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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed‘Hooked Spitfire’ comes aboard AirVenture
Story and photos by Frederick A. Johnsen
Seafire on planks representing Canadian carrier deck.
Jim Cooper demonstrates the tail hook.

The book may call it a Seafire, but pilots preferred “hooked Spitfire” when describing the navalized version of the renowned Supermarine fighter.
Jim Cooper learned that fact while completing the restoration on Dr. Wes Stricker’s Seafire Mk.XV in Missouri. “Spitfire” had World War II street cred; “Seafire” prompted quizzical looks back in the day.

The rare folding-wing variant of the much-beloved Spit makes its debut at AirVenture 2010.

It has 10 hours’ flight time since July 1; its previous log entry is dated 1950.

Parked on planks painted to represent a Royal Canadian Navy aircraft carrier deck, the Seafire carries an exacting re-creation of the camouflage and markings it wore when new.

The double-hinged folding wings resemble origami—or perhaps an ancient hieroglyphic depiction—but they are strictly functional.

British aircraft carrier hangar decks had lower ceilings than their American counterparts, so the Seafire folds twice.

Cooper explained the manual process: With wings extended, the tips are dropped and immobilized 90 degrees down. Next, a rope is passed through a hidden eyelet in the top of the wing and looped over the cannon on the opposite wing to create a makeshift block and tackle. With a few hands manually lifting the now-disengaged wing upward, and others tugging on the rope, the wing is wrestled to the vertical. Then the rope around the cannon becomes a brake to slow the descent of the folding wing inward toward the fuselage, where a jury strut locks it in place.

The hooked Spitfire earned its nickname from the addition of a mechanical tail hook faired beneath the rudder.

Set by deck handlers, the tail hook could only be dropped once; no mechanism exists to retract it.

On approach to the carrier, the tail hook and its streamlined fairing would weathervane with the true line of flight, keeping the hook appropriately aligned to catch the arresting cables, Cooper said.

The Seafire also carries provisions for attaching catapult bridles for assisted deck launches, something not required for land-based RAF Spitfires.

Positioning of the bridle mounts facilitated a tail-low launch attitude.

The engine on the Seafire Mk.XV is a “short Griffon,” so named because it uses a single-stage blower for altitude performance instead of a two-stage blower. This 1850-hp variant of the Griffon is married to a four-blade wooden Rotol airscrew (propeller).

Cooper said the wooden Rotol blades would break readily if the running engine encountered an obstacle, and this failure mode helped save engine crankshafts from incurring costly and time-consuming damage.

Cooper figures he has put 8,000 man-hours into this hooked Spitfire since coming to the project in 2006 at Columbia, Missouri. The airframe had been a static display many years ago, and some items had to be restored anew to flight standards.

In the course of revealing the metal beneath old paint, Cooper uncovered some penciled engineering notes for rivet locations in the right wheel well, vestiges of the people who built the aircraft in May 1945.

Gulping as much as a gallon a minute of gasoline, the Seafire benefited from a streamlined belly tank that attached snugly to the fuselage. Only two original belly tanks of the type are known to Cooper, and one of these iron—not aluminum—tanks is displayed next to the fighter at AirVenture 2010.

Hooks visible on the fuselage engage the aft portion of the tank and serve as hinge points when it is jettisoned to ensure it swings free of the aircraft without colliding.

The Seafire Mk.XV was clocked at about 395 miles an hour above 12,000 feet. Its operating arena—from the deck of a carrier to sufficient altitude to meet inbound attackers—made this performance viable.

Interestingly, the U.S. Navy shunned liquid-cooled engines for its fighters to avoid the added seaborne logistics that would be required to support the cooling system.

But when the British needed a homegrown shipboard fighter during the war, available liquid-cooled Spitfire variants filled the bill. The Royal Navy also took on strength from a number of American-built air-cooled fighters including versions of the Wildcat, Hellcat, and Corsair.

The tall-standing Corsair, with overhead folding wings, received clipped wingtips to fit those low British hangar decks.

The pristine Seafire displayed in the Warbirds area is a must-see; just swagger up and call it a “hooked Spitfire.”

That’ll please the display crew.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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