Nunc Scio
Monday, March 06, 2006
  Happy Birthday Spitfire

The Supermarine Spitfire, the plane that won the Battle of Britain and inspired the British people, has turned 70.

Sure, a lot of people will tell you that the P-51 Mustang was the superlative allied fighter of WWII. But for sheer mechanical poetry, the Spitfire has it beat. From its elliptical wing to its Rolls Royce Merlin engine, it doesn't get any better than this. And yes, I am a giant nerd.
Yep I agree with you for Allied fighter planes it was all over the P-51 which really didn't get up to speed until near the end of the war being used in China against the Japanese.

The Messerschmidt however was what the Spitfire was modeled on and remains the very prototype of WWII fighting prop aircraft.
Ah yes, the old BF109 vs. Spitfire debate. I mean, in one sense the Spitty is the clear victor, as it outlasted the Messerschmidt through the war. But as far as the Battle of Britain is concerned...the debate still rages whether the Spitfire could turn within the BF109's turning radius, or vice versa. The BF109 had better high altitude performance, and could perform zero-g manoeuvres without stalling out. But the Spitfire was faster, unstoppable at mid-low altitude and its armament favoured a rookie pilot, while the BF109 was a marksman's machine.
I think, in the end, the pilots made the difference. Not that the allies were necessarily better, but the Luftwaffe pilots, particularly new ones, tended to consistently underfly their aircraft. The BF109 looked flimsy, and deployed wing slats at low speeds to prevent stalls. While the slats should have improved performance, many pilots took them as a signal to back off. The beautiful eliptical wings on the Spitfire 'warped' a pre-stall speeds, giving feedback to the pilot through the stick...making them much more comfortable in tricky manoeuvres. Generally speaking, the British pilots had supreme faith in their machines.
And I'm not sure the Spitfire was modelled on the BF109 per se...the original Spit had its genesis in the seaplane speed racers of the 1930's, while the BF109 was a purpose-built killer.
And again, I'ma giant nerd.
Whoever wins the best fighter debate, the Spit was the most beautiful fighter ever built.
You can't be much of an aircraft nerd if you put the Spitfire above the P-51.

The Spit was a great fighter, but the P-51 had the legs to escort bombing missions into the continet when the Spit couldn't.
Well, I'll definitely agree with Wonderdog. A gourgeous piece of machinery.

Robert, your point is well taken. However, a few points:

1) The Spitfire was never intended to be an escort. It is an interceptor/air superiority fighter. The Brits only flew night bombing missions, unlike the Americans, and did not require a high altitude escort. If they did, its likely a few long-range versions of the Spitty would have emerged.

I could also point to the heroic defense of Malta, in which Spitfires played a central role operating from aricraft carriers with giant 'slipper' droptanks which put its range up there with the P-51. A jury-rigged solution, but shows you whats possible.

2) The Spitfire served in a more roles throughout the war than the P-51. Fighter-bomber, recon, the whole bit. Also, more were built.

3) I agree with Eugene a few comments wasn't until later in the war that the Mustang became unstoppable. And by that time, there were some Spit variants (Mk. IX, especially) clocking similar performance stats.

4) Having said all that, the Mustang deserved its title "Cadillac of the Skies". At high altitude, there was no other fighter- allied or otherwise- that could touch it. There's just something about the legend and the look of the Spitfire that elevates it.
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Jack of all trades, master of none, Graeme is many things to many people. Unfortunately, none of them find him very life-affirming in any capacity. He is a freelance writer, broadcaster, amateur cryptozoologist and occasional political commentator late of London, England and now based in Toronto. Most of the time, he's confused. And a little hungry. But mostly just confused and somewhat uncomfortable writing in the third person.

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