Today in history
Today is a very big one in history.
In 1936, the first flight of the prototype of the new and radical Supermarine fighter, the Spitfire, at Eastleigh with pilot Mutt Summers.
This little airplane, became one of the most successful and important ones in history, and along with the Hurricane was responsible to defeating, by a narrow margin, the German air assault on England that fateful summer of 1940 in what we now call The Battle of Britain. This one stage of battle certainly did not win the war, but it was the first time that the Germans, who with air power, tanks, and infantry had swept through much of Europe, finally and for the first time been turned back.
The first Spit, weighing only about 5800 lbs and with about 1000 Rolls Royce horsepower, was a very effective interceptor, fast climbing, agile, easy to fly, and with 8 guns. It was improved over the years and ended up having almost 23.000 buiilt and all the way up to Mk 24 and Seafire 47. The latest models had devastating firepower of 4 20 mm cannon, and 2000 hp and top speed of 450 mph. They served on carriers, were excellent long range photo recon planes with a ceiling of over 43,000 feet, and it was the longest contiually produced allied fighter. The last one was retired from the RAF in 1958.
It is respected by most everyone who has ever flown one, and is widely seen as one of the most beautiful planes ever built for any purpose. One may stand next to a MK V or maybe a IX and not readily see any line or curve that would look better some other way.
Mar,ket price of a top Spitfire nowdays is likely around $3 million, and even now, 77 years later the Packard copy of the Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 engine with modifications, still powers Strega the race Mustang that rules the pack at Reno Air Races.
It is not named a Spitfire, but the further development of the Spit, the Spiteful, and Sea Fang with large Griffon engine of 2375 hp was perhaps the fastest piston fighter ever at 492 mph top speed. Sadly of a few dozen of these perhaps overdone and overpowered beasts that were built none survive to fly today.
Last edited by Bill Greenwood; 03-06-2013 at 10:59 PM.
Actually Bill, it was yesterday but I'm certainly not going to quibble with the very fortunate guy who actually owns one. And on this anniversary a very special shoutout to Reginald Mitchell, the brilliant engineer who designed it. Thankfully he created it when he did because he died just 15 months later of cancer at the very young age of 42. His airplane might arguably be the only reason why Great Britain does not speak German today.
According to some records there are 67 airworthy registered Spitfires worldwide(including Seafires and 2 seat trainers) and Bill you own a 2 seater that was actually used in the epic 1968 film The Battle of Britain. Wow!! I understand it was involved in an accident about 3 years ago. Is it back flying and when you bring it to AV can I get a ride, o please, o please, o please!!!
There is still or was a Spitfire MK1X living about a 90 minuite drive from me in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I've seen it fly a few times. Owned by Ed Russell of the Russell Aviation Group, he also owns a very rare BF109 and a Hurricane. Do you know Ed?
EAA Staff / Moderator
I thought March 5 was the anniversary of the first Spitfire flight, while March 6 (today) is the anniversary of the first B-17 mission to Berlin? Course I could be wrong and probably am.
Floats, yes I know Ed Russell, one of my favorite people. I have actually been lucky enough to see his Mk IX from inside the cockpit, and to meet Fran and all the folks at that great little airport , Niagara South.
Sadly, the Spitfire is no longer there, it was sold and I believe it may be at or near Duxford. I hope it is as well cared for as when Ed owned it. I think the Hurricane and very special genuine, ( mostly) Me 109 may still be at Niagara.
While I was at Niagara I also got a ride in a Fleet and a Tiger Moth and got to fly Ed's Harvard. Never been in one before ,but it was mostly like a T-6, and luck was with me.
Ed's days of airshows and flying WW II planes did not last too many years, but man it was first rate while he was doing it and my hat's off to him.
Last edited by Bill Greenwood; 03-06-2013 at 05:30 PM.
Zack, I would not dispute very strongly if you say the 1st Spitfire flight was on the 5th. But from Supermarine test pilot Jeffery Quill's book, "On 6 March I flew the Falcon from Brooklands to Martlesham to take Mutt Summers from there to Eastleigh. Popular folklore has it that the first flight of the Spitfire was on 5 March, 1936, but I flew Mutt to Eastleigh for the particular purpose of making that first flight on 6 March."
So there you have it in the word's of someone who was there, and who later went on the do most of the development testing of the Spitfire.
You would think that a monumental day like this would be so recorded in history that there would be no doubt as to which day it was, but with all the confusion of the war, and eventual closing of the factory, it is still a matter of some debate. And while the first flight of the Spit showed a lot of promise, they didn't really realize what they had until it went into combat and continued to grow in speed, guns, etc. Kind of like the first game Lou Gerhig played, oerhaps.
I never got to meet Jeffery. Some years ago about 10 of us American Spitfire enthusiasts got to go to England for ceremonies in honor of the Spitfire. We were treated very well and we got to stand at the dock at the factory and watch a Spitfire fly over. At dinner I was seated with some who had actually designed and built Spits. Sadly Jeffery had passed away a few weeks before. I am not much of a hero worshiper, but my eyes were pretty wide on this bunch, including R J Mitchel's son or grandson. I later got to know famous test pilot Alex Henshaw and was most impressed with him, as perhpaps as fine a pilot that ever flew and a very nice guy.
Last edited by Bill Greenwood; 03-06-2013 at 05:46 PM.
I read that Reginald Mitchell disliked the name Spitfire that the RAF named it, he called it "silly". Now no one could imagine calling it anything else. Bill, do you still have yours?
The Spitfire is one of the all time best looking planes, ever!
It's art, it's poetry in motion, it's the what every fighter pilot dreams of, a small, compact nimble fighter.
EAA Staff / Moderator
It would seem the exact date is somewhat of a sticky wicket.
The other historic event of March 6, and for this one the date is not in doubt is the final battle of the Alamo,1836.
In brief for those not lucky enough to be born in Texas, the Alamo was a mission and church in San Antonio. Texas was then part of Mexico, who had invited settlers to come into Texas. Mexico didn't reckon with the kind of men who came, like William Barrett Travis, a lawyer turned soldier, and a type A personality for sure. If he was a pilot he might have been Douglas Bader. Mexico began to rule harshly and the Texans pushed back. Finally Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, "The Napoleon of the West" invaded Texas with a large army. He was a bad actor right out of a B movie,had a taste for fancy uniforms and teenage girls.
The Texans won a small battle and let his brother in law, Cos go back to Mexico with the promise to stay out of Texas, and then they fortified the Alamo. There were about 185 Texans vs 4000 Mexicans, which to Travis meant a good fight. THe cast was like something out of a movie, Santa Anna as flamboyant and slimy as they come, and on the Texan side, a whole host of tough frontier types. They had Jim Bowie, famous inventor of the Bowie knife, which if you have ,ever seen a real one, is a genuine gizzard tickler. And even larger than life Davy Crockett, famed frontiersman and former Congressman and a deadly shot with a rifle, and a few dozen of like men that he brought with him.
These men, led by the hot headed Travis were not the kind Santa Anna was used to pushing around.
One of Travis letters from the fort survives so we know that while he had no real hope of holding off all the Mxicans, he was determined to make it a costly victory for Santa Anna and this he did.
The Texans held out for 13 days of bombardment, and repulsed the first two attacks on the final day before the large Mexican cannon breached the north wall.
When it was over, all Texans were dead, and Santa Anna burned the bodies. There were too many Mexican dead to bury so they threw the bodies in the river. Santa Anna called it "a small affair", but the loss of so many soldiers had a big affect on the average Mexican private, and when they met 6 weeks later at San Jacinto, near Houston, this time with only a slight numerical edge to the Mexicans, the Texans route them in 18 minutes. "Napoleon" was allowed to live in the interest of the peace treaty and returned to Mexico and Texas was free.
The Mexican losses in the "small affair" at the Alamo have been estimated as from 800 to as many as 1600. One Gen. , more honest than Santa Anna, said of the well trained battalion that led the attack, "We brought 800 of the finest soldiers to San Antonio and we left 600 of them dead on the ground." Sec. Caro wrote "We brought to San Antonio more than 5000 men and we lost 1544 of the best of them. The Texans fought more like devils than men."
One other fact added to the Texans will to fight the next battle at San Jacinto, was when Col Fannin foolshily surrendered 400 troops at Goliad, Santa Anna had all the prisoners shot.
Last edited by Bill Greenwood; 03-08-2013 at 10:56 PM.