ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

21 March 2003


Freddie Lewis will be sadly missed
Freddie Lewis
At their last regular monthly meeting, members of the Woking Branch of the Aircrew Association paid their last respects to their late Treasurer, Freddie Lewis, who died suddenly and unexpectedly following a heart attack, from which he was thought to be making an uneventful recovery. During the war Freddie, who was 84, flew every mark of Spitfire from Mark I upwards in Fighter Command operational squadrons. On D-day he was patrolling the invasion beaches, and saw the whole armada from 30,000 feet - a truly unique and amazing sight. He personally shot down two V1 "Doodlebugs", and was once himself exposed to "Friendly Fire", but survived the war to lead a very full life, serving the Woking Branch with quiet efficiency and a dry sense of humour. Some 27 members of the Branch attended his funeral, which his two daughters later wrote provided them great comfort; and at the recent RAF Band Concert in Guildford, the song "Fields of Gold" was dedicated to Freddie, sung by Bernadette Pritchett to a moving ovation from the audience.

John Morrant (R) presenting the projector cheque
to Branch Chairman Eric Smith
projector cheque
Prior to the main presentation of the evening by Roy Pullan, one of their own members, on the Development of the Spitfire, a cheque for £208 was presented to the Branch, for the purchase of a remote controlled Slide Projector, by Private Pilot John Morrant, in memory of his uncle, who was a rear gunner on Lancasters during the war. John learned to fly at Fairoaks to overcome a dread of flying - and has appreciated being able to attend some of the high quality presentations on aviation topics which have been such a feature of the monthly meetings.

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.

Roy Pullan talked about the Spitfire
Roy Pullan
The story began with a boat designer called Noel Pemberton-Billing, who decided to build a boat that could fly. The telegraphic address of the Pemberton-Billing factory on the Solent was "Supermarine", which subsequently became the name of his company. To help with this work, he recruited a draughtsman called Reginald J Mitchell who was at the time apprenticed to a firm in the midlands building steam engines, and subsequently made him his Chief Designer at the age of 24, and responsible for a series of racing seaplanes, designed to compete in the Schneider Trophy race.

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."

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