Tomorrow is the 80th birthday of the Supermarine Spitfire, which flew for the first time on March 5 1936.
The Spitfire captured the public imagination like few aircraft before or since in the 113-year history of powered aviation, and is still a widely recognised aircraft today, more than 70 years after its World War II heyday.
Its significance was that it was one of the first military aircraft to combine all-metal construction and high-power supercharged engines. The Spitfire used the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine that had been introduced three years earlier. A broadly similar aircraft developed about the same time proved to be its most formidable adversary—the Messerschmitt Me-109.
With its elegant fuselage and distinctive elliptical wing, the Spitfire became famous for its service in the Battle of Britain in 1940, although the less advanced Hawker Hurricane (which used the same engine but partly retained cloth-skin construction) formed the majority of the British Royal Air Force’s fighter strength. In Australia, Spitfires were used to defend Darwin from Japanese air raids in 1943. It was successful in this role despite difficulties with range and engine performance in the hot tropical environment.
More than 20,000 Spitfires were built between 1936 and 1948, a remarkably long production run by the standards of the era. The later aircraft used the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine that had more than twice the 1000 hp of early versions.
The type’s last military user was the Irish Air Corps, which retired its two-seat trainer versions in 1961. Worldwide, more than 50 Spitfires still fly, including two in Australia, although there are eight Spitfires on the CASA aircraft register (as well as numerous replicas, mostly powered by modified automotive engines.)
The Temora Aviation museum flies two Spitfires, a MK VIII and a MK XVI, and anticipates it will be able to operate them for the foreseeable future by using a combination of flight date monitoring and a meticulous maintenance program.