On this day in March 1936 one of the most iconic World War 2 era fighter aircraft took to the skies in Southampton. The aircraft, prototype Supermarine Spitfire K5054, was the first of over 22000 aircraft that would be a firm favourite of pilots, aircraft buffs, small boys with notebooks, old men who fought in wars and even German pilots who tried to outfly this thoroughbred aircraft.
There is so much to say about the Spitfire that it could take ages and reams of paper to catalogue, and even then some stuff would be left out. Southampton is really the home town of the Spitfire; and the manufacturers Supermarine, would be plunged into fame as they built the aircraft that helped to win the Battle of Britain. There are a few places in Southampton that celebrate the birth of the legendary aircraft and I catalogued some of then in a post that I created way back in 2013 and since then I can safely say I have added a few Spit sightings to my collection, although have yet to see one in flight! The most obvious reference to the Spitfire in Southampton is the sculpture of the original K5054 that may be found on a roundabout at Southampton Airport. Formerly Eastleigh Aerodrome, it was the site of the first flight of the aircraft in March 1936.
At the nearby Solent Sky Museum in Southampton there was only one example of the real aircraft, a MK24 (PK683), was one of twenty seven converted from MK22’s. It would have been powered by a Rolls Royce Griffon engine.
Interestingly enough, the museum also houses Supermarine S6A.
My next close encounter of the Spitfire kind happened at the RAF Museum in Cosford where they have the MKI (K9942) on display, and it is the oldest surviving example of its type in the world.
The Spitfire in the image below is quite an interesting one too, as it was the end result of a TV Program called James May’s Toy Stories. In this particular episode James May and his helpers successfully constructed a 1-1 replica of an Airfix model of a Spitfire. The pieces were built out of fibreglass but unfortunately the fibreglass pieces couldn’t support their own weight without internal supports, which were added to ensure it would be strong enough so that it did not collapse. I saw the show 2 years ago and it was fascinating viewing. I just wish I had taken a better look at the plane at the time.
My next Spitfire was found in London at the Imperial War Museum. This particular lady is a MK 1a that was built at Southampton in 1939 and was issued to No. 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford in April 1940. You can read her story at the IWM page dedicated to her.
My next Spitfire is not really a Spitfire. It is a reproduction that goes around to war related events and it appears as if she is based on the aircraft that Johnnie Johnson flew (MKIX EN398). More information on the “Spitfire Experience” may be found on their website.
And yes, the engine did run while I was there and it was awesome. Unfortunately it did not run at full power, but it was really something to experience.
There is also a Spitfire at the London Science Museum and she is a MK1a and is serial P9444, a Battle of Britain veteran. Unfortunately lighting in that gallery is poor so decent pics of the aircraft are really difficult to get. The Spitfire is also in close proximity to the Supermarine S.6B, serial S1595, that won the Schneider cup in 1931. The S.6B was designed by Reginald Mitchell, the Spitfire’s father.
One more Spitfire that I wish to mention is not in the United Kingdom but back home in South Africa at the “War Museum” in Johannesburg. I remember seeing this silver machine when I visited the museum way back when I was in primary school and drooling over her back then. The Museum’s Supermarine Spitfire Mark FVIII was a high altitude version with extended wingtips and was fitted with a tropical air filter on the carburettor for operation in hot and dusty climates. This aircraft was built in 1942 and came to South Africa at the direct request of Field Marshall Smuts for a special exhibition in 1944. Unfortunately she is very difficult to photograph because you cannot get far away enough from her and of course the stupid regulations about taking photographs in the museum.
And that more or less concludes my Spitfire collection for now, I do want to close off with an image that I found amongst some junk from a friend of mine that he must have taken when he was doing his National Service. I stand corrected but I think this aircraft was “Evelyn”, sadly she left South Africa in the 80’s, and was exported to the USA, purchased by Rolls Royce and donated to a museum in Brazil. She was Spitfire HF. IXe MA793, and was restored in South Africa. Unfortunately the museum where she is has closed but it appears as if she is well looked after and will be part of a new museum to be built.
And that concludes my small tribute to the Spitfire. Had we known back then how rare these aircraft would one day become it is possible that more would have been saved, but alas there are only so many Spits left in the world, and not too many of these are in a flying condition. And while the aircraft is still famous today we must spare a thought for those who fought in the air in them, and the men and women that built them and kept them flying, as well as those who continued to improve the basic aircraft. RJ Mitchell would have been very surprised had he known much his iconic design would become famous throughout the world. Without his design the world may just be a different place altogether.
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