As an American this might be a foolish thing to say, but I still would say the Supermarine Spitfire is THEE most famous British aircraft ever to take to the air. This is not just a wild statement with no foundation, the Spitfire has a firm place in aviation history. Actually it has a firm place in world history, the design's performance could be credited with saving an entire nation and changing the tide of a war.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supermarine_Spitfire
This beaut was designed by Reginald J Mitchell at the end of his life. One story goes that after witnessing the development of the Bf-109 and growing strength of the Luftwaffe, he ignored the return of cancer and continued work on development of the Spitfire. Now this story might not be completely true, but there is an element to it. Ill let you decide.
The signature of the Spitfire that sets it apart from any other planes is the elliptical wing planform. Ironically, Mitchell really did not seem to care about the shape, his response to it was something along the lines of "I dont care if its elliptical or not as long as it covers the guns!". This coming from the fact that the requirement that lead to the Spitfire requested that the fighter carry 8 .303 machine guns. The elliptical wing being the only way to to encase all the guns in the wings an a reasonably clean wing while still maintaining decent flight performance. The Spitfire's wonderful handling, speed, and turning ability stemmed from the elliptical wing. An elliptical wing gives an elliptical lift distribution across the wing span, this improves the L/D ratio (lift over drag).
The Spitfire's preceding design came from the Type 224 that was equipped with a Goshawk engine with a unique evaporation cooling system. This airplane unfortunately did not bear the smooth lines of the the future Type 300 prototype of the Spitfire.http://www.jrlucariny.com/Site2008/sum224/sum224.html
Well, it actually has some 'smoothness' to its lines but the fixed gear and bent wing ruins it for me.
The radiator system devised for the Type 300 involved an asymmetrical underwing layout. The careful shaping of these under wing radiators actually produced thrust, just enough in fact to cancel out the drag from these radiators. The engine chosen for the Type 300 was a further development of the liquid cooled engines at Rolls Royce started by the Goshawk.
This fantastic engine would become the famous Merlin.
The prototype Spitfire, K5054, first flew in March 1936, I must make a note here that I have seen some sources indicate the actual day was not known but some say the 5th. Either way, the K5054 flew just under 1 full year after its future nemesis: the Messerschmitt Bf-109. These 2 designs were destined to meet each other in combat from the beginning of the war all the way to the very end fighting on all fronts of the war on Germany.http://spitfiresite.com/2011/02/the-aer ... o-fly.html
The Spitfire's early service yielded an interesting problem, the guns kept freezing at altitude, however some ducting from the engine cured that problem. Also, pilots were having problems looking over the long nose of the Spit so in an attempt to remedy this, the hooded canopy was adopted, replacing the flat canopy of K5054. One major difference between K5054 and the first 'main stream' Spitfires was in the props. As can be seen, K5054 swings a 2 bladed fixed pitch wooden prop, the Mk IIs would swing a couple of different 3 bladed units.
A note of the bewildering Spitfire marks: I cant keep them straight, my favorite marks are the II, Vb, and IX, even then I cant keep straight what Mark preceded what mark. So, here is a list of Spitfire, photo recon marks, and Seafires:http://www.spitfires.flyer.co.uk/marks.html
Also of note on the marks, very very few aircraft have seen as much development as the Spitfire. By the time of the last Spitfire, the F.R.Mk 47, the horsepower doubled, the weight almost tripled, and the top speed increased from the mid 300s to the mid 400s. They also gained counter rotating props, rocket-assisted takeoff capability, laminar flow wings (starting with the Spiteful), and for the Seafires: folding wings and a tail hook.
Check out this video of the 47 Seafire:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YioXYhbVPA
Man I got goose bumps hearing that!
If you feel like checking that particular airframe out more:http://www.abpic.co.uk/photo/1000263/
About the combat history of the Spitfire, there is simply too much and I have already dragged on long enough. I strongly encourage the "Spitfire vs Bf-109: Battle of Britain" book from the 'Duel' series by Osprey publishing as a starting point, then I would move to the Squadron Signal book on the Spitfire. Suffice to say, the Spit was the only plane until the Mustang that could meet all of the German planes on equal footing in combat. The P-47 being too heavy, the Typhoon being troublesome, the P-38 having teething problems and limited in number in England, and the Hurricane simply being outdated. The Bf-109 was the equal to the Spit, so much so that the only other opposing aircraft pair that were matched more closely was the F-86 and Mig-15!
The Spitfire's last combat missions for Britain were flown by photo recon units in the "Operation Firedog" in the early 50s. Many other forces did use the Spitfire however, Israeli and Egyptian Spits fighting each other in 1948 and fighting Israeli Mustangs!http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Su ... _operators
Now on to the Spitfire today: In the US a Spitfire at an airshow is rare but always adored, I saw a mk 22 or 24 last year at Oshkosh sporting Suez Crisis style strips and it was parked right next to the Fw-190...talk about chills! It was amazing seeing those 2 aircraft next to each other, very striking differences in design.
Here is a rudimentary list of surviving Spits:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_su ... _Spitfires
I dont really trust this as up-to-date, but that will require a lot of additional research.
Of note, check out this site for a Canadian flown Spitfire in the Thompson Trophy races:http://www.airrace.com/1949%20NAR%20.htm
As far as I know this is the only air race appearance of a Spitfire of any kind (Seafire included).
I would post links for Spitfires for flight sims, but seriously, they are EVERYWHERE! A particular one that I would love to try on a good system is this beautiful payware one:http://www.a2asimulations.com/store/ind ... 21b895ce4a
Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my wife's laptop now....
EDIT: I did have a story about the source of the name, but to be honest, just see Hagar's post below, he knows it better than me! (thank you again Hagar!)
So there you have it, the Spitfire. I strongly encourage you to read into this airplane more on your own if you do not already know much about it. She is a fantastic machine with many many amazing combat achievements. This post is far to limited to cover everything about this airplane and I am not expert on it.
As always, make up your own mind on this information, if you