|Supermarine Aircraft founder Michael O’Sullivan has spent 20 years recreating the Spitfire experience through his replica kits. More than 90 have been sold and 50 are currently flying. Photo by Mark Phelps
Michael O’Sullivan is no stranger to EAAers. The founder of Supermarine Aircraft, one of his spectacular 90-percent-scale Spitfire replica kit planes was on the cover of a past issue of EAA Sport Aviation, with a comprehensive story by Budd Davisson.
But Michael has been on the move, relocating his company to Cisco, Texas, from Brisbane, Australia, about eight months ago.
The last Spitfire replica he assembled in Australia is here at AirVenture, appropriately liveried with the star-and-bar of the U.S. Army Air Forces 8th Photo Group and painted in the original bright blue of the photo recon unit.
The original Spitfire this one represents, code letters WD M, was flown by Maj. Walter Weitner and captured the first reconnaissance photos of Berlin after the first U.S. bombing raid over the German capital on March 6, 1944.
Michael also has legal rights to use the legendary name “Supermarine,” granted to him personally by descendants of British family members who held title to the iconic brand.
So far he’s delivered some 92 Spitfire kits over his 20 years in business.
Approximately 50 are now flying in Australia, England, France, the United States, and even Germany. Their overall fleet time tallies in the area of 250,000 accident-free hours, Michael said.
Michael estimates he’s invested some
$9 million over the years to develop, test, and refine the design. Kits cost approximately $160,000 and a completed aircraft is worth around $470,000, he said.
This example’s powerplant uses an LS2 Corvette V-8 engine of 430 hp.
Unfortunately, we won’t see the bright blue Spitfire fly at AirVenture 2011.
Michael said, “I’m kicking myself for canceling the Australian certification. Unfortunately, we don’t expect the FAA to be able to follow through on recertifying it here in the states.”
The aircraft is physically, if not legally, airworthy and flew 42 hours in Australia.
Looking at the bright side, however, the trailer trip up from Texas was made feasible by the little fighter’s removable wings –not a stock feature of the originals.
Michael’s goal was to create an airplane that not only looks like a Spitfire, he said, but, “I wanted it to be a Spitfire, with flying qualities to match the original.”
As part of the effort, he traveled to England to meet with Spitfire test pilot Alex Henshaw before he passed away. They spent hours “talking Spitfires.”
Michael said, “I’ve been told by several test pilots in the UK who have flown my airplanes that I’ve achieved my goal.”
As many systems as possible are configured as per the original, including radiators, fuel system, and, of course, the all-aluminum airframe.
One departure, however, is the cockpit size: about 3 inches wider than the original, partly to leave room for the back seat passenger’s feet astride the pilot’s hips and partly to enable larger pilots to experience flight in a Spitfire.
One detail from the original British fighter faithfully represented on Michael’s airplane is its flip-down cockpit access door.
Not only does the door include the small red pry bar clipped in place (for jimmying free a stuck canopy in an emergency), but one other little known feature is also there.
On the original Spitfire, the flip-down door could be latched shut in two positions, flush against the fuselage side or not quite closed—with a gap of an inch or so left open.
This feature enabled pilots to slide back their canopies in preparation for an emergency landing, latch the door in the slightly open position, and thus not allow the canopy to slam forward again, potentially trapping them.
The canopy rail extends onto the door, and with it open just a bit, it becomes an ingenious “stopper” to keep the hood open.
Michael has, indeed, thought of just about everything in his quest to develop and build the ideal Spitfire for those lacking the means to purchase and maintain an original.
And with his new factory that much closer to home for U.S. EAAers, don’t be surprised to see more examples of his kit handiwork here at AirVenture in the years to come.