Eighty years ago, on March 5th 1936, a new prototype aeroplane taxied onto the runway at Eastleigh aerodrome, near Southampton in Hampshire. It was the product of the nearby Supermarine Aviation Works and had been designed by their chief designer R. J. Mitchell.
The first flight was a success and that plane would go on to enter production as the Spitfire.
It would become an iconic symbol of Britain’s defiance against the vastly superior German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. It would go down in history.
The Spitfire was designed to be a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft. It featured an elliptical wing design, made as thin as possible. This enabled the Spitfire to have a higher top speed than several contemporary fighters, including the Hawker Hurricane.
Just 4 years after its first tentative flight, hundreds of Spitfires were in action in the Battle of Britain. Then as now, it was perceived as the Royal Air Force fighter – although in truth more Hurricanes fought in the battle.
Its speed meant it took on the best of the German planes, the Messerschmitt BF109E, and frequently came out on top.
After the Battle of Britain had been won, the Spitfire operated across the globe and became the mainstay of the RAF.
Today it is remembered and revered, not just for what it helped its pilots achieve, but also as a piece of great British design.
It was at the pinnacle of aircraft capabilities when launched and alongside that it just sort of looked right. It’s beautiful. What a fighter should look like!
Sadly, R.J. Mitchell didn’t see the success of his creation. He died in 1937. Equally sadly, hundreds died in Southampton, the city where Spitfire was born. The Woolston Supermarine works were targeted and destroyed by German bombers, killing numerous civilians in the process.