|by Paul Holden, PRO|
21 March 2003
AIRCREW ASSOCIATION MOURNS LOSS OF TREASURER
This monthís presentation was no exception, being the result of masterly research carried out by Roy Pullan, a retired Boeing 747 airline pilot, who has always had a soft spot for Spitfires. But his determination to find out more about how they were developed was sparked off when he entertained Chief Spitfire Test Pilot Geoffrey Quill on a visit to his 747 flight deck.
The finally successful S6B seaplane which won the trophy outright at 340 mph was only built due to the sponsorship of Lady Houston, who offered the astonishingly large sum (even at that time) of £100,000 for its development. This aircraft went on to take the World Speed Record at 379 mph, and later, with an improved engine, reached an amazing 407.5 mph.
Based on this experience, Mitchell designed a prototype gull winged monoplane fighter equipped with a Rolls Royce Goshawk engine, and known as the Type 224. This was entered into an Air Ministry competition, but lost out to the Gloster Gladiator Biplane. Undeterred Mitchell went on to develop the Type 300, which in Autumn 1934 gained him a contract for £10,000 to develop a prototype fighter to the Air Ministry Specification F37/34. The next year a new specification called for 8 guns to be fitted into the wings, and an engineer at the RAE developed a ducted radiator with minimum drag, which was used to replace the condensing radiator previously fitted into the leading edge of the wing, and which had been a cause of continuing trouble. K5054, the prototype for the Spitfire, as it subsequently came to be called, first flew in March 1936. Test Pilot Matt Summers made the famous comment after this first flight, that "he didnít want anything changed". This aircraft, fitted with an improved propeller, reached a maximum level Indicated Air Speed of 348 mph, and following trials at Martlesham Heath, where it was adjudged capable of being handled without risk by ordinary squadron pilots, a production order was placed on 3rd June 1936. Despite the wing having to be redesigned to meet stricter stiffness specifications, the first production aircraft flew in 1938, and 308 had been built and tested by September 1939.
Sadly, Reginald Mitchell died of stomach cancer on 11th June 1937, at the age of 42, but his creation went on to be developed by former Chief Draughtsman Joseph Smith, with successively more powerful Merlin, and later Griffon engines. Roy Pullan took his fascinated audience through these stages of development up to the Mark 24, which went out to Hong Kong in 1948. Over 20,000 Spitfires of different Marks were built, before production ceased in 1948. Geoffrey Quill, who flight tested most of these Marks, said, after his last flight in a Spitfire in 1956, "I stayed in the cockpit and savoured the noises as the engine cooled. It was impossible not to recognise the sadness of bidding farewell to an old and trusted friend."