The Aircraft of R. J. Mitchell

Supermarine Walrus design by R.J. Mitchell

Supermarine Walrus design by R.J. Mitchell

On May 20, 1895English aeronautical engineer and aircraft designer Reginald Joseph Mitchell was born. Mitchell worked for Supermarine Aviation. Between 1920 and 1936 he designed many aircraft and is best remembered for his racing seaplanes, which culminated in the Supermarine S.6B, and the iconic Second World War fighter, the Supermarine Spitfire.

R.J. Mitchell joined the Supermarine Aviation Works at Southampton in 1917. Two years later, he was appointed Chief Designer, then Chief Engineer and in 1927, Mitchell became Technical Director. Around that period, R.J. Mitchell designed 24 aircraft including flying boats such as the Supermarine Sea Eagle, the Supermarine Sea King, the Supermarine Walrus, and Supermarine Stranraer, and racing seaplanes.

Mitchell is probably best known for his design of the Supermarine Spitfire which emerged from the evolution of his Schneider Trophy seaplanes. The Air Ministry issued specification F7/30 for a fighter aircraft to replace the Gloster Gauntlet in 1931. R.J. Mitchell proposed the Type 224 design, which became one of three designs the Air Ministry ordered prototypes of. The first test flight of the Type 224 took place in February 1934, however, it was rejected by the RAF. In the meantime, Mitchell had already developed the Type 300 which became the Supermarine Spitfire. The Spitfire was an all-metal monoplane with elliptical wings were designed by Canadian aerodynamicist Beverley Shenstone. It is believed that the plane shared similarities with the Heinkel He 70 Blitz and the under-wing radiators had been designed by the RAE. The monocoque construction had been first developed in the United States. R.J. Mitchell’s achievement was putting all of these pieces together with his experience of high speed flight and the Type 224. In March 1936, the first prototype Spitfire, serial K5054, flew for the first time. During the testing period, the aircraft reached 349 mph and the RAFordered 310 production Spitfires.

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk XIIs of 41 Squadron in April 1944

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk XIIs of 41 Squadron in April 1944

R.J. Mitchell’s design of the Spitfire was known to be so sound that it was continually improved throughout World War II and all in all more than 22.000 Spitfires and derivatives were built. It’s legendary status was achieved during the Battle of Britain. Throughout the battle, the Hurricane outnumbered the Spitfire and shouldered the burden of the defence against the Luftwaffe. Still, because of its higher performance the overall attrition rate of the Spitfire squadrons was lower than that of the Hurricane units, and the Spitfire units had a higher victory-to-loss ratio.

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