|Seafire on planks
representing Canadian carrier deck.
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
British aircraft carrier hangar decks had
lower ceilings than their American counterparts, so the Seafire folds
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
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
The pristine Seafire displayed in the
Warbirds area is a must-see; just swagger up and call it a “hooked
That’ll please the display crew.