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Flying a Spitfire

Flying a Spitfire

Flying a Spitfire for the first time as a newly qualified pilot must have been a daunting prospect. A Spitfire was much faster than any RAF trainer aircraft and far more manoeuvrable - an altogether different flying experience. It was generally thought that if a novice Spitfire pilot could survive his first week in combat during the Battle of Britain, then he had a good chance of lasting for the duration of the battle, as his fist week would have been a very steep learning curve. As an aid to mastering the Spitfire, the Air Council provided a new pilot with a written guide simply titled “Pilot's Notes”, which advised on how to take off, climbing to altitude, maintaining control over the aircraft while in flight, what to do if the Spitfire stalls in flight, aerobatics and diving.

Take-off: “Open the throttle fully. Any tendency to swing can be counteracted by coarse us (sic) of the rudder. If taking off from a small aerodrome with a full load, max boost may be obtained by operating the boost control cut-out.

After raising the undercarriage, see that the red indicator light - UP - comes on (it may be necessary to hold the lever hard forward against the quadrant until the indicator light comes on).

Do not start to climb before a speed of 140 mph is attained.”

Climbing: “For maximum rate of climb the following speeds are recommended:

Ground level to 12,000 feet: 185 mph

12,000 feet to 15,000 feet: 180 mph

15,000 feet to 20,000 feet: 170 mph

20,000 feet to 25,000 feet: 160 mph”

General Flying: “This aeroplane is stable. With metal covered ailerons the lateral control is much lighter that with the earlier fabric covered ailerons and pilots accustomed to the latter must be careful not to overstress the wings. Similar care is necessary in the use of the elevators, which are light and sensitive.

For normal cruising flight the radiator shutter should be in the minimum drag position.”

Stalling: “At the stall one wing will usually drop with the flaps either up or down and the machine may spin if the control column is held back.

This aeroplane has sensitive elevators and, if the control column is brought back too rapidly in a manoeuvre such as a loop or steep turn, stalling incidence may be reached and a high-speed stall induced. When this occurs there is a violent shudder and clattering noise throughout the aeroplane, which tends to flick over laterally and, unless the control column is put forward instantly, a rapid roll and spin will result.

Approximate stalling speeds when loaded to about 6,250 lbs are:

Flaps and undercarriage UP: 73 mph

Flaps and undercarriage DOWN: 64 mph”

Aerobatics: “This aeroplane is exceptionally good for acrobatics. Owing to its high performance and sensitive elevator control, care must be taken not to impose excessive loads either on the aeroplane or on the pilot and not to induce a high-speed stall. Many aerobatics may be done at much less than full throttle. Cruising rpm should be used, because if reduced below this, detonation may occur if the throttle is opened up to climbing boost for any reason.

The following speeds are recommended for acrobatics:

Looping - speed should be about 300 mph but may be reduced to 220-250 mph when the pilot is fully proficient.

Rolling - Speed should be anywhere between 180 and 300 mph. The nose should be brought up about 30 degrees above the horizon at the start, the roll being barrelled just enough to keep the engine running throughout.

Half roll off loop - speed should be 320-350 mph

Flick manoeuvre - Flick manoeuvres are not permitted.”

Diving: The aeroplane becomes very tail heavy at high speed and must be trimmed into the dive in order to avoid the danger of excessive acceleration in recovery. The forward trim should be wound back as speed is lost after pulling out. A tendency to yaw to the right should be corrected by use of the rudder trimming tab.”

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