This is a pocket-size book that contains a large number of quality photographs, with concise text, that provides an outstanding review of the iconic Spitfire monoplane fighter. The Spitfire is probably the most famous and most successful fighter ever to have flown. From near extinction, it bounced back with the Battle of Britain film when the film company scoured the world for flying and static British and German aircraft. The German aircraft used were licensed built versions of the Me109 and He111 that served in the Spanish air force, powered by RR Merlin engines. The Spitfires and Hurricanes were the genuine articles, collected from enthusiasts and museums around the world. This started an enthusiasm to return remaining examples to flying condition and the Spitfire is highly sought in any condition. Each year sees more Spitfires returning to the skies.
The subject of this book is an internationally recognized icon that holds an appeal beyond the aircraft enthusiast. This in much the same category as the steam engine, which has somehow become of interest to people who do not necessarily have any major interest in transport or technology generally. The Spitfire is always the star of the show when it flies in displays.
NAME: Spitfire, The Inside Story
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: David Curnock
PUBLISHER: Haynes Publishing
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Day fighter, point interceptor, monoplane, Battle of Britain, Seafire, Schneider Trophy, 8 gun fighter, fighter bomber, naval fighter.
DESCRIPTION: This is a pocket-size book that contains a large number of quality photographs, with concise text, that provides an outstanding review of the iconic Spitfire monoplane fighter. The Spitfire is probably the most famous and most successful fighter ever to have flown. From near extinction, it bounced back with the Battle of Britain film when the film company scoured the world for flying and static British and German aircraft. The German aircraft used were licensed built versions of the Me109 and He111 that served in the Spanish air force, powered by RR Merlin engines. The Spitfires and Hurricanes were the genuine articles, collected from enthusiasts and museums around the world. This started an enthusiasm to return remaining examples to flying condition and the Spitfire is highly sought in any condition. Each year sees more Spitfires returning to the skies.
Where this book is particularly valuable is that it is aggressively priced and affordable to young readers, or their fond relatives. It is all too easy for publishers to content themselves with eBooks as low cost reading material, but there is no substitute for a durable pocket sized book that can be carried around and read in any spare moment. There is recent research to suggest a renewed interest amongst the young to read printed books, rather than to use an eBook reader or a personal computer. There is also research to suggest that printed books help to develop readership skills and subject involvement in a way that electronic systems do not.
The subject of this book is an internationally recognized icon that holds an appeal beyond the aircraft enthusiast. This in much the same category as the steam engine which has somehow become of interest to people who do not necessarily have any major interest in transport or technology generally. The Spitfire is always the star of the show when it flies in displays.
After Hitler came to power in Germany, the RAF began to look with some alarm at its aircraft. In every department, it was equipped with aircraft that had hardly developed from the wood and canvas aircraft of WWI. In its fighter squadrons it was particularly antiquated. It was an all-bi-plane force and included aircraft that were owned by the Royal Navy and intended for shipboard operation. The in-service machines were almost the same speed and performance as the Camels and SE5s of 1918, still equipped with two rifle calibre machine guns that fired through the propeller arc and therefore were unable to achieve their full theoretical rate of fire because they were stopped every time a propeller blade was about to pass across the muzzle. The aircraft had open cockpits, no radio communications, and short range. The only sign of improvement was the Gloucester Gladiator that introduced the RAF fighter pilots to an enclosed cockpit, radio telephone, and four rifle calibre machine guns, two of which were wing mounted and outside the arc of the propeller. As a result, the Gladiator could be directed from the ground to intercept incoming bombers and pilots within a flight or squadron could communicate with each other in combat. The rate of fire of the machine guns increased by more than double because the wing mounted guns were not restricted and could therefore achieve a rate of fire of 500-600 rounds per minute, where the guns firing through the arc were slowed by the interrupter gear to as low as 200 rounds per minute. That meant that the weigh of Gladiator fire striking the enemy aircraft increased three fold. However, the Gladiator was still a radial engine bi-plane with its own built-in head wind of struts, fixed undercarriage and blunt nosed engine.
The real RAF weakness was that civil aircraft coming into operation were faster than the RAF bombers and fighters. There were already signs that German was coming close to introduction of advanced fighters and bombers which would be largely invulnerable to RAF defenders. At the same time, Supermarine was building some spectacular float planes to compete in the Schneider Trophy and were to achieve three consecutive wins to become the outright winner and holder of the Trophy, with the S6B achieving 400 mph, or more than twice the speed of the front line RAF fighters, even though the aircraft had two very large floats to add weight and drag. Inspired by the S6B achievements, and the Air Ministry invitations for proposals to improve RAF fighter abilities, Supermarine began designing a monoplane fighter with wheeled undercarriage. The first design still had fixed undercarriage with a gull wing to reduce the length of the undercarriage legs, and it was only intended to mount four rifle calibre machine guns, but it included many technical innovations from the Schneider Trophy float planes.
Hawker were designing a competitor, which became the Hurricane. This low risk approach effectively took a Fury bi-plane and removed the wings, replacing them with a thick canvas covered, low-mounted monoplane. This mean that it was using much the same technology as the bi-planes it would replace, simplifying production and maintenance. The thick wing was able to mount eight machine guns, all outside the propeller arc for a typical rate of fire of almost 5000 rounds a minute. The significance of this rate of fire was that, without increasing calibre, a Hurricane could land a significantly higher weight of shell on the enemy during high speed passes that could be more than 600 mph in head on attacks, and provide the weight to damage the metal monoplanes that it was most likely to defend against.
Supermarine reviewed their design and came up with what was recognizably a Spitfire. The retractable undercarriage and highly advanced elliptical wing, together with the sleek pigeon-breasted fuselage promised greater speed than the Hurricane, but without reducing turn performance significantly. Fitting eight machine guns in the wing was a challenge because of the fine lines and much thinner cross section. The thin wings also meant that the Spitfire was unable to wing mount the undercarriage to provide the wide track offered by the Hurricane. This was to make carrier operation of the naval Spitfire, the Seafire, more difficult and to increase risk in grass-field operation for RAF Spitfires, at a time when many airfields were still not equipped with a concrete runway layout. Given this background, it was not surprising that the Hurricane was to beat the Spitfire into service, or that Supermarine was still struggling to achieve expected production rates in 1940 when the RAF was facing its greatest danger in the Battle of Britain.
In action, the Hurricane, with its largely fabric covered fuselage, by 1940 the fabric coverings for control surfaces and wings were being replaced by metal skinning, was able to tolerate more damage than the Spitfire and be easier to repair and faster to return to action. The Hurricane was also to offer performance close to the Spitfire and the Me 109 at the start of WWII. It was more nimble than the Me109 and initially it was also faster. By 1940, the Me109 and Spitfire were opening up a performance gap over the Hurricane that its tube and fabric design could not hope to keep up with, but it retained its advantage as a very stable gun platform, with resistance to battle damage. As a result, the Hurricane was targeted on German bombers and the Spitfire took on the fighter cover. A great combination and it probably confirmed the belief that the Hurricane and Spitfire together won the battle which neither could have done alone.
The Hurricane could not be described as beautiful, it was a punacious, rugged fighter, with an elegance but not great beauty. The Spitfire was a great beauty, a thoroughbred, a ballerina. The wing shape was unique and the pilots loved the aircraft once they had learned how to avoid some of the dangers inherent in its design. The Hurricane was to remain in production but it was soon moved into a ground attack role and used particularly in the more remote theatres where its easier maintenance and rugged performance was appreciated.
As this book very capably shows, the Spitfire was to served on and into peacetime, taking later developments of Rolls Royce engine and with later marks having Griffin engines that produced nearly three times the power of the early Merlin engines that the Spitfire started out with. Naval needs led to the Spitfire being developed for shipboard operation for the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. Less capable than aircraft designed specifically for shipboard operation, the Seafire retained its land-based performance in flight, closing the gap that had opened up between carrier and land-based aircraft. The Spitfire was also to soldier on into the jet age both in its recognizable form and as the basis for two jet fighters, neither of which was to prove effective. The Spiteful was developed from the Spitfire as a piston-engine fighter that failed to go into service. The Spiteful was then further developed into the Attacker for the FAA as a ship-board jet fighter and attack aircraft. It was a tail-dragger that retained the late developments of the Spitfire wing. It was rapidly replaced by other jet designs. The Swift was then designed from the basis of the Attacker to compete with the Hawker Hunter in what was in many ways a reverse of the Hurricane/Spitfire story, with the Swift lacking some of the technical innovations of the Hunter. The Swift proved disappointing and it was to be the Hawker Hunter that became the jet equivalent of the Spitfire in popular RAF service
The author has done a very good job of capturing this amazing aircraft, and its relations, in a very compact book that is to be highly commended.