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Supermarine Spitfire Mk I in Detail

n by Martin Waligorski

The second of the RAF's modern eight-gun monoplane fighters, the Spitfire, entered service with No 19 Squadron based at Duxford some nine months after the first Hurricanes had been delivered.

Initially, the Spitfire legend was in great danger of failing to take off at all. Initial production was so slow that the Air Ministry seriously considered cancelling the type in favour of using the production capacity at Supermarine for the manufacture of other aircraft such as the Beaufighter. The problem was caused by the Spitfire's advanced design, particularly the elliptical wing, which necessitated radical new production techniques to be introduced by inexperienced sub-contractors. Fortunately, these difficulties could be finally overcome just in time for the Spitfire to save the day during the epic Battle of Britain during summer days of 1940.

Both the Imperial War Museum and RAF Museum in London have preserved examples of Spitfire Mk I, the original production mark, which looks probably closest to R.J. Mitchell's original vision of the modern fighter. However, the IWM example is truly special. The aircraft, splendidly preserved as it is, has retained it's original state, having not been repainted, repaired or altered since the end of it's active service with a training unit. This photo reportage is therefore a unique opportunity to see a degree of wear and tear that wartime aircraft really carried, much easier to appreciate in color detailed photographs that could possibly be the case with a black-and-white wartime photos.

The aircraft carries a standard RAF camouflage scheme of the mid-war period, consisting of Dark Green and Ocean Grey upper surfaces and Medium Sea Grey undersides. Although a general impression of the actually used color shades could easily be obtained from the photographs below, one should be careful to interpret these colors directly. Firstly, the paints may have faded or darkened during 50 years at the museum. Secondly, I often use flash for the indoor photography, which considerably distorts color shades. And lastly, the color shades might get further altered by publishing them in a compressed JPG format, as we do here.

Hope you will enjoy these pictures anyway...

Supermarine Spitfire Mk I

General view of the aircraft, suspended from the ceiling in the main hall of Imperial War Museum in London. The serial number of this aircraft is R6915, which indicates that it is a mid-series Mk. I, produced some time between June and July 1940.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


We start scrutinizing the aircraft from the nose. This is a short, pointed spinner, characteristic for the de Havilland propeller of all Mk. I Spitfires.

Only partially visible at the lower right corner of the photo is the opening for the lens of the internally-mounted camera gun.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


Apologies for the poor exposure. I chose to include this photograph, as it clearly shows a distinctive curvature of the nose, which is a hallmark of a Spitfire, and a deficiency of many Spitfire kits.

A round fuel tank cover can be seen just behind the firewall panel line.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


The canopy is a late-style Mk. I canopy with an external armored windscreen and a factory-mounted rear view mirror.

The panel immediately below the canopy is an entry door, opening downwards.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


The port wing's upper surface. The two "fences" are not of any aerodynamic importance, but serve as the reinforcement for the otherwise unsupported skin above the wheel wells.

The black line indicates the border for wing walk area.

Please note that the blue color of the roundel is quite light, deep indigo blue rather than dark marine blue as rendered on most decal sheets for RAF aircraft. If you are a purist, this could be a good enough reason to airbrush the roundels yourself rather than relying on decals. However, I must admit that this property of the color was only visible in strong, direct daylight - compare this shot with other roundel photos on this page, and you will probably stick with decals anyway...

Photo: Martin Waligorski


The gun ports at the wing's leading edge. This aircraft is one of Hendon's two Mk.Is, and as you can see, the guns have been removed from this one.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


Proceeding further aft, this is a photo of the fuselage spine. The aerial mast is made of early type of plastic, and it's base is surrounded teardrop-shaped by plastic isolator plate of the same , reddish-brown color.

Navigation light is positioned aft of the mast.

Note also stenciled text on the inspection panel on the fuselage side.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


Aircraft's tail seen from below, offering a good view of horisontal stabilisers and a fixed tail wheel.

Note many "W/T" stencils visible. Also, the surface has been patched and mended several times by ground crew, leaving unmistakable traces of repairs in various shades of red and dark yellow.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


Standing directly under the aircraft and looking upwards, we can see lot of surface detail on the wing's lower surface. From this angle we can also see the plan view of the large, rectangular water cooler to the left, and a smaller oil cooler to the right. It is interesting that the oil cooler fairing had been bounced end bent several times, but have not been repaired.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


If you ever heard people talk about gull-wing shape of the Spitfire, but couldn't see it yourself on any photo, here's the one. The wing's lower surface, including the inner flaps is angled upwards in the vicinity of the rear wing root fairing.

The strongly orange-colored point on the centerline is a navigational light.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


This photo shows a near-plan view of the wing tip and it's elliptical contour. The surface detail includes gun covers for the two middle and an outer gun.

There is a lot of prominent stencil markings here. The largest read LOCATION FOR WING TIP STEADYING TRESTLE.

The pitot tube is visible just above the roundel. Note also navigation light at the wing tip's trailing edge.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


To take photographs of Spitfire's undercarriage, I had to move to Hendon. This simple unit is a port leg. The wheel disc is believed to be a later addition. Production Spitfire Is had spoked wheels with five spokes.

What is puzzling to the author is that the oil cooler is oval in shape rather than round, as publicised elsewhere.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


More detail of the starboard undercarriage leg. This view show also the detail of water cooler inside it's fairing.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


For modellers building dioramas, this is a reconstruction of what was a common view of the wartime RAF airfields. A trolley accumulator has been plugged in to provide power for startin the Merlin engine.

Trolleys like this where used by RAF everywhere, with almost each type of aircraft then used.

Photo: Martin Waligorski


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