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Building the Spitfire


Model Aircraft Extra Special No. 6: Building the Spitfire

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The iconic Supermarine Spitfire, the most strategically important British single-seat fighter of World War II. The Spitfire, renowned for winning victory laurels in the Battle of Britain along with the Hawker Hurricane, served in every theatre of the War and was produced in more variants than any other British aircraft. The Spitfire was designed by Reginald Mitchell of Supermarine Ltd., in response to a 1934 Air Ministry specification calling for a high-performance fighter with an armament of eight wing-mounted 0.303-inch machine guns. The airplane was a direct descendant of a series of floatplanes designed by Mitchell to compete for the coveted Schneider Trophy in the 1920s. One of these racers, the S.6, set a world speed record of 357 miles per hour in 1929. Designed around a 1,000-horsepower, 12-cylinder, liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine (later dubbed the Merlin), the Spitfire first flew in March 1935. It had superb performance and flight characteristics, and deliveries to operational Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons commenced in the summer of 1938. A more radical design than the Hurricane, the Spitfire had a stressed-skin aluminum structure and a graceful elliptical wing with a thin airfoil that, in combination with the Merlin’s efficient two-stage supercharger, gave it exceptional performance at high altitudes. The version of the Spitfire that fought in the Battle of Britain was powered by a Merlin engine. Faster than its formidable German opponent the Bf 109 at altitudes above 15,000 feet and just as manoeuvrable, Spitfires were sent by preference to engage German fighters while the slower Hurricanes went for the bombers. More Hurricanes than Spitfires served in the Battle of Britain, and they were credited with more ‘kills,’ but it can be argued that the Spitfire’s superior high-altitude performance provided the margin of victory. Meanwhile, Supermarine was developing more-capable versions of the Spitfire driven by progressively more-powerful Merlin’s. The eight 0.303-inch machine guns gave way to four 0.8-inch automatic cannons, and by war’s end the Spitfire had been produced in more than 20 fighter versions alone, powered by Merlin’s of up to 1,760 horsepower. Though outperformed by the German Fw 190 on that aircraft’s introduction in 1941, the Spitfire restored parity the following year and eventually regained the advantage. It remained a first-line air-to-air fighter throughout the war. Spitfires were used in the defence of Malta, in North Africa and Italy, and, fitted with tail hooks and strengthened tail sections, as Seafires from Royal Navy aircraft carriers from June 1942. Spitfires helped to provide air superiority over the Sicily, Italy, and Normandy beachheads and served in the Far East from the spring of 1943. Fighter-bomber versions could carry a 250 or 500lb bomb beneath the fuselage and a 250-pound bomb under each win One of the Spitfire’s most important contributions to Allied victory was as a photo-reconnaissance aircraft from early 1941. Superior high-altitude performance rendered it all but immune from interception, and the fuel tanks that replaced wing-mounted machine guns and ammunition bays gave it sufficient range to probe western Germany from British bases. n late 1943 Spitfires powered by Rolls-Royce Griffon engines developing as much as 2,050 horsepower began entering service. Capable of top speeds of 440 miles per hour and ceilings of 40,000 feet, these were used to shoot down V-1 ‘buzz bombs.’ During World War II, Spitfires were exported in small numbers to Portugal, Turkey, and the Soviet Union, and they were flown by the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe. When production ceased in 1947, 20,334 Spitfires of all versions had been produced, 2,053 of them Griffon-powered versions. Fighter versions of the Spitfire were withdrawn from RAF service during the early 1950s, while photo-reconnaissance Spitfires continued in service until 1954. In Model Aircraft ‘Extra Special’ #6, the biggest book of this series some 22`Spitfire build projects will be included, in a ‘how-to’ format, and continue this fantastic series modelling guides from MA Publications, the new name in scale modelling.

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