said it was that ability to be able take continuous change and upgrade 'on the run' that I personally find so remarkable.


Genghis the Engineer
12th Sep 2003, 06:32
I'm doing some work towards an article on the "cult" of the Spitfire, trying to trace how and why a front-line fighter aircraft has over the years achieved such an extraordinary status and public appeal.

1. Why do you think the Spitfire has taken such deep root in the public conciousness, to the exclusion of almost every other contemporary aircraft?

It is beautiful, has a very distinctive shape and sound virtually unmistakeable for anything else, seen for a very important 5 years constantly over the whole UK. And, it can reasonably be considered to have won the BofB - the Hurricane got more kills, but it was largely the Spitfire that destroyed the German fighters. And it is both utterly 100% British, and superbly good at it's job - an attribute that we see far too rarely these days in anything, let alone aeroplanes.

2. Does the Spitfire deserve the public reputation it has acquired?
Yes, but. Britain has produced some superb aircraft over the century, and more than one in WW2 that were truly groundbreaking - the Mosquito, Sunderland and Lancaster to name but three. So, whilst it's deserved it's reputation, I don't think that some superb other aircraft (and pretty much everything else Supermarine ever built) deserve to be eclipsed by it in the way that they have.

3. Has the reputation of any contemporary machine being reduced because of the public's all-encompassing hero-worship of the Spitfire?

Yes, as I've said above - and I think it's a shame. Mitchell was a genuis and designed dozens of aircraft types, many of them every bit as good at their job as the Spitfire (the Walrus for example) and I don't think that's fair.

Probably the two pilots I've had the greatest respect for amongs my personal acquaintance were both people who. amongst many many other types, have both told me that the clipped-wing Spitfire was the best aeroplane to go to WW2 in. Given both had flown well over 100 types, including many contemporary fighters (and one has quite a few hours on a Bf109), I think that they probably knew what they were talking about.


Proud son of a Supermarine design engineer - who never worked on the Spitfire !

13th Sep 2003, 05:23

You would like to fly a Spitifire before you expire?

Me, I would like to fly a real aircraft, an aeroplane that could fly rings around a Spitfire, an aeroplane that could outperform a Mustang, quite easily if only it had had the Mustang's primitive early G-suit.

What am I talking about? That wonderful, superlative aeroplane, the Focke Wolfe 190.

Cornish Jack
13th Sep 2003, 05:59
Dragon Rapide
If you can find a copy, Aeroplane Monthly for August '95 carried an article by a Canadian - Rod Smith - (WWII Spit pilot). It was written to take issue with Roly Beamont's feature on the Hurricane in the same publication's Feb '94 issue. I don't have the R B article but have the Aug '95 issue and, if all else fails, could probably scan and e-mail it.
Many more 'Hurris' than Spits around during B of B of course but he makes the very valid point that the thick leading edge of the Hurricane wing meant that it was slower and never going to be developed any further, where the elegant aerofoil of the Spitfire had lots of spare potential.

13th Sep 2003, 06:03
The FW190 MAY have outperformed SOME marks of Spitfire, but I think the Spit developed well beyond it. Even without that, the FW NEVER had the Spitfires looks:p

13th Sep 2003, 15:54
Until the last line, I thought that Gerund meant the Lightning!

Seriously however, since the Meteor was also British and WW2, I wonder if anybody knows how a Spit.v.Meteor fight would go - that would be an interesting comparison.


Onan the Clumsy
14th Sep 2003, 09:57
No6 SPITFIRE what a name!!
I heard it was originally going to be called the "Shrew".

Can anyone confirm this, and if so, would it have made a difference?

14th Sep 2003, 15:10
The name should begin with an 'S' and be an animal. That was the rule in the thirties - I believe the 'S' was allocated to Vickers, who had taken over Supermarine, and the animal was allocated to fighter types - I may be wrong on this, somebody correct me, please.

The Shrew was mooted, but it was changed to SPitfire soon after.

Would it have mattered - probably not. What's in a name anyway - a rose by any other name would be as sweet!


14th Sep 2003, 15:29
Curious to know how long the Spitfire lasted in production? It is a superb looking machine - very graceful - but lacks the menace and the muscular bulk of the P-47 Thunderbolt and the Chance Vought F-4U Corsair (the Japanese called it Whistling Death) I believe the Corsair stayed in production until 1952 and even shot down a MIG-15 or two...

14th Sep 2003, 17:35
Look out for upcoming film where US Pilot [Brad Pitt] flying the Spit. wins the Battle of Britain to save the UK...
Whatever next - capture the enigma machine?

14th Sep 2003, 17:48
The wartime Government undoubtedly put a propaganda spin on the Spitfire, an aeroplane for supermen, and all the rest of it. That is why ATA women pilots were not allowed to fly the fighters for quite some time, as the sight of a 'girl' pilot would have spoiled the macho image that was being projected. After a while the restriction was dropped and the ATA lasses flew Spits along with everything else.

Apparently they were given half an hour with the Pilots Notes on some new American types, and sent off into the wide blue yonder. Lettice Curtis, whose book is excellent, even flew some Douglas aircraft that had been diverted from a French order, and which had the throttles working back-to-front. That must have been interesting.

14th Sep 2003, 19:10

The final model was the Mk47, the last being delivered in March 1949. They saw service in Korea with No 800 Squadron, flying 245 offensive patrols and 115 ground attack sorties from HMS Triumph.

Ralph Cramden
16th Sep 2003, 06:57
Wasn't it Gen. Galand who asked Hitler for a squadron of Spitfires?:ok:

Say again s l o w l y
16th Sep 2003, 07:42
The name Spitfire is so evocative, it's funny that Mitchell himself hated it. :oh:

DSR10, I believe that it is to be Tom Cruise in the up coming film. It may be called "The Few" and has quite rightly got veterans groups up and roaring. Supposedly the Yanks reckoned that having a Brit character in the lead would be box office suicide. It made my blood boil, first that god awful film about cracking Enigma now this....
And they wonder why the rest of the world despises them!:mad: :mad:

16th Sep 2003, 08:16
Make your own movies, problem solved.

16th Sep 2003, 21:03
Ralph Cramden :

Yes it was Adolph Galland (at that time only wing commander) but he was talking to Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering.
See : http://www.butler98.freeserve.co.uk/interview.htm
Quite interesting piece of interview, I must say.

Genghis the Engineer
16th Sep 2003, 21:10
I believe that Mitchell disliked the name primarily because it was also the name of an earlier Supermarine prototype which was rather unseuccessful and had caused him some embarrassement.


16th Sep 2003, 21:53
ORAC, I guess you meant "active" service. The last three employed by the RAF were the PR.19s of the Temperature and Humidity Flight which made over 4,000 meteorological flights before being replaced by Mosquitoes in June 1957.

Over 20k Spitfires and Seafires were built. Anyone know how many flight-capable ones remain today?

16th Sep 2003, 23:12
The number "airworthy" hovers somewhere around the 50 mark - though some of these may be in store (the Warbirds of Great Britain aircraft for example - I think that they have a Mk XVIII and a IX which haven't flown since the early 90s, but pretty much airworthy and are stored at North Weald? Anyone know more?).

17th Sep 2003, 21:18
Treadigraph, I can defintely confirm that as of about 3 years ago when I saw the 'flying legends' airshow at Duxford celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain they had 23 spits and 9 hurricanes in the air. I remember the commentator saying that this represented every flying hurricane and all but a small handful of spits.

Must say, the sight of 7 Vics of Spits brought a lump to my throat.


18th Sep 2003, 00:14
I was there too - so far as I recall there were 21 airworthy Spits (20 flew the day I was there as one of the BoB pilots was sick) which was most of the UK ones plus a couple of European interlopers, plus five or six Hurricanes - two from the BoB, one from TFC, one from Shuttleworth, one from RAC and one from Hurricane Restorations. Great line up!

Might be an interesting exercise to figure out exactly how many of each are airworthy at the moment... if I get some time tomorrow...


18th Sep 2003, 02:45
I'm re-reading 'Sigh for a Merlin' by Alex Henshaw for about the 5th time. Very good book.

I'll have to get my hands on the Jeffrey Quill book as well it seems. 'Flight of the Mew Gull' is next on my reading list if I can get hold of a copy.

The sight and sound of the Spitfire in Shuttleworth's twilight flying displays is guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of everyone's neck. Such poetry. It had my Dutch father-in-law in raptures. He remembered them flying over Holland during and after the war.


18th Sep 2003, 20:53
Did a quick check this morning - total number of Spits airworthy in appears to be 50 including several that are currently not flying but have been in recent years...

For the record:

Mk I - 1
Mk II - 1
Mk V - 5
Mk VIII - 5 (incl Tr8)
Mk IX - 16 (incl Tr9)
Mk XI - 1
Mk XIV - 6
Mk XVI - 8
Mk XVIII - 3
Mk XIX - 4

(Think me mental arithmatic is correct!)

No Seafires. As yet...!

Hurricanes = 11: most recent flier is TFC's Mk IV which has flown but was grounded at Legends with gear retraction pronblems. Imagine it is flying again by now...:ok:

20th Sep 2003, 04:45
Total Spitfire production was around 22,500 aircraft, it was also the only allied fighter aircraft that was in production before the war started and still in production afterwards.

Let's face it, there are two aircraft that everyone stops and gawps at during a display, the Spit and the Harrier.

23rd Sep 2003, 05:40
Look out for upcoming film where US Pilot [Brad Pitt] flying the Spit. wins the Battle of Britain to save the UK...

I was going to say, just as long as it isn't Tom Cruise, but say again has just ruined my day...

28th Sep 2003, 19:08
Just to say grateful thanks all the PPruners who have provided their comments on this topic! They have been a fascinating read and have provided me with lots of leads. In some cases, my own thoughts have been confirmed, but there have been some very original ideas. I'll let you know how this project pans out!

Having only recently been introduced to this astonishing site, I am now obsessed! Thanks to all who have contributed; this has been my first thread and I have been made to feel very welcome :ok:

DragonRapide :O

2nd Oct 2003, 04:47
Just to throw in a few more points that have not yet been raised.

During WWII, Farnborough evaluated the high Mach number characteristics of all of the allied fighters that were available to them to determine the maximum Mach number at which each type was controllable. The Spitfire had by far the highest limiting Mach number, just over 0.9. Captain Eric Brown is my source for this data.

The Spitfire has some of the most benign stalling characteristics, both power on and off and flaps up and down, of any of the WWII fighters. It also has very low stalling speeds, giving low threshold speeds (75 - 80 mph for a Mk V) and controls that are effective almost down to taxy speed.

At mid c.g. positions the elevator control forces are very light such that looping aerobatics can be flown comfortably with one hand in comparison with the Mustang and Bf109, amongst others, which are very heavy such that 2 hands are required for prolonged high g manoeuvring. These light forces, combined with the excellent stall characteristics, make it delightful for looping manoeuvres which may be entered at lower speeds than in most other fighters of the same vintage. However, there is a down side to this in that at aft c.g. the Spitfire becomes manoeuvre unstable and at extreme aft c.g. longitudinally statically unstable. Unpleasant, but not unflyable.

In contrast, the aileron forces are high which results in poor control harmony (ideally, the ailerons should feel lighter than the elevators). The actual roll performance is similar to the BF109, Mustang etc, but much poorer than some others such as the P-40. The clipped wing improves the roll performance significantly (to try to match the FW190) and reduces the aileron forces also, which I feel makes it a more pleasant aircraft to fly even if the aesthetic appearance is reduced!

Considering the changes from the MkI to the Mark 24, was any other WWII fighter developed with the weight and power increase of the Spitfire? I cannot think of one. Surely this development potential is the mark of a great design.

Overall, there were higher performance fighters during WWII and ones which I feel have better overall flying qualities. In many areas there were "better" fighters, however you may wish to categorise "better". So saying, none has the charisma of the Spitfire. It has that certain "Je ne sais quoi", an indefinable quality. Many great aircraft have never entered the general public's consciousness as they were not in the right place at the right time - the Spitfire was. Whatever the reality of the Battle of Britain, it is the public's perception over the last 60 years that has put the Spitfire where it quite rightly belongs.

When I first learnt to fly, I always said "One day I will fly a Spitfire", not a Mustang, Corsair, Bf109 or any thing else- a Spitfire. Like the Spitfire, one day I was in the right place at the right time. My eternal thanks to R J Mitchell, Jeffrey Quill, Stanley Hooker and everyone else who contributed to this outstanding machine.

2nd Oct 2003, 06:01
Re Spitfire cost

It was a very popular fund raising idea to sponsor a Spitfire (usually done on a town/factory basis but some by individuals). For this purpose the price was set at 10,000, but a Mk 5 actually cost just over 12,000, roughly equally split between airframe and engine. Presumably with later models (ie Griffon engine and various superchargers being added) the engine took a higher proportion of a larger cost

2nd Oct 2003, 14:01
Seen here in Australia as a bit of a lifesaver. Stopped the japs at Darwin. You can see a Spitfire here, you can't see a Hurricane.

About 13 years ago I was following two bloated locals with 5 cameras and a Hawaiin shirt each at an airshow at Edward AFB California. Walking along the static display they'd stop at each warbird and one would say "What's this one Billy-Bob?" (This is for real by the way)...

"Oh, thats a P-51D-LA blah blah blah, built at blah blah in 1944, served with the blah blah blah, now owned by blah blah of Wisconsin." Then they took two pictures each with each of their 5 cameras. They did the same with a P-40 & a B-25, then they came to a Spitfire MK.22.

"What's this one Billy-Bob?" his mate asked again.

"Er, I dunno. I think it's a Hurricane..."

2nd Oct 2003, 14:06
Twelve thousand quid!!! Thirty thousand Aussie bucks!!!

I'll have three please! :ok:

For comparison purposes, anyone know what the average wage was in the UK, 1940 to 1945?

Think I read some years ago that the final 1945 cost of the Ford or Willeys jeep was US$62.00.


Shaggy Sheep Driver
3rd Oct 2003, 03:24
Considering the changes from the MkI to the Mark 24, was any other WWII fighter developed with the weight and power increase of the Spitfire? I cannot think of one. Surely this development potential is the mark of a great design.


I think I heard somewhere that the last mark of Spitfire was equivalent in weight to the prototype (K5054) plus 30 airline passengers and their luggage.


India Four Two
3rd Oct 2003, 03:49

Better save some more Aussie dollars (but still a good price) ;)

Mk V Spitfire:
349191.86 in the year 2002 has the same "purchase power" as 12000 in the year 1942
However, the Jeep seems a bargain;
$620.46 in the year 2002 has the same "purchase power" as $62 in the year 1945
See How Much is That? (http://eh.net/hmit/). It's amazing what you can find on the web. I see that 1 in 1264 AD is equivalent to 748.73!

9th Oct 2003, 21:45
Re: Spitfire numbers

20,351 built (excluding Seafires)

210 survivors, 50 flyers.

Don't get me started on that Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt flick! :mad: