Royal Canadian Air Force re-enactors lounging historically
beneath the wings of a Spitfire Mk. V, Adam Smith told an
AirVenture crowd about the famous fighter. Photo by
Frederick A. Johnsen
newly restored Spitfire Mk. V fighter captured a crowd of admirers
at a Warbirds in Review session Wednesday. The fighter’s place in
history, and in the collective English consciousness, was
highlighted by speaker Adam Smith, former EAA AirVenture Museum
director and current vice president of membership.
is a brilliant restoration," Smith said, referring to the
Spitfire behind him, belonging to Rod Lewis of San Antonio, Texas.
Smith, a native of Great Britain, said to this day, British children
will see any airplane in the sky—even a jet—and exclaim:
"Oh look! It’s a Spitfire!" The swiftly curvy Royal Air
Force fighter with the racing plane pedigree has taken hold of the
British psyche for decades since World War II, Smith explained.
feared a German invasion by 1940, Smith told the crowd.
"Germany had built up this incredible mystique." Just as
the British knew their sovereignty relied on the Royal Navy and the
Royal Air Force to keep Germany at bay, so did the Germans know that
the air force must be vanquished before an invasion could be
mounted. Some 2,000 Royal Air Force pilots stood up to a larger
Luftwaffe, and turned the Germans away. The Battle of Britain,
starring Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes, marked the first defeat
for Germany in the war.
it was the grace of the Spitfire compared with the stubbier lines of
the Hurricane that ultimately elevated the Spitfire to the status of
Battle of Britain icon. Smith said the Hurricane gets lost in the
shuffle even though there were more Hurricanes involved in battle,
and they shot down more German aircraft than did Spitfires. He
acknowledged the Spitfire’s intrinsic beauty "makes you feel
passionate about the airplane."
described details on the restored Spitfire at the Warbirds in Review
session. Pointing out rectangles of red tape over the wing machine
gun muzzles, he said armorers could see at a glance when a Spitfire
returning from combat had fired its guns because the tape would be
flapping and shredded. This was a quick clue that the fighter needed
to be re-armed before returning to the fray. Seconds were precious
during the Battle of Britain, when Spitfires flew multiple sorties
in one day to fend off Luftwaffe raids.
Dawson, who flew Lewis’ Spitfire from San Antonio to AirVenture
2008, described flying the aircraft: "It’s the closest thing
to a model airplane in maneuverability." Very responsive, with
light aileron forces, the Spitfire benefits from light wing loading
compared to some fighters. But it was designed at a time when many
RAF airfields were vast grass acreage on which pilots could always
take off and land into the wind by simply pointing in that
direction. As a result, the Spitfire’s narrow landing gear track
was not optimized for crosswind operations, Dawson told the crowd.
Mark V variant of the Spitfire is a lightweight, with only one
radiator slung under the wing. Dawson said this is sufficient
cooling in flight, but ground operations at slower speeds can be
demanding. Expeditious taxiing to takeoff or parking is required to
keep from overheating. Plus, the Spitfire’s landing flaps have
only two positions—up and down—and when in the down position,
they blank airflow to the radiator. This makes it incumbent on the
Spitfire pilot to remember to retract the wing flaps as soon as the
fighter is on the ground, Dawson said.
On the flight from
Texas to Oshkosh, Dawson cruised the Spitfire at a fuel burn rate of
about 44 gallons per hour, he said.