First designed in the 1930’s, this single-seat fighter, World War II British aircraft was actually the only British fighter that was produced during the war. Reginald J. Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works, designed the fighter as short-range, but also as a high-performance interceptor. The speed of this aircraft was deemed an essential quality of this fighter making it possible for the British Royal Air Force (RAF) to fulfill their mission of defending their homeland from enemy bombers.
The Spitfire is probably most noted for its infamous World War II role in the 1940 Battle of Britain. Though outnumbered by its British sister aircraft (2:1), the Hawker Hurricane, the speed of the Spitfire proved to be a better match against the speed of the German Messerschmitt. The victory rate of the Spitfire was higher than its loss, which unfortunately was not the case for the Hurricanes. Following this battle, the Spitfire became the strength of the RAF Fighter Command.
In 1934, prior to World War II, the RAF selected the Browning as its new standard rifle caliber machine gun. This created a shortage of the Browning and on early Spitfires, despite their capacity to hold eight guns, only four were mounted. Another problem encountered became apparent when the planes climbed to higher elevations and it was discovered that the very design that kept the gun from overheating, also permitted the flow of cold air through the barrel, causing the guns to freeze. This proved the Browning to be beneficial only on the ground or when flying at low altitudes. This problem was eventually corrected in October, 1938.
With all eight guns intact, and the altitude problem resolved, pilots soon came to realize more was needed in order to destroy larger enemy aircraft. After several attempts to modify the problem, two new armament fittings finally proved beneficial to the aircraft. Since most Spitfires during this time were actually MK1 aircrafts, it was further subdivided into two categories – the MK1a and MK1b. The MK1a housed the eight original Browning guns and the MK1b was fitted with the newer armament – four 303s and two 20mm cannons.
Quite a number of modifications of the original British Spitfire occurred over the many years of its active lifespan, production totaling in excess of 20,000 aircraft. Probably one of the most noted designs that came forth was the Griffon series – known for its 2000+ hp engines, allowing to it to travel at speeds in excess of 400 mph. The Spitfire continued to serve into the 1950’s, making it the only British fighter manufactured prior to World War II, with production continuing both through the war and after the war.