Spitfire (Technical Guides)

Image of Spitfire (Technical Guides)
Release Date: 
January 2, 2024
Amber Books
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In this short book filled with drawings and photographs, Edward Ward tells a concise technical service history of the Spitfire, what he describes as the “most important British aircraft of all time.”With its “unique shape” and pivotal, although overstated role in World War II’s “Battle of Britain,” the history tells of a plane that first flew in an operational capacity for Britain in 1936 and lasted till 1957.

There is no “one” Spitfire however, and the book’s chronology speaks to its development over numerous variants and sub types from the original designed by RJ Mitchell. Indeed, the plane would find itself performing multiple roles across its lifespan from interceptor to reconnaissance.

The plane’s early history charts its development from a company with seaplane origins to the importance of pre-war racing competitions as a catalyst to its design. The combination of a Rolls Royce engine with aerodynamic genius particularly its elliptical wing allowed for the Spitfire’s exceptional handling, the ingredients for success under the UK flag but also the other nations that flew it, including the Americans and the Soviets.  

Over time new makes sought to improve the aircraft’s range, allow it to reach higher altitudes, carry bombs, and more. Ward tells the story of how engine and frame innovation moved at separate speeds as the aircraft advanced, as well as the importance of its competition with other allied and enemy planes—particularly the Messerschmitt BF 109.

For non-specialists the tails of trial and error and learning from military failure have huge relevance far beyond the small Spitfire aircraft. Guns jammed, engines were flooded with fuel in steep dives, the original cockpit canopy frequently saw pilots bang their heads—yet each iteration led to learning and improvement. A quirk of history is that such a famous plane—that would come to embody British spirit against the odds—first saw action shooting down an Allied plane by mistake and indeed its last combat action years later involved another friendly fire incident.

The book is very much a technical guide as advertised with much of its content only to be truly appreciated by aficionados, fans of subtle changes to the aircraft such as adjustments to its color scheme or niche details like changes in wingtip length. There are some hidden anecdotes beyond the detail, such as the time the aircraft were used to transport beer to troops in Europe or how pilots used “wing tipping” to take down German V-1 flying bombs heading to London.