Eighty years ago today an icon of British resilience and defiance first took to the skies – happy birthday Supermarine Spitfire!
Designed by RJ Mitchell, the Spitfire was taken on its maiden flight after take off from what is now Southampton Airport. Airborne for just eight minutes, test pilot Captain Joseph Mutt Summers is reported to have said ‘don’t touch anything’ as his verdict on the new fighter plane.
The Spitfire went on to become the only aircraft produced throughout the Second World War and was instrumental, along with the Hawker Hurricane, in capturing the support of the British public during the Battle of Britain. Unlike the Hurricane, the Spitfire had an entirely metal body (the Hurricane was lighter being constructed from tubular steel with an Irish linen body). It had a top speed of between 350-370mph and could fly up to 32,000ft.
The Spitfire continued to be updated and improved with several reincarnations produced during its service until 1957.
Second World War RAF veteran Stan Hartill worked on the Mark II aircraft during his time as ground crew. He looks back fondly on the aircraft which caught the nation’s imagination.
He said: "My first posting was to 609 Squadron. I had never seen a Spitfire before I arrived and when I got there the person in charge showed me round this aircraft and showed me what to do. He said 'this is your Spitfire'.
"So the next day there I was servicing this Spitfire and they said to me, 'by the way you are looking after the Squadron commander's Spitfire'. On day one!
"I found them a very rugged aircraft. I remember when I met Prince Charles last year he asked me how did they repair the bullet holes in the Spitfire because they were a metal aircraft?
"I told him because Middle Wallop was only 30 miles from the Spitfire factory, we were able to fly them there and get them repaired by the professionals and they were back in the day!"
Stan, who lives in Bournemouth, looks forward to the seaside resort's annual air show and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flypast in particular.
The 95-year-old added: "The Spitfire always gets the biggest cheer from the crowds!"