The Story of the Photographic Reconnaissance Spitfire

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by mfg, May 14, 2006.

  1. mfg

    mfg New Member

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    The story of the Spitfire as a photographic reconnaissance aeroplane starts at the end of 1939, by which time operational experience with Blenheims and Lysanders used on photographic missions had shown that an aeroplane capable of flying much faster and higher was needed.

    A special flight, christened the " Heston Special Flight," was formed, and was equipped with two Spitfires specially converted at RAE. Farnborough. With one F.24 camera mounted vertically in each wing these Spitfires did not prove satisfactory. The first, unsuccessful, sortie was made from a French base against Aachen on November 18, 1939; after a few more sorties the Flight returned to Heston on January 11, 1940.

    Re-named No. 2 Camouflage Unit, the Flight studied its mistakes and the shortcomings of the Spitfire as then converted, and there was evolved the first of a series of Photographic Reconnaissance Spitfires, forerunners of the Spitfire P.R.MkXI, probably the most successful photographic aeroplane in the world. The original R.A.E. modification was designated the Spitfire A; the next model, a service conversion made at Heston was the Spitfire B. One of the disadvantages discovered with the Spitfire A was the lack of range, so a 29-gallon fuel tank was introduced into the rear fuselage, behind the pilot, on the Spitfire B. One vertical camera was carried in a fairing beneath each wing; only a few Spitfire Bs were produced. At his point, the Heston Aircraft Co., Ltd., was asked to under-take the development work on the Spitfire, and to that company must go the credit for the ground work which eventually enabled the RAF, to obtain complete photographic coverage of enemy territory.

    The first Heston Aircraft conversion was the Spitfire C, which for the first time used a vertical camera in the fuselage. The wing blisters were retained, but carried two cameras under the port wing, and additional fuel under the starboard wing. Extra oxygen was carried for maximum high altitude flying, and the 29-gallon rear fuselage tank was also retained. Next in line came the first variant used in appreciable numbers.

    The Spitfire D, as it was designated, incorporated several important modifications; a fuel tank of 66 gallons capacity was fitted in the leading edge of each wing, which gave a total fuel capacity of 218 gallons, there being no rear fuselage tank. No cameras were carried in the wings, but two F 8 (20-in.), F.24 (20-in.) or F.24 (14-in.) were mounted in tandem in the fuselage; these were "split,' i.e., both were slightly off vertical so that two overlapping photographs were taken simultaneously.

    Other features were hot air camera heaters, glycol cockpit heater and extra oxygen. The additional petrol necessitated more oil being carried, and this was provided in a 14-gallon tank in a small teardrop fairing beneath the port wing. Records of the Spitfire E are incomplete. It was a modification jointly evolved by R.A.E. and Photographic Development Unit (which the Camouflage Unit had now become) at Benson, and apparently mounted a camera in each wing, and one for oblique shots in the fuselage side behind the pilot. Almost concurrently with the Spitfire D, Heston Aircraft produced the Spitfire F, which allowed for the installation of one vertical F.8 (20-in.) camera, or two F.8 (20-in.) vertical split cameras, or two F.24 (20-in.) vertical and one F.24 (14-in.) oblique cameras. Oxygen economizers were fitted for the first time, and additional oxygen bottles were carried, one in each wing and one behind the rear fuselage tank.

    "Teardrops" were introduced on each side of the cockpit hood, to improve downward and rear ward vision, but the windscreen was not bullet-proof. Additional fuel was carried in a 29-gallon rear fuselage tank and in blister tanks under each wing; the capacity of the nose oil tank was increased and this resulted in a deepening of the cowl line, an important recognition feature of the late P.R.MkXI.

    The final alphabetical variant to emerge was the Spitfire G, which was the first armed photographic reconnaissance Spitfire, having standard "A" wing armament of eight 0.50-in. machine-guns. Two independently operated vertical cameras, an F.24 (5-in.) forward and F.24 (14-in.) aft, were mounted in the fuselage, and an F.24 (8-in.). (14-in.) or (20-in.) could be mounted to port or starboard behind the pilot for oblique shots. An F.24 could be mounted for rearward and downward shots in the port cockpit door. All cameras were electrically heated, one extra oxygen bottle, and oxygen economizers were carried, the windscreen was bullet-proof and the cockpit had "teardrops," and a reflector sight was fitted. Armor plate was carried behind the pilot, and a rear fuselage tank, but no additional oil, was carried. While development of this series of Spitfires was in its late stages, the decision was made to put certain of the variants into production.

    The alphabetical designations were not in accordance with the standard form of notation of mark numbers. So the two models for production, the Spitfire D and Spitfire G, became in production. The Spitfire P.R.MkXI and Spitfire P.R.Mk.Vll (since D and G are the fourth and seventh letters of the alphabet respectively). Whereas the Spitfire A-G series had been powered by Merlin II, III or XII motors (being Spitfire I or II conversions), the Spitfire P.R.Mk.Vll, 229 of which were produced, had variously a Merlin 45, 46, 50, 50A, 55 or 56, and also provision was made in the production versions for an oblique F.24 camera.

    Provision was made for tropicalization and a number of Spitfire P.R.Mk.IV's was used in the Middle East. The Spitfire P.R.Mk.Vll, which had no provision for tropicalization, was powered by a Merlin 45 or 46. The last Spitfire for which Heston Aircraft was responsible was the Spitfire P.R.Mk.XIII, a low-level fighting scout generally similar to the P.R.Mk.VII. Prior to starting conversion of Spitfire V's to XIIl's, Heston Aircraft modified the last two Spitfire Gs up to XIII standard, but fitted them with Merlin 45 motors.

    The P.R.Mk.XIII was powered by a 1,620 h.p. Merlin 32 motor, driving a four-blade Rotol airscrew, and was armed in all cases with only four 0.303-in, machine-guns. It was the first P.R. type to have provision for a flat belly drop tank of standard Spitfire type, a 30-gallon tank being applicable, camera installation was two independent vertical F.24 (5-in.), (8-in.), (14-in.), (20-in.) or (20-in. Telephoto), and one port or starboard oblique F.24 (5-in.), (8-in.). (14-in.) or (20-in,). Instead of the cockpit teardrops, a balloon hood was fitted, and the windscreen was bullet proof. Only twenty-live Spitfire P.R.Mk.XIII's were produced, these all being converted by Heston Aircraft Co., Ltd., the first seven from Spitfire VAS and the last eighteen from Spitfire VBS.

    More to follow soon......
     
  2. Wurger

    Wurger Siggy Master
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    Hi mfg !!!
    A good part of the Spitfire history.I like it.
    Gut arbeit. :happy3: :wav:
     
  3. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Interesting read mfg!
     
  4. mfg

    mfg New Member

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    Thank you :lol:
     
  5. helmitsmit

    helmitsmit Member

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    When you get more stuff let us know. What was the speed of those early spits
     
  6. the lancaster kicks ass

    the lancaster kicks ass Active Member

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    interestingly the F.24 was also used by bomber command to photograpgh the point at which the bombs were dropped, in the lanc it's the clear circle just infront of the bomb bay, but behind the red line..........

    source- lord knows.............
     

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  7. mfg

    mfg New Member

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    The early PR Mk's A to C were based on the original Mk1 airframe, the Mk1a fighter had a max speed of 367 mph

    PR MkD (later called PRIV) used the Merlin 45 engine that was fitted to the MkV fighter and had a top speed of 372 mph

    PR VII again used a Merlin 45 but had a speed of 368 mph

    PR X - Merlin 64 or 77 top speed 416 mph

    PR XI - used a number of engines Merlin 61,63,63A or 70 - top speed 442 mph

    PR XIII - used the Merlin 32 which gave a top speed of 348 mph

    PRXIX - used a Griffon 66 which gave a speed of 445 mph at 26,000 ft.
     
  8. mfg

    mfg New Member

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    The last and the greatest photographic reconnaissance variant of the Spitfire was the PRXIX.

    It was powered by the Griffon 66 engine, with a max ceiling of 42,000ft. Its normal safe range was 1,160 miles, but this was extended to 1,550 miles by adding a 170 gallon overloaded drop-tank.

    She could have a number of camera fits, listed below are the common ones:

    1. Split pair of vertical F24 cameras with 14in or 20in lenses, one oblique F24 camera, fitted with either 8in or 14in lenses

    2. Spilt pair of vertical F8 or F52 20in lens cameras.

    3. Spit pair of vertical F52 36in lens camera

    Some 225 models came off the assembly lines with production ending early 1946, but the aircraft was used in front-line photo reconnaissance service with the RAF until April 1954.

    In fact the last time a Spitfire PRXIX was used to perform an operation act was in 1963 when one was used in battle trials against an English Electric Lightning to determine if a RAF Lightning could take on a piston engined aircraft.
    This information was required because the RAF jets might have to engage P-51 Mustangs in the Indonesian conflict of the time.
     
  9. helmitsmit

    helmitsmit Member

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    That info about the mk1d looks wierd wouldn't it do about 10mph faster than the standard fighter mk1?

    I thought the mkXI did only 421mph?
     
  10. mfg

    mfg New Member

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    The PR ID was a special long range with leading edge wing tank + 30 gallon fuselage tank, it carried so much fuel that it was nicknamed "the bowser". Early production models were very badly balanced and consequently difficult to fly. Later models were better balanced, had the more powerful Merlin 45 engine as used by the Mk.V

    For the PR XI, which was an upgraded Mk IX and some Mk X’s, I have seen speeds ranging from 401 to 442 listed in my reference books and the internet.
     
  11. helmitsmit

    helmitsmit Member

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    fair enough. good info. Do you know the highest the Mk XIX ever opperated at? I've heard reports of 50,000ft???
     
  12. mfg

    mfg New Member

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    The highest speed ever "officially" accomplished in a dive by a propeller driven aircraft was by Flt Lt. Ted Powles, RAF, in a Spitfire Mk.XIX at 690 mph or .94 mach. in an emergency power dive from a true altitude of 51,550 feet.
    This occurred on 05 Feb, 1952.
    This his accomplishment was kept "Secret" by the British Gov't. for undisclosed reasons. It is now unclassified.

    Follow the link for more info on Flt Lt Powles
     
  13. helmitsmit

    helmitsmit Member

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    I heard about that. So it didn't get past the sound barrier
     
  14. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    I read somewhere many years ago, that the RAF (maybe the French participated too?) in a high altitude aerial survey of Germany in the months leading up to the start of the war.

    Supposedly it was done in secret and the recon aircraft was skillfully camoflaged as to remain unobserved during its transits.

    Anyone know of this? Was it true?
     
  15. Twitch

    Twitch Member

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    690 in a Spit. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Get out the shovels, it's getting deep. If that's such a big deal how come Hub Zemke's group's Thunderbolts pegged their 700 MPH airspeed indicators in dives? That bogus web page doesn't mention anything about that or a 51,000 foot altitude.

    They never operated at that altitude during the war for sure. Luftwaffe ace Wallter Schuck told me about how he finally got pissed at the high altitude recon Spits coming over his base unopposed and he lay in wait at 39,000 feet and smoked one.

    I remember another bullcrap story from some German on the web saying how he broke the sound barrier in his 262. When I relayed the tale to General Yeager he peered out of his perpetually sqinted eye slits and in a monotone voice drawled, "262 can't do but Mach point 94, I tried it."
    [​IMG]
     
  16. helmitsmit

    helmitsmit Member

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    The spit did have the best critical mach number of the war.
     
  17. Twitch

    Twitch Member

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    How the hell could the light-weight Spit with its Dumbo sized wings dive with a 14,000-lb. P-47 or 18,000-lb. P-38 both of which exceeded 700 MPH. Hell the P-51 has a red line of 505 and although it was exceeded to some extent, no Mustang ever hit 690!

    The record if it can be substantiated is a P-38 flown by Col. Cass Hough. Hough was in P-47s before his group switched to P-38s at Bovington. Allegedly he began a dive at 43,000 feet and leveled off at 25,000 after an indicated 780MPH.
    [​IMG]

    If I'm going to believe in fairy tales I'll believe this one and not 690MPH Spits.
    [​IMG]
     
  18. the lancaster kicks ass

    the lancaster kicks ass Active Member

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    i'm not pilot but i'm fairly cirtain that in an extreme dive such as these whatever your indicated air speed reads as, it's proberly not your actual speed.........
     
  19. helmitsmit

    helmitsmit Member

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    It was quite common for air-speed indicators to malfunction at speeds exceeding 550mph. It was proved scientifically that the spits wing was the must able to withstand near-mach 1 dives. The only way they know the spit fastest speed was because they measured it, secretly.
     
  20. pbfoot

    pbfoot Active Member

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    When did "they" measure it and how and where And are "they" the same guys that say its gonna be a nice day I've always been curious as to who "they":lol: are
     
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