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The Vickers Supermarine Spitfire was one of the most graceful airplanes to be produced during the second World War. And, in fulfilling its wartime assignment of defending England against aerial attack by Germans, the Spitfire proved to be as deadly as it was good-looking. In fact, the Spitfire was more than the best fighting aircraft of its day--it was also a symbol of both hope and defiance for the British people during the darkest days of the war.
The plane that won the battle of Britain was designed by Reginald J. Mitchell and built by the Supermarine division of Vickers Ltd. Mitchell was well equipped for his job, for he had designed the Supermarine racing seaplanes that had won four Schneider Cups between 1922 and 1931. Supermarine S-6B, whose lines were reflected in the Spitfire, won the last of these cups at an average speed of more than 340 miles per hour.
Mitchell's small jewel of a fighter flew on March 5, 1936, and became operational two years later. With its sharply elliptical wings set at a slight upward dihedral and mounted well forward on the underside of a slender fuselage, the Spitfire was not only fast--later models could top 440 miles per hour--it was also highly maneuverable. Its speed and agility combined with heavy armament to make it one of the most effective fighter planes of World War II. It proved its superiority during the hard-fought Battle of Britain by destroying hundreds of Messerschmitt Bf-109s.
The original Spitfire was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine of slightly more than 1,000 horsepower and was armed with eight .303-caliber Browning machine guns firing through the leading edge of its wing. Before the war ended, the fighter was powered with a 2,375-horsepower Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, and four 20-millimeter cannons replaced the Browning machine guns.
Modified and improved throughout the war, the plane was produced in over 30 different variation. A total of more than 22,000 Spitfires and Seafires (the naval version of the fighter) were produced. Built in greater numbers than any other British wartime aircraft, the Spitfire was the only plane to remain in continuous production for the duration of the war.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
Permission was granted to ALLSTAR by The Franklin Mint to use the preceding materials.
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Updated: March 12, 2004