The birth of the modern British fighter began in 1930, when the Air Ministry issued specification F7/30 for a new, fast aircraft that could reach speeds excess of 250mph, a requirement that led to the development of the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire.
One of the advantages of the Hurricane’s design was that it was already becoming out-dated, having incorporated construction techniques employed in the building of the older biplanes, including mechanical rather than welded joints. This meant that aircraft could easily be assembled, using basic tools and machinery. It also meant that field repairs could easily be affected, enabling a fast turnaround for damaged aircraft. A high mounted cockpit gave the pilot an excellent field of vision and the aircraft its humpbacked appearance.
Supermarine and their chief designer, Reginald Mitchell, had submitted a number of designs for a new monoplane fighter, but they had been rejected by the Air Ministry. A revised version of their Type 300 was eventually accepted and the Air Ministry issued a contract for the construction of a prototype designated K5054. On 3 January 1935 the Ministry created a new specification F10/35 specifically around the Type 300 design.
On 5 March 1936, four months after the Hurricane’s maiden flight, K5054 took to the air for the first time from Eastleigh Aerodrome. Vickers-Armstrongs’ chief test pilot, Captain Joseph Summers, made the flight, which lasted for a mere eight minutes. Upon landing he is reputed to have said ‘don’t touch anything’. By the middle of May 1936 K5054 had reached 330mph, which outstripped the maximum speed of Sydney Camm’s Hurricane. The following month on 3 June 1936 the Air Ministry placed their first order for 310 Spitfires before the prototype had completed its formal appraisal.
The first production Spitfire that was completed at Supermarine’s Woolston plant was K9787, which flew for the first time on 14 May 1938, a year after Mitchell’s death. The Spitfire remained in production for ten years and, in all, some 20,351 aircraft were manufactured.