The iconic Supermarine Spitfire prototype had its maiden flight in 1936 on this day — 5th March — and on landing, the pilot, Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers, apparently said: “don’t touch a thing.”
The prototype, called K5054, took off from Eastleigh Aerodrome in Hampshire and lasted eight minutes. It was given a certificate of flight worthiness on April 2, 1936.
Designed by Reginald J. Mitchell, creator of the magnificent Supermarine seaplanes. The Spitfire has a sleek, graceful fuselage with a domed canopy and small, angular fin and the Type 224 was a gull-winged monoplane with a fixed “trousered” undercarriage, powered by a 600-h.p. Rolls-Royce engine.
Mitchell was dissatisfied with it even before it flew. He then designed a new aircraft as a private venture and the conception was revised twice, to incorporate the new P.V.12 (Merlin) engine and an eight-gun battery.
The initial flights of K5054 produced a top speed of 330 mph. In later trial flights, K5054 was fitted with a better-shaped propeller and this pushed its top speed to 348 mph.
This set the standard for fighter interceptors of the day and after a series of trials the aircraft had a top speed of 349 mph at 16,800 feet. Its rate of climb was 2,400 feet a minute; and the K5054 took just under six minutes to get to 15,000 feet and with a maximum ceiling of 35,400 feet.
The final design was accepted by the Air Ministry, in January 1935, and the first prototype flew, aforementioned, on 5th March, 1936.
The first order for 310 machines was placed three months later, followed by a further 200 the following year shortly before the tragic death of its designer at the age of 42.
Between August and December 1938 No. 19 Squadron at Duxford was equipped with the Spitfire (Mark One) Mk.1. By the outbreak of war nine squadrons were fully equipped and two others were in the process of conversion. A total of 1,583 Spitfire Mk1s were built.
Deliveries of the Mk II (basically a Mk 1 powered by a 1,175-h.p. Merlin XII) began in June 1940, but widespread re-equipment with the new version did not commence until the following winter, and it was the Mk 1 which bore the brunt of the fighting during the Battle of Britain; by July 7th nineteen Fighter Command Squadrons were operational with the type.
Powerplant: One 1,030 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin III twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled engine Span: 36ft 11 in (11.25m) Length: 29ft. 11 in (9.12m) Max Speed: 362 mph (584km/h) at 19,000 ft (5,790m) Armament: Eight .303 in Browning machine guns mounted in wings.