The ancestry of the Spitfire can be traced back to the failed Supermarine Type 224, designed to meet the Air Ministry specification F.7/30 by Reginald J. Mitchell, creator of the magnificent Supermarine seaplanes which won three successive Schneider Trophy contests. The Type 224 was a gull-winged monoplane with a fixed "trousered" undercarriage, powered by a 600-h.p. Rolls-Royce engine, and Mitchell was dissatisfied with it even before it flew. He began to design a new aircraft as a private venture; the conception was revised twice, to incorporate the new P.V.12 (Merlin) engine and an eight-gun battery and the final design was accepted by the Air Ministry in January 1935, the new specification F.37/34 being "written around it" for contract purposes. The prototype first flew on 5th March 1936.
The first order for 310 machines was placed three months later, followed by a further 200 the following year shortly before the tragic death of its designer at the age of 42. In April 1938 the Nuffield Organisation was awarded an order for 1,000 Spitfires to be built at a shadow plant planned for Castle Bromwich near Birmingham, and further orders in 1939 brought the number of aircraft on the order book to a total of 2,143 by the outbreak of war.
Between August and December 1938 No. 19 Squadron at Duxford was equipped with the Spitfire Mk.1. By the outbreak of war nine squadrons were fully equipped and two others were in the process of conversion. A total of 1,583 Spitfire Is were built. Deliveries of the Mk. II (basically a Mk. I powered by a 1,175-h.p. Merlin XII) began in June 1940, but widespread re-equipment with the new version did not commence until the following winter, and it was the Mk. 1 which bore the brunt of the fighting during the Battle of Britain; by July 7th nineteen Fighter Command Squadrons were operational with the type.
The Spitfire has always attracted more attention than the Hurricane, and is undoubtedly one of the most famous aircraft ever built. Its graceful lines combined with outstanding handling qualities to produce a "dream plane" extremely fast, and in comparison to contemporary types was second to none.
Powerplant: One 1,030 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin III twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled engine
Span: 36ft 11 in (11.25m)
Length: 29ft. 11 in (9.12m)
Max Speed:362 mph (584km/h) at 19,000 ft (5,790m)
Armament: Eight .303 in Browning machine guns mounted in wings
Accommodation: Pilot only
Recognition: Sleek, graceful fuselage, noticeably slimmer than the Hurricane. Domed canopy with a smaller, more angular fin. From below, the wings have a more 'pointed' shape housing the main undercarriage which has a narrow track.
Supermarine Spitfire 3-angle view.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1 cockpit views.