Tag Archives: Supermarine Spitfire

The Supermarine Walrus (1)

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the most famous flying boat of World War Two, the Short Sunderland. I was lucky enough to visit the RAF Museum at Hendon in north London, where the aircraft is positioned in a very large space, unlike the way it was rather cramped way it was displayed when I went to Duxford in 2009:

With the Sunderland, under its starboard wing almost, is a Supermarine Walrus, which is not a flying boat but an amphibian, an aircraft which can go on land as well as on water.

The Walrus is an extremely unattractive flying machine, and it is extremely difficult to imagine that it was designed by RJ Mitchell, the man who designed the world’s most beautiful aircraft ever. This was the fighter that was originally to be called the Supermarine Shrew, until the name was changed to Supermarine Spitfire (“just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose.” (Mitchell)).

The Walrus was intended to be a gunnery spotting aircraft for sea battles between big warships, but this only happened twice, in the Battle of Cape Spartivento and the Battle of Cape Matapan. In actual fact, the Walrus’ main task was to patrol the seas looking for German or Italian submarines and surface warships. By 1941, the Walruses, or perhaps Walri, had air-to-surface radar for this purpose, although by 1943, all catapult-launched aircraft on Royal Navy ships, including the Walrus, were being phased out as the catapult and the hangar took up too much deck space.

The Walrus was then used at sea only on aircraft carriers as its landing speed was very low and neither flaps nor a tail-hook was necessary. The Royal Navy didn’t have that many aircraft carriers, so the main use of the Walrus now became chiefly air-sea rescue from land bases.

Before the Walrus, the British had not had any aircraft specifically designed for air-sea rescue in home waters.

Here’s the Walrus from the front:

And here it is from the back. Notice how the four bladed propeller is so close to the rear gunner that it may give him a short-back-and-sides haircut if he is not careful:

Here are the wheels which the pilot would lower before landing in the normal way on a runway. As I mentioned above, the Walrus had such a low stalling speed that it could land on an aircraft carrier without recourse to an arrester hook or to any safety nets. Presumably this allowed the Walrus to transport very badly wounded casualties to an aircraft carrier for immediate medical treatment, if the wounded man was too badly injured for a long flight to land :

Here are the floats underneath each wing tip. They appear to have about three thousand of Rosie the Riveter’s finest holding them together:

And to finish up, here’s an overall view of a Walrus:

It flies at about 55mph, but finds long climbs rather challenging. No, just joking!

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The Battle of Britain (2)

Deep in the bowels of the RAF Museum at Hendon is the Battle of Britain section where the lighting is of a strange purple colour so that delicate ancient paint is not faded by direct sunlight. That’s an extra excuse for these rather weird photographs. First of all, the baddies, with that old favourite, the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, an aircraft used in the blitzkrieg to dive bomb defenceless refugees:

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Here’s a Heinkel He111 which was all right as a bomber but which didn’t carry a particularly significant bomb load. Even so, it performed well at Guernica, Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places as the Germans invented the much criticised concept of “area bombing”.

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The fighters were the Messerschmitt Bf110, a rather slow aircraft for daylight use which would eventually finish up having to be escorted by better performing fighters:

This is the Junkers Ju 88, a twin engined and very versatile aircraft which was arguably, a competent Bristol Blenheim or a poor man’s De Havilland Mosquito:

Last and certainly not least is the famous Messerschmitt Bf 109, a decent fighter, but an aging design which was prepared in response to a Reichsluftfahrtministerium specification of 1933. Bf 109s couldn’t carry enough fuel to fight for very long over Southern England. And a Spitfire, in theory, could always escape them by turning tightly inside them:

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The Bf 109 at Hendon does not really allow you to stand back and get a decent general photograph. Here is one I found on the Internet. It certainly is a stunning photograph:

The Hendon individual is a Bf 109E-3 and it may have been painted as a yellow nosed member of Jagdgeschwader JG26, “The Abbeville Boys”. There must have been a little plaque in front of it, but I can’t remember what it said. Its detailed history can be accessed here.

And in the blue corner…….the Supermarine Spitfire. Here’s my effort at a picture:

As one writer said,

“It was one of the most beautiful aircraft ever conceived with elegant, flowing lines that make it look perfect from every angle.”

And the most stunning Spitfire ever was the Mark I or Ia or the Mark IIa.

This gallery of photographs comes from the Internet. With a little bit of luck, you should be able to see what I mean about a beautiful aircraft:

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And there’s also a Hawker Hurricane, an aircraft which, as we all know, shot down more German aircraft in the Battle of Britain than the Spitfire. The scores were roughly 60% to 40%. The Hurricane was a design which looked backwards to its biplane ancestors, especially the Hawker Fury:

On the plus side the Hurricane was a lot easier to repair than its cooler cousin, the Spitfire. It was easier to make as well, 10,300 man hours rather than 15,200 for the Spitfire. And easier to make meant cheaper, of course. Here are my unworthy efforts:

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And now some proper photographs:

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And next time, the Old Nottinghamians make an appearance.

 

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The Battle of Britain (1)

We visited RAF Hendon on July 22nd 2010. It seems an age ago. Hendon is a fantastic museum, easy to get to from the M1 and FREE ENTRY. What is there not to like?

The first few photographs show the display outside the museum. One is a Hurricane and the other is a Spitfire. I’ll leave you to work out which is which. Here’s an aircraft with a cannon in each wing which, I think, means that it cannot have been a Battle of Britain participant:

Here’s another view of the very first aircraft:

And the second aircraft again… This is as close as I get to that weirdo artistic sort of photograph:

Here’s the last picture of aircraft No 1 and 3:

And here’s a free clue to the identity of this aircraft. American readers…”Sorry!”

And here’s aircraft No 2 and 4 again:

Well, the odd numbers are the Hawker Hurricane and the even numbers are the Supermarine Spitfire, originally called the Supermarine Shrew. The way to tell them apart is that the Hurricane, or “Harry Kane” to give you the answer to the clue, has one huge radiator under the fuselage and the Spitfire always has two smaller ones, one under each wing.

It was months after our visit that I found out that both aircraft outside the museum were counterfeit. Made of plastic, apparently. The museum people don’t make that particularly obvious. I suspect that they’re scared that they’ll be killed in the crush of middle aged men who all want one for the front lawn.
The Spitfire was, of course, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell who worked for Supermarine Aviation of Southampton. Here he is:

Many Germans could not separate RJ Mitchell from the man who played him in the film, Leslie Howard. Here’s Leslie Howard:

They could be identical twins, couldn’t they?

The Spitfire’s wing was of an innovative shape at the time. I didn’t know though, that there was a good deal of input from Beverley Strahan Shenstone, a Canadian engineer. Here he is. He isn’t in the film. The British  always seem to have kept Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders well out of their films:

Beverley Shenstone studied in Germany under Hugo Junkers and Alexander Lippisch. I found this out in a marvellous book I read recently called “Secret Wings of World War II” by Lance Cole. Here it is. It’s an excellent book:

To quote the author:

“By 1932, Shenstone had authored several papers stemming from his German studies…he was soon employed by RJ Mitchell, Shenstone was the man who within four years had shaped the Spitfire’s ellipsoid wing, its wing fillet and many of its aerodynamic design features.”

A wing fillet is the smooth curve between the fuselage and the wing. It improves air flow. It isn’t particularly obvious in the plastic Spitfire above but there will be a Spitfire Mark I appearing soon and it’s a lot more obvious on that aircraft.

Hugo Junkers was beyond the cutting edge of aircraft design in 1945. This is his Junkers Ju 287 bomber with forward pointing wings. And yes, it flew perfectly:

Even in the 1930s, his designs were astounding. Swept back wings with propellers:

 And a flying wing, the J 1000 Super Duck:

Alexander Lippisch was even better than Hugo Junkers. Here he is:

His first aircraft was not very good:

But after that, by the standards of 1940, WOW!

 The Americans are still flying around in his thoughts and ideas:

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