In March 2006 it was the seventieth anniversary of the Spitfire, which made its first flight on March 5th 1936. To celebrate this historic day five Spitfires flew over Southampton. They took off from what used to be known as Eastleigh Airport (now Southampton Airport). One of the first test pilots ninety - three year - old Alex Henshaw was a passenger in a two seater version of the Spitfire.
The Supermarine Spitfire was designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell who was known as RJ. He was born in Talke village Stoke on Trent on the 20th May 1895. He became an aeronautical engineer and worked for Supermarine Aviation Works in Southampton. He designed all types of aircraft including sea planes. His plane won the Schneider trophy an international flying Competition over water in 1931. But his greatest achievement was the Spitfire. It was for Mitchell a race against time not just because of the imminent out break of war but because in 1933 he was told he had cancer. He under went a major operation and bravely fought the disease but despite his best efforts he could not beat it. He would ignore the pain and determinedly work through it. For a talented and well respected man it would seem a cruel fate. His death at just forty - two would leave people wondering what he could have gone on to achieve if he had lived. However what Mitchell achieved and gave us in creating the Spitfire was not only a beautifully designed aeroplane but also one that was designed to help win the war and bring about peace.
Mitchell continued to improve the design until four months before he died. By then he had perfected his design and mass production of the Spitfire would soon begin. When Mitchell first designed the Spitfire it had straight wings but as he continued to approve the design and made the wings elliptical which made it faster. The elliptical wing design also brought about thinner wings. To give the pilots better vision he made a sliding cockpit. Finally he put in a Rolls Royce Merlin engine and made it more aerodynamic by making the wheels withdraw into the wings while it was in flight. Mitchell's final design was then tested in March; it was given a resounding thumb's up. It was a dream to fly and easy for pilots to learn how to fly it.
Mitchell died on June 11th 1937 having completed the Spitfire but unable to continue working on any other designs. But his legacy the Spitfire helped Britain win the Second World War. Its beautiful design is also held in high regard and the chance of a Spitfire in flight at an air show will draw the crowds in. It was voted for by the people in the Great British Design Quest organized by the Design Museum it made it to number three out of a list of twenty - five.
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