Spitfire first flight anniversary

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
I am surprised at you Spitfire fan's forgetting to post something on the 70th anniversary of its first flight. Shame on you! Leave it to a yank to let us know about the details!



Five Spitfires have taken part in a re-enactment of the first test flight - 70 years after the planes first took to the skies.

Thousands turned up to watch as the Southampton-built fighter planes took off from the airport and flew in formation over the city.

Aboard one of them was Alex Henshaw, 93, the chief test pilot during WWII.

Mr Henshaw, from Newmarket, Suffolk, said he had flown his first "Spit" from Eastleigh on his birthday in 1939.

Before taking off he said: "For me this is really full circle as I first flew the Spitfire from Eastleigh on my birthday in November 1939 and this is the last time I will go up in one so it's very nostalgic.

"I am feeling my age and it's not good having ideas in the mind that the body cannot carry out."

Alex Henshaw, 93, flew his first "Spit" on his birthday in 1936

Even though four pilots in his team were killed and Mr Henshaw himself escaped injury by bailing out twice, he is full of praise for the Spitfire.

"The Spitfire is the most outstanding low wing monoplane ever built," he said.

"The Hurricane was a fantastic aircraft and contributed as much as the Spitfire but although the Spitfire didn't win the war, it would have been lost without it."

Some of the veterans who built the first Spitfire at the Supermarine factory in Woolston, in 1936, and some of those who flew them were also watching the flypast from Mayflower Park.

Among them was Dr Gordon Mitchell, the son of Reginald Mitchell, who designed the aircraft.

Mr Mitchell died from cancer in 1937, at the age of 42 and only a year after seeing the prototype of his design make its maiden flight.

More than 20,000 Spitfires - which played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain - were built at the Woolston site.

The factory was also the reason much of Southampton was destroyed by German bombing during the war.

The planes took off at 1630 GMT, flew in salute over the factory site, up Southampton Water and back over Eastleigh to the airport at an altitude of 700ft (213m).

The flight re-created the plane's first ever flight which took off from Eastleigh airfield - now Southampton International Airport - on 5 March, 1936, at 1630 GMT.

The flypast was supported by Southampton City Council and Southampton Airport, and was arranged by the Solent Sky museum.
Hey yeah, I've just seen it on our news today! - Really great to see Alex Henshaw still active well, I really enjoyed reading his book years ago...Probably test-flew more Spitfires Lancasters than anyone during those years....Awesome to see hear those Spitfires, especially the two-seater, looked like Caroline Grace's one.....So sad that RJ never got to see the great work the Spitfires went on to do....- I totally recommend Alex Henshaw's book, ''Sigh for a Merlin'', for any Spitfire fans to read...what a buzz for him to strap one on again at 93 !!!!!
Anyone know who actually came up with the name Spitfire? It couldn't have a better name. Think about it... so awesome.
It was mentioned in the news article that it was going to be called the ''shrew' or something, but ''Spitfire'' was apparently attributed to the Manager's daughter...I read somewhere that RJ didn't like it, commenting that it was typical of the sort of silly name the High Command would come up with.......!!
just be naming the plane a "shrew" would have meant the loss of the war. Can you take any airplane seriously if it was named after an old woman or a tiny rodent?
Sir Robert McLean, Chairman of Vickers-Supermarine, suggested it should begin with 'S' and sound venomous....
- 'Shrew Shrike' had been suggested for the original Air Ministry specification F7/30 issued back in autumn of 1930, and according to some sources so had 'Spitfire'. McLean particuarly liked that, although apparently neither RJ or the Air Ministry did. McLean must have forwarded it, as it was reserved in a letter from Supermarine to the Air Ministry on 10 March 1936....On 3rd June, the Air Ministry signed a contract for the first 310 'Type 300' aircraft and seven days later Supermarine received a second letter stating 'Spitfire' had been approved....RJ's exact words were ''It's the sort of bloody silly name they would give it !''.....Ironically, there had been much debate about the armament of both the Spit Hurri around that time, and tests revealed that 8 X .303's harmonised at 250 yds., could place a cone of fire into an area of about 2 ft. in diameter at the rate of 8000 rpm, a one second burst hitting the target with a punishing 4.5 kg [10lb] of metal....so it was indeed a ''Spitfire''.......

Late 1941, early 1942, tests were first conducted with the Hurricane firing 8X RP's, and combined with it's ability to be armed with 2X 40mm cannon, she certainly lived up to her name too..........
Was I the only one who actually went to see this flypast? I posted a video of it in the video section.
The Supermarine Type 300 Spitfire was not the first aircraft to carry that name, the Supermarine Type 224 spitfire, as luck would have it, was also called the spitfire :rolleyes: the word spitfire actually refers to something, particularly a woman, prone to outbursts of spiteful temper, and they wanted the name to begin with an S because it was tradition in Britain for the name of the plane to have the same first letter as the company's name.........
actually if you look at most pre WWII british aircraft that is normally the case, the name starting with the same letter as the maker's name..........

besides, if they'd done that with the lancaster, owing to a lack of place names begining with A they'd have to call her the Avro Amazing ;)
Flying the Spitfire Mk.XIV

A pilot's view on flying the Spitfire:

The symbol of Britain's refusal to give up during that dark summer of 1940, the Spitfire won the hearts of both pilots and public in World War II. Regardless of the version, with either Rolls-Royce Merlin or Griffon power, all Spitfire cockpits are virtually identical and wonderfully compact. Climbing in really is (to use a very worn turn of phrase) like pulling the machine on. If everything is done correctly, the Spitfire is one of the easiest aircraft to start. The engine usually fires within two blades and runs like a clock. While the Merlin-engine versions run very smoothly, the larger Griffon-engine machines feel as if they are angry. The sound from the exhaust stacks and the vibration transferred to the seat of the pants communicates visceral power, almost a desire to go kill something. Any hot-rod lover would enjoy this sensation of unbridled horsepower, this impatience to be turned loose and hunt. Every fighter I've been in is great fun to fly but only a very few are brutally straight about why they exist. The Griffon Spitfire is one such machine.

With enough warmth in the coolant and oil, a flip of the parking brake catch releases the brake lever on the spade control grip and the aircraft is taxiing with minimal power. The first time I had the opportunity to fly a British aircraft with this hand operated air brake system I was sceptical about it being very effective compared to hydraulic toe brakes. Within a very few minutes I was completely won over. It is far easier to manage, particularly on run up when one has to really stand on most American fighter rudder pedals. The source of high-pressure air is controlled by the brake lever on the spade control grip, or stick. The rudder pedals modulate the distribution of pressure to the left and right main wheel brakes. If the pedals are even, equal braking is applied to both sides; as one rudder pedal is applied then more brake pressure is fed to that side. Strength of application is delivered by the hand lever on the grip. The major benefit to all this is having one's feet and legs almost completely relaxed most of the time.

Lining up for take-off is intimidating with that Rolls-Royce engine sticking way out in front. There is no sense in thinking too much about it. Throttle up slowly to prevent a lurch to the right (if in a Griffon Spit where the propeller turns the opposite direction from American aircraft)...left foot moves forward almost in concert with the left hand to keep the nose straight. Monster torque shoves the right wing down rapidly, very much like the P-40, until full left aileron and full (give or take a minuscule amount) left rudder is held. The Rolls is a wounded dragon bellowing horrendously.

There is so much raw power and noise, and you are so tightly focused on keeping everything under control, the actual lift-off at around 90 kts goes by almost unnoticed. Switch hands, move the gear lever down to disengage it from the slot, inwards through the gate and then smartly all the way forward, hold momentarily, then let go. If all is well, the lever snaps outwards through the upper gate, then springs back into the upper slot. Its easy to spot a new Spitfire pilot...the aircraft porpoises as the pilot changes hands and works the gear lever.

Sitting behind this demon V-12 churning out so much power is intoxicating...the earth falls away at a rapid rate, at least for something with a propeller. A look around reveals the excellent visibility out of the bubble canopy. This lessens, to a degree, the impression of being buried within a Spitfire, though that feeling of being a part of the machine does not change. The elevator is very light while the rudder is stiff and the ailerons even more so. Every Spitfire I've flown takes a bit more muscle to roll than most fighters. As speed increases both rudder and ailerons get heavier, resulting in a curious mismatch at high speed…..one has to handle the almost oversensitive elevators with a light fingertip touch while arm-wrestling the stiff ailerons. Pilots had to keep this in mind during combat, particularly when going against the Fw 190 which had a sterling rate of roll and exceptionally well harmonised controls. That being said, the aircraft is very well balanced and delightful to manoeuvre. Whipping a Spit around the clouds ranks right up there at the top of aviation's great experiences.

The aircraft stalls like a Piper Cub. Though a wing tends to drop, there isn't the slightest mean streak in it unless you cob the power, which produces a very violent torque roll. Power off, gear and flaps down, main fuel tanks full, it stalls at 65 kts, which is ridiculously slow. Add a slight bit of power and that drops to 60 kts. With that enormous snout, I try to make a curving approach to landing at about 100 kts in order to keep the runway in sight as long as possible. By the time I'm rolling out across the field boundary, if at max landing weight, I should be no faster than 85 kts with power and 95 kts in a glide. At lighter weights these speeds can be reduced by 5 kts.

All Spitfires are exceptionally easy to land with no inherent tendency to swerve or groundloop. Just reduce power to idle, flare to a three point attitude and she sets down on a feather almost every time. This is a great surprise to most considering the narrow track undercarriage and full swivel, non-locking tailwheel. Why doesn't it drop a wing violently or make the pilot stomp on the rudders? I wish I knew. The genius of managing to combine light aircraft characteristics with such high performance is nothing short of miraculous compared to most other wartime tailwheel types. One or two landings in the Spitfire and you are in love for life.

Article by Jeff Ethell

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