Spitfire Prototype

K5054: the Spitfire prototype

The Spitfire represents the pinnacle of inline-piston engined interceptor design, and has become a timeless classic that other aircraft are compared to.

This website is devoted to the Supermarine Spitfire Type 300 prototype - serial number K5054 - and the production aircraft that followed her.

Strap on a Spitfire!

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Spitfire - The Legend
Lineage - Supermarine S series
Lineage - Supermarine Type 224
Type 300 - Birth of a Thoroughbred
K5054 - Type 300 SPECIFICATIONS
K5054 - Spitfire ARTWORK
K5054 - Surviving wreckage
Spitfire Blooded "Achtung, achtung Schpifeur"
Legacy of the R engine
Spitfire - last of the many VN496
70th Anniversary of K5054 maiden flight
Spitfire - documentary sources

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- "Achtung, achtung Schpifeur!"


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Spitfire: the legend

"The Spitfire was a thing of beauty to behold, in the air or on the ground, with the graceful lines of its slim fuselage, its elliptical wing and tailplane. It looked like a fighter, and it certainly proved to be just that in the fullest meaning of the term. It was an aircraft with a personality all of its own - docile at times, swift and deadly at others - a fighting machine 'par excellence'.

One must really have known the Spitfire in flight to fully understand and appreciate its thoroughbred flying characteristics. It was the finest and, in its days of glory, provided the answer to the fighter pilot's dream - a perfect combination of all the good qualities required in a truly outstanding fighter aircraft.

Once you've flown a Spitfire, it spoils you for all other fighters. Every other aircraft seems imperfect in one way or another."

Lieutenant Colonel William R. Dunn, USAAF ex-no 71 (Eagle) Squadron, RAF

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K5054 | Spitfire prototype in flight

K5054 showing off her unmistakeable eleptical wing profile in flight. The prototype Spitfire is distinguishable here by the wheel covers that completely cover the wheel wells, and the original oil cooler design.

Thoroughbred lineage: Supermarine S airframes and Rolls-Royce R engines

Supermarine S5
Supermarine S5
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Designed by Supermarine's brilliant chief designer Reginald J. Mitchell, the Spitfire was a thoroughbred design whose lineage can be traced back through Mitchell's S-series racing floatplanes of the late 1920's that competed in the Schneider Cup seaplane contests after the first world war.

These popular seaplane races were equivalent to modern-day Formula 1 car races, and attracted aviations elite designers and pilots. Seaplane racing spurred phenomenal advances in aerodynamics and engine development between the two world wars.



Advanced aerodynamics and airframe engineering were mated to unbridled horsepower when Henry Royce developed the Rolls-Royce R engine for Mitchell's new S.6 floatplane, and the union secured the Schneider Trophy for Britain in 1931. The R-type engines were the latest development in high-powered aero engine design, producing over 2500 hp for short periods running special fuels.

Mitchell's Supermarine S.6B was one of the major technical achievements in British aviation between the two world wars, and set an absolute speed record of 656 km/h (407.5 mph) on 29 September 1931, alarmingly almost twice the speed of Britains then fastest service fighter aircraft, the Hawker Fury.

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Supermarine S6B
This Supermarine S6B raised the world absolute speed record to 656 km/h (407.5 mph) in September 1931.

Rolls Royce R Series engine being lowered into the Supermarine S6B during construction
The Rolls-Royce R Series engine is shown here being lowered into the Supermarine S6B during its construction.

Supermarine S6B general characteristics
Crew: 1
Length: 28 ft 10 in (8.79 m)
Wingspan: 30 ft 0 in (9.14 m)
Height: 12 ft 3 in (3.73 m)
Wing area: 145 ft? (13.5 m?)
Empty weight: 4,590 lb (2,082 kg)
Loaded weight: 6,086 lb (2,760 kg)
Max takeoff weight: lb (kg)
Powerplant: 1? Rolls-Royce R , 2,350 hp (1753 kW)

Performance
Maximum speed: 354 knots (407.5 mph, 655.8 km/h) (world speed record)
Wing loading: 42lb/ft? (205 kg/m?)
Power/mass: 0.386 hp/lb (0.635 kW/kg)

[more: Legacy of the R series engines]

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Supermarine Type 224

The first Supermarine 'Spitfire' - the Type 224 first flown in 1934 - didn't satisfy expectations. After their success with the the high speed S-series of monoplane racers, Mitchell's team thought that designing a fighter to Air Ministry specification F.7/30 would be a relatively simple affair. The design was also hampered by the evaporative cooling design of the 660 horsepower Rolls-Royce Goshawk engine. The fighter contract was eventually awarded to the Gloster SS 37 (Gladiator) biplane because of it's climb rate advantage over the monoplane designs.

In 1934 the Supermarine 224 design was subsequently cleaned up and succesive specifications sought from the Air Ministry to cover the refinements, eventually leading to the superb Type 300 that followed.

Type 224
The first Supermarine 'Spitfire' - the gull-winged Type 224 - was not a success, but should be considered a valuable stepping-stone to the Type 300 that followed. Note the fixed undercarriage and open cockpit design favoured by most designs of the period.

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Spitfire Prototype K5054

Supermarine Type 300

K5054: birth of a thoroughbred

K5054 was the Air Ministry registration given to the (Vickers) Supermarine Type 300 prototype.

Construction of K5054 began in December 1934 and her maiden flight was on 5 march 1936 at Eastleigh_Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport) piloted by Vickers' chief test pilot Joseph "Mutt" Summers.

Minor modifications and refinements were made to the Type 300 as suggested by flight trials over the following months, and K5054 emerged as the pattern for the production version of the now legendary Supermarine Mk.I Spitfire.

The final cost of K5054 totalled U+20A4 20,765. The Air Ministry paid U+20A4 12,478 and Rolls Royce paid U+20A4 7,500, leaving Supermarine's final cost for building the Type 300 prototype Spitfire at U+20A4 787.

Britain's Air Ministry were so impressed with this new interceptor or 'killer-fighter' that prior to the full test programme being completed, they issued a contract on 3 June 1936 for 310 Spitfires. Whilst Mk.I production got underway, K5054 was further refined and modified to become the pattern for the sucessive Mk.II and Mk.III Spitfires.

On 22 March 1937 during performance trials at Martlesham Heath, K5054 suffered an oil-pressure failure and was damaged during a belly landing.

On 4 September 1939 at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, K5054 nosed over on landing and whilst the fuselage was left intact, the cockpit was crushed. Pilot F/Lt White died of injuries caused when the aerial mast mounted atop the fuselage behind the pilot, was pushed down through the fuselage pulling the Sutton seat harness back with such a force that he bent the back of his seat on impact with it. A modification was later made to the run of the cable that anchored the Sutton seat harness to the rear of the fuselage in production aircraft.

The accident that destroyed K5054 occurred the day after Britain declared war on Germany.

Spitfire blooded: "Achtung, achtung Schpifeur"

Spitfires were blooded on a pair of unfortunate Hurricanes of 56 Squadron - shot down by 74 Squadron's Spitfires in a friendly fire incident over the river Medway in Kent on 6 September 1939, in what became known as the Battle of Barking Creek.

Spitfires shot down their first enemy aircraft on 16 October 1939 when Luftwaffe Junker 88s of 1/KG 30 fell to the guns of Squadron Leader Stevens of 603 Squadron over the Firth of Forth, Rosyth.

By 1940, Spitfires were fighting in the skies over France and Belgium while the allied armies crumbled under the well orchestrated German blitzkrieg.

In May 1940 the British Expeditionary Force, having lost most of their equipment in a fighting retreat, fell back to the French port of Dunkirk to await their fate. Flights of Spitfires from southern England patrolled the skies approaching the Dunkirk pocket in an effort to keep the Luftwaffe at bay whilst Royal Navy, merchant marine, and civilian vessels working under the codename Operation Dynamo evacuated the remnants of Europe's shattered armies to England, from where it was hoped they might fight another day.

Invasion imminent

By June 1940 continental western Europe had fallen. Britain's newly appointed wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill now roused the British people in a stubborn yet seemingly futile resistance against the odds.

"What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour."

- Winston Churchill, 18 June 1940

Hitler readied his forces for the invasion of England. Luftwaffe air supremacy over the landing zones was vital for the invasion to succeed. The RAF was to be either destroyed or pushed back from its coastal bases in southern England so that the landings could take place.

The RAF had also been seriously mauled supporting the allied armies on the continent. What aircraft remained was due to the foresight of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding refusing to send any more squadrons to France, and the british aircraft factories labouring to replace daily loses.

The stakes were high as the fate of the world hung in the hands of a few hundred young allied pilots. It was said in America that Britain would last no more than six weeks before capitulating.

Operation Eagle - The Battle of Britain

Over the coming months Fighter Command pilots flying Spitfire Mk.I's and Hawker Hurricane's found themselves pitted against the cream of Hitler's undefeated Luftwaffe veterans in a desperate fight to protect their vital forward airfields, radar stations and aircraft factories.

By Autumn 1940 the massed daylight strikes against Britains front line defences had eased. On September 15, the largest air battle took place and Churchill famously asked "What other reserves have we?" to which Air Vice-Marshal Park answered "We have none". Fighter Command had comitted all its reserves to the air battle that day but the outnumbered pilots gave no quarter and over the following days the tide began to turn.

Hitler had been rebuffed for the first time, but a strategic terror campaign that became known as The Blitz soon followed. Massed aerial night bombing of English population centres was hoped to weaken civilian resolve and topple the wartime government, but as the weeks dragged on and the RAF continued to fight, Hitler postponed the invasion and re-focused his attention on the upcoming invasion of Russia.

The massed aerial battles fought in the skies over the English countryside by 'the few' pilots in the summer of 1940 had saved Britain from invasion in her darkest hour and created a legend; the graceful but deadly Spitfire became the symbol of the most important British victory in history.

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

- Winston Churchill, 20 August 1940
listen to an excerpt of speech - MP3

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Spitfire prototype cockpit

[above] K5054 Prototype Spitfire cockpit showing the original curved windshield that distorted the forward view. It was latter replaced with flat armoured glass.

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Reginald J Mitchell

Reginald J Mitchell - the Spitfire developer

Spitfire development team
Vickers-Supermarine design team 1936

[above] The Vickers-Supermarine team relax around R.J's car at Eastleigh after the maiden flight of Spitfire K5054.
[Left to Right:] Captain Joseph 'Mutt' Summers, 'Agony' Payn, R.J. Mitchell, S. Scott Hall & Jeffrey Quill.

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Specifications

Vickers-Supermarine Type 300

Production Head of Design Team:
Reginald J. Mitchell (until d.1937)
Joseph Smith

Design Office: Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd, Woolaston, Southampton

Role: Interceptor fighter

Crew: One

Engine: One liquid cooled, 12 cylinder Vee, Rolls-Royce Merlin C 990 hp (738 kW)*

Armament: None initially. Later eight 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine-guns in wings, with 300 rounds per gun.

Dimensions:
  • Length 29 ft 11 in (9.12 m)
  • Height (to tip of prop) 12 ft 8 in (3.86 m)
  • Wing Span 36 ft 10 in (11.23 m)
  • Wing Area 242.0 sq ft (22.48 sq m)

Weights:
  • Empty (Tare) 4,082 lb (1854 kg)
  • Fully Loaded 5,359 lb (2,434 kg)

Performance:
  • Maximum level speed 349 mph (562 kph) at 16,800 ft (5,120 m)
  • Initial rate of climb 2400 ft/min (731 m/min)
  • Time to 15,000 ft (4,570 m) 5 min 52 sec
  • Service ceiling 35,400 ft (10,790 m)
  • Endurance 1.78 hr

* Later fitted with Merlin F 1,035 hp (772 kW) and then Merlin II 1,030 hp (768 kW).

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Spitfire prototype K5054
K5054 - the Supermarine Type 300 Spitfire prototype

K5054 prototype
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

K5054 nose
K5054 - Type 300 Spitfire nose and unfaired landing carriage

[above] Rollout - K5054 at Eastleigh prior to her maiden flight in March 1936. At this stage she is unpainted except for registration number and RAF roundels.

K5054 prototype
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

Spitfire prototype K5054
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

Spitfire prototype
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

Spitfire prototype
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

[above] K5054 at Eastleigh - taken around the same time as the photographs above if not the same day. She graced her maiden series of flights as shown with the original diagonal horn balance, flush exhaust stacks, tail skid, flat canopy, but lacked wheel covers and a paint finish, The original 2-blade wooden airscrew was also fitted to the first batch of Spitfire Mk.Is, but was quickly replaced with a 3-bladed variable pitch metal propeller to better absorb engine power.

Spitfire K5054 in flight
K5054 - in flight

Spitfire prototype
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

Spitfire prototype
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

Spitfire prototype
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

Spitfire prototype
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

Spitfire prototype
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

[above] Supermarine Blue - K5054 sporting her famous blue finish and the reduced rudder horn balance. Whilst the flat perspex canopy shown was also fitted to the first batch of Mk.Is, it was later replaced with a perspex bubble canopy that gave tall pilots extra headroom. The curved forward windshield was also later replaced with flat armoured glass.

Spitfire
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

Spitfire
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

[above] Photographed at the Duxford display 1937. Note the numeral 2 painted on the fueselage.

Spitfire K5054
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

[above] Photographed at Eastleigh Aerodrome(?), sporting the new flush exhaust fairings designed to produce extra thrust from the new Merlin engine. Along with the extra thrust from the radical new underwing ducted radiator designed by F.W.Meredith, most of the inherent drag usually associated with these 'un-aerodynamic' necessities was cancelled out.

Spitfire prototype crash
K5054 - the Spitfire prototype

[above] Wheels up landing 22 March 1937 during performance trials at Martlesham Heath. The guns are being removed in this photo. K5054 was repaired after this incident.

K5054 camouflage
K5054 wearing camouflage

[above] Sporting her last paint finish comprising standard RAF camouflage and mounting 8 machine guns for armament trials.

Spitfire prototype K5054 in flight showing off her eliptical wings and standard RAF wartime camouflage
K5054 wearing camouflage

[above] Spitfire prototype K5054 in flight showing off her eliptical wings and standard RAF wartime camouflage.

Spitfire K5054 wreckage showing crushed cockpit
K5054 wreckage showing crushed cockpit

[above] K5054 was destroyed in a fatal crash on 4 September 1939 at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. The cockpit was crushed when the prototype turned over on landing, killing the pilot.



** PLEASE DESCRIBE THIS IMAGE **

Rolls-Royce: Legacy of the R series engines

ROLLS ROYCE MERLIN

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Ongoing research and development by Rolls-Royce based on experience learnt with the R series of racing engines in the early 30s paved the way for the legendary line of smaller Merlin engines that powered many allied aircraft during WWII, including the Supermarine Spitfire, North American P-51 Mustang, Hawker Hurricane, De Havilland Mosquito and the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber.

The Rolls-Royce Griffon engine was a direct development of the Kestrel - Buzzard - R-Series progression that powered the S6B to fame in 1931, and after 10-years of development the engine finally entered service with the RAF towards the end of the war. Ironically, late model Spitfires powered by these Griffon engines could finally exceed the world speed record set by their ancestor, the S6B in 1931!

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VN496 : the last Spitfire

On the 20th February 1948, almost twelve years from the prototype's first flight, the last production Spitfire, an F Mk 24 (VN496) left the production line. Some 22,759 Spitfire's and Seafire's were built over a 10 year production run during which time Reginald Mitchell's classic design evolved almost beyond recognition into 24 different marks.

The Spitfire was the worlds only fighter aircraft in series production before, during, and after the second world war, and served with many of the worlds airforces well into the 1960's!

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K5054 | spitfire

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Surviving pieces from the Spitfire Prototype K5054

The only 'surviving piece' of K5054 appears to have been a wing bolt that an engineer kept and re-manufactured into a sheet metal workers hammer head. This valuable piece of aviation history is now in the custody of Solent Sky, Southampton, and can be seen on display at the Spitfire Exhibition at the Science Museum in Kensington, London.

Solent Sky - Hammer Head remade from K5054 wing bolt
Solent Sky, Southampton.

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Solent Sky - Hammer Head remade from K5054 wing bolt on display at the Spitfire Exhibition - Science Museum in Kensington, London

The Solent Sky 'wing bolt Hammer Head' as seen on display at the Spitfire Exhibition - Science Museum in Kensington, London.
Image Copyright (?).


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NEWS

NEW - Latest Spitfire NEWS - updated October 2008)

Alexander Adolphus Dumfries Henshaw MBE (7 November 1912 - 24 February 2007)

Alex Henshaw passed away at home on Saturday February 24th 2007 aged 94. He was one of the great aviation pioneers, air race master, and with a record-breaking trip from the UK to Cape Town and back.

Alex was renowned as the chief test pilot for Vickers-Armstrong at the Castle Bromwich aircraft factory, and a master display pilot of the immortal Spitfire.

Henshaw volunteered for service with the RAF during World War II, but instead became a test pilot for Vickers Armstrong. He starting with Wellingtons and Walruses at Weybridge. He did not enjoy the work, and was on the point of leaving when Jeffrey Quill invited him to test Spitfires in Southampton.

In June 1940, he moved to the Castle Bromwich aeroplane factory in Birmingham, taken over by Vickers after poor production results by the Nuffield group. He was soon chief test pilot. The factory built over half of the total output of Spitfires ever made, and 350 Lancaster heavy bombers. Henshaw tested both, leading team of 25 others. The job was essential, to ensure that faults were detected before aircraft were delivered to the font line, but was also dangerous: two of his team were killed testing new aircraft. Henshaw survived many forced landings, and a catastrophic crash between two houses in Willenhall in July 1942 which destroyed the aircraft.

It is estimated that Henshaw flew 10% of all Spitfires and Seafires, testing up to 20 aircraft a day in often foggy conditions. He would also demonstrate the Spitfire to visiting dignitaries, such as Winston Churchill, and once flying the length of Broad Street in Birmingham at low level. He was the only pilot known to perform a barrel roll in a Lancaster bomber, a feat that was considered reckless and impossible due to the aircraft's size and relatively low speed. He was awarded the MBE for his wartime service.

Alex Henshaw chatting with prime minister Winston Churchill about the

Henshaw chatting with prime minister Winston Churchill about the Spitfire.


  • BBC AUDIO
    Potteries historian Ray Johnson talks to BBC Radio Stoke's Janine Machin about the importance of the Spitfire.
    Download here [Real Player required]

NEWS : 70th anniversary of K5054 maiden flight

Here are some BBC news links concerning celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of K5054 's maiden flight at Eastleigh Aerodrome on 5th March 1936.

We are eagerly awaiting the upcoming 75th anniversary in 2011, at what will hopefully be the soon re-named 'RJ Mitchell International Airport'.

** PLEASE DESCRIBE THIS IMAGE **

NEW - Latest Spitfire NEWS - updated October 2008)



Documentary Sources

  • Official Specifications: F.7/30, F.37/34, F.10/35, F.16/36 etc.
  • The Illustrated Encylopedia of Aircraft (18 Volumes)
    Published by Orbis as weekly editions in the 1980's

  • The Spitfire Story
    by Alfred Price
    Cassel, Revised Second edition 1995

  • Spitfire - A Documentary History
    by Alfred Price FRHistS
    Second Impression 1978

  • Spitfire - A Complete Fighting History
    Republication combining: Spitfire at War (Pub.1974) & Spitfire at War 2 (Pub.1975)
    by Alfred Price
    Promotional Reprint Company, Reprint 1997

  • Fighters 1914 - 1945
    by Bill Gunston
  • Reach For The Sky - The Story of Douglas Bader C.B.E, D.S.O, D.F.C
    by Paul Brickhill Second Impression February 1957
  • The Hardest Day - The Battle of Britain 18 August 1940
    by Alfred Price Reprinted 2002
  • The Sky Suspended - The Battle of Britain May 1940 - April 1941
    by Drew Middleton
    Secker & Warburg (London), First Edition 1960
  • Official specifications, documents and sources yet to be listed...

See also - Spitfire BOOKS - added Oct 2008



About this website

My aim is to publish surviving documents, images and personal memories relating to the first Spitfire - K5054.
If you have any interesting material concerning K5054 or Spitfires in general please contact me.
Please also contact me if I have published an image that you hold copyright over and I will give full credit.

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This page was last updated on 25 October 2008

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