WWII: The Battle of Britain | Memories of 'Britain's finest hour'
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'
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Document Type | Magazine article
15 August 1940
Oliver Stewart marvels at all the technical wizardry that is packed into the small but mighty aircraft.
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