After his success with the
Schneider Trophy win, Reginald Mitchell decided to try his hand at creating
a state of the art land fighter plane.
The military had issued specification F.7/30,
which called for designs for a new fighter to replace the Bristol Bulldog, which
was currently equipping front line squadrons. The requirements were exacting.
The new fighter was to be usable day and night and capable of carrying full
oxygen, wireless equipment, four machine guns and 2000 rounds of
ammunition. Performance minimums were: a level speed of at least 195 mph, a
service ceiling of not less than 28,000 feet, and a rate of climb enabling the
aircraft to reach 15,000 feet in not more than eight and a half minutes. Whether
it was to be a monoplane or biplane was not specified.
Mitchell's design ( his first landplane) was
the TYPE 224. It was a low-wing monoplane with fixed, "trousered"
landing gear and a cranked wing. It met most of the specs, but Mitchell was
unhappy with it. Competing designs from other companies were clearly superior.
Mitchell then introduced the Type 300, for
which the Air Ministry granted Supermarine ten thousand pounds to construct a
prototype. The company again turned to Rolls Royce to fit their airframe with a
new engine, the PV-12, later to be named the MERLIN. This was the turning point.
The higher performance allowed eight machine guns...calculations had shown this
to be desirable for a lethal strike at the speeds being attained at the time. By
1935 the new fighter was taking shape. Its stressed skin construction was far
lighter and stronger than the sticks and fabric of traditional designs. The
original straight wing had been replaced by the famous elliptical one. Its great
span gave it a very low induced drag and its thin section freed it from the
profile drag that limited the speed of the HURRICANE. It was this aerodynamic
efficiency, in part, which contributed to the long life of the design.
Compressibility, which plagued many other aircraft at high speeds was never to
be a problem. During its service life the Spitfire's weight would increase by
111%, its horsepower would increase by 128%, and its top speed by 25%.
By this time the Ministry's name for it, the
"Spitfire" was in use. Mitchell, upon hearing it, is alleged to have
said, "Just the sort of bloody silly name they WOULD choose!
On March 6, 1936 history was made when the
blue prototype, K5054 made its maiden flight. It still had the enormous carved
wooden fixed prop and stub exhausts. The canopy was as yet un-bulged.
Nevertheless, it was a great success. Test pilots "Mutt" Summers and
Jeffrey Quill soon demonstrated its capabilities to the extent that, in June,
1936,, a government order for 310 aircraft was placed....the largest ever given
to a manufacturer at that time.
Barely soon enough, it turned out, to do battle
with its opposite number being developed by Messerschmitt
on the other side of
Sadly, Reginald Mitchell never saw his
brainchild go into production. He had been suffering from cancer for several
years and died in June of 1937 at age 42.
NEXT: SPITFIRE INTO WAR