WWII: The Battle of Britain | Memories of 'Britain's finest hour'

London Calling - The Fighting Spitfire

A technical description of Britain's famous fighter plane.

BBC ARCHIVE DOCUMENT 1940

Article from 'London Calling' magazine

15th August 1940

The Fighting Spitfire

A short description of Britain's famous fighting aeroplane by Oliver Stewart

The chief attribute of the single-seat fighting aeroplane is speed. It is the speediest man-carrying war machine in existence. Our latest fighters can get up to nearly 400 miles an hour.

And it is because they must be able to fly so fast that they must be made so small. The smaller the quicker. They are masterpieces of compression. If you saw a list of the bits and pieces that make up a fighter you would imagine that they would fill the Albert Hall. Yet, in the interests of speed, they are all squeezed into the space of a cupboard. To take the Spitfire as an example - the span is about 37 ft., the length about 30 ft and the height about 11 ft 5 in.

Apart from the elaborate accessories and equipment, there are four chief fighter ingredients: a man, a sheaf of guns, a huge engine and a small airframe. The aeroplane is built to a close fit round the man who works it. There is only just room for his shoulders. To someone not used to it, it would feel tight under the arms. Looked at from the front it appears like a dot with a couple of fine lines out to right and left. From the sides it looks like a cigar - not one of those expensive parallel-sided cigars, but one of the small ones which taper more to one end than the other.

The engine itself is compressed. More than 1,000 horse power - which I believe is about the power of a big railway locomotive - is stuffed into the space of a cabin trunk. The pilot is crammed up close behind this powerful piece of machinery.

The wings are as slim and small as they can be made, provided they give enough lift for the weight. But although they are small they have to accommodate the undercarriage, which tucks itself away into them when the aeroplane is in the air, and the eight machine-guns, four in each wing.

And all this ingenuity of compression is designed to get that one man and his eight guns through the air at the highest possible speed. His safety and success depend on speed. So the fighter must give speed, all the speed which aviation knowledge and experience can find.

Image of a Spitfire with caption that reads: Drawing by courtesy of 'The Sphere'

[Document ends]

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Document Type | Magazine article

15 August 1940

Document version

Writtenin

1940

Synopsis

Oliver Stewart marvels at all the technical wizardry that is packed into the small but mighty aircraft.

These documents have been broken down into sections to make them easier to read.

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