Home' Afloat : AFLOAT June 2018 Contents 52 AFLOAT.com.au June 2018
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aeroplane to building
the world’s best fighter. They
didn’t bother to meet the directives of
any Air Ministry specifications. Just like
Willie Messerschmitt, they only dealt
with the challenges of aerodynamics,
structural engineering and, over at Rolls,
Their MD later said that two years work
on the Schneider challenge gave them the
experience of six years normal research.
Shut off from Government funding, Rolls
financed private venture PV 12, a 27 litre
V12 supercharged engine to deliver a
reliable 1,000 hp. Following a line named
after birds of prey it would be called the
Merlin. By brutally testing it to destruction,
the Merlin earned a legendary name for
power and reliability. The horsepower was
soon doubled and Lancaster bombers
could fly to Berlin and back at full throttle.
In 1933, Mitchell underwent a
major operation for cancer, but he
returned to work to ensure the designs
of Supermarine’s Type 300 project were
completed by December 1934 to allow
construction of a prototype. At their own
expense. One director noted this light
powerful plane was likely to be a handful
and difficult to control.
“Just like my daughter. She’s a real
little spitfire ...” T ype 300 was renamed.
And the Air Ministry? They peered over
Mitchell’s shoulder and the following year
issued their own cribbed specification
F10/35 which seemed uncannily like one
for the Supermarine project. They even
provided some funds for the prototype ...
then of course they could then say it was
‘built to their specifications’.
On 5th March 1936, the prototype
took off for an eight minute test flight. It
later achieved 349mph. Later that year,
the Air Ministry issued the RAF with
their new front line fighters, built to their
specs, of course: F7/30. It was another
square rigged canvas covered biplane,
the Gloster Gladiator. It could just stagger
over 250mph. The Spitfire was heading for
On 3rd June 1937, a panicked Air
Ministry ordered 310 Spitfires. Eight days
later, Mitchell was dead at 42. That’s 82
years this month.
I may be more obliged to him, the Rolls
Royce shareholders and M. Schneider who
started the whole development of racing
sea planes than most readers. I survived
being born in a basement shelter during
a raid by 441 bombers while our lads
overhead fought for Western democracy
behind their Merlins with 80 gallons of
100 octane in their laps.
Fortunately, the bomb that landed
outside the shelter was not a prime
example of German engineering. The bomb
was on public display for many years, with
a slot in it for collecting coins to rebuild
a blitzed, battered and bankrupt Britain.
The enemy, who caused all this
destruction, was awarded billions in
Marshal Aid. So was Britain, but it took
them until December 2006 to pay off the
US Lend Lease debt. Plus interest.
Anyway, I think Reg, the ex-railway
apprentice deserves a bit of a toast on
Monday June 11th. Don’t you?
*A comment by WC Fields when the first prize
was one week in Philadelphia.
** Spitfire Record-Holder: Flight Lieutenant Ted
Powles, who, on 5 Februar y 1952, while ser ving
with the Meteorological Flight in Hong Kong,
set an altitude record for the Spitfire of 51,550
feet and a speed record of 690mph (0.94 Mach)
in a dive. The speed record, which is unofficial,
remains the highest speed ever achieved by a
*John Quirk has been writing about
and illustrating the joys of messing
about in boats for over half a century.
He is the author / illustrator of Foul
Bottoms, published by Adlard Coles
and available from Boat Books in
Crows Nest and from Amazon.
The Schneider Trophy, an
exuberant example of the Art
Nouveau period showing winged
nymphs cozying up to Neptune.
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