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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.

  

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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh


Volume 9, Number 6 August 1, 2008     

Spitfire continues to captivate crowds
By Frederick A. Johnsen

With Royal Canadian Air Force re-enactors lounging historically beneath the wings of a Spitfire Mk. V, Adam Smith told an AirVenture crowd about the famous fighter. Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen

A newly restored Spitfire Mk. V fighter captured a crowd of admirers at a Warbirds in Review session Wednesday. The fighter’s place in history, and in the collective English consciousness, was highlighted by speaker Adam Smith, former EAA AirVenture Museum director and current vice president of membership.

"This is a brilliant restoration," Smith said, referring to the Spitfire behind him, belonging to Rod Lewis of San Antonio, Texas. Smith, a native of Great Britain, said to this day, British children will see any airplane in the sky—even a jet—and exclaim: "Oh look! It’s a Spitfire!" The swiftly curvy Royal Air Force fighter with the racing plane pedigree has taken hold of the British psyche for decades since World War II, Smith explained.

England feared a German invasion by 1940, Smith told the crowd. "Germany had built up this incredible mystique." Just as the British knew their sovereignty relied on the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force to keep Germany at bay, so did the Germans know that the air force must be vanquished before an invasion could be mounted. Some 2,000 Royal Air Force pilots stood up to a larger Luftwaffe, and turned the Germans away. The Battle of Britain, starring Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes, marked the first defeat for Germany in the war.

Perhaps it was the grace of the Spitfire compared with the stubbier lines of the Hurricane that ultimately elevated the Spitfire to the status of Battle of Britain icon. Smith said the Hurricane gets lost in the shuffle even though there were more Hurricanes involved in battle, and they shot down more German aircraft than did Spitfires. He acknowledged the Spitfire’s intrinsic beauty "makes you feel passionate about the airplane."

Smith described details on the restored Spitfire at the Warbirds in Review session. Pointing out rectangles of red tape over the wing machine gun muzzles, he said armorers could see at a glance when a Spitfire returning from combat had fired its guns because the tape would be flapping and shredded. This was a quick clue that the fighter needed to be re-armed before returning to the fray. Seconds were precious during the Battle of Britain, when Spitfires flew multiple sorties in one day to fend off Luftwaffe raids.

Stewart Dawson, who flew Lewis’ Spitfire from San Antonio to AirVenture 2008, described flying the aircraft: "It’s the closest thing to a model airplane in maneuverability." Very responsive, with light aileron forces, the Spitfire benefits from light wing loading compared to some fighters. But it was designed at a time when many RAF airfields were vast grass acreage on which pilots could always take off and land into the wind by simply pointing in that direction. As a result, the Spitfire’s narrow landing gear track was not optimized for crosswind operations, Dawson told the crowd.

The Mark V variant of the Spitfire is a lightweight, with only one radiator slung under the wing. Dawson said this is sufficient cooling in flight, but ground operations at slower speeds can be demanding. Expeditious taxiing to takeoff or parking is required to keep from overheating. Plus, the Spitfire’s landing flaps have only two positions—up and down—and when in the down position, they blank airflow to the radiator. This makes it incumbent on the Spitfire pilot to remember to retract the wing flaps as soon as the fighter is on the ground, Dawson said.

On the flight from Texas to Oshkosh, Dawson cruised the Spitfire at a fuel burn rate of about 44 gallons per hour, he said.

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