My everlasting thanks go out to Andrew Torr, who let me fly his Spitfire on many occasions and as if it were my very own. It is a beautiful aircraft that one flies “with a song in your heart”.
Of the 24 variants of the Spitfire that were built, the Mk IX Spitfire was regarded as the best of all. It had the sweet handling of all the earlier models, while having the performance to match contemporary Luftwaffe fighters.
The Spitfire itself is easy enough to fly if the pilot is already familiar with high performance tailwheel aircraft.
The preparation for the first flight in the aircraft centred mainly around a thorough briefing covering technical aspects such as the engine handling and control of the coolant temperature, the undercarriage retraction and extension procedures, and then also the pneumatic brake system.
The temperature-critical nature of the operation of the engine has to be taken very seriously.
After starting up, the engine warms up quickly and will overheat if it is subjected to prolonged ground running.
If the coolant temperature gets too high, the engine must be shut down and the flight aborted.
The Air Traffic Controller has already been briefed telephonically that when the Spitfire asks for its take-off clearance it should be given priority.
As power is applied for the take-off the aircraft does not swing viciously. Great care has to be taken not to lift the tail too high because a propeller strike could occur quite easily.
The nose is lowered only until the top of the cowling is tangential to the horizon. The aircraft then accelerates nicely and lifts off on its own at about 90 miles per hour indicated airspeed.
After take-off actions
Once airborne, the pilot moves his left hand from the throttle to the stick so that his right hand can be used to retract the undercarriage. This is a somewhat complex operation that can be easily botched, the result being a partial retraction of the gear only.
The key to both a successful retraction and extension is not to rush either of the processes. Power is then reduced for the climb and the radiator flap is selected to auto, in which mode it will adjust continuously to keep the engine at the right temperature.
The superb handling qualities of the Spitfire
I flew many sorties in the Spitfire, sixteen of those being low level aerobatic displays. Having put the aircraft through its paces on numerous occasions, I found absolutely no abnormal handling vices. It is also absolutely docile in the stall.
The aircraft’s two stage supercharger is really impressive! The second stage is barometrically controlled and designed to provide additional power once the aircraft has passed through about 11000 feet above mean sea level in the climb.
On one occasion, I did a quick jaunt up to 17 000 feet and then down again as I unfortunately had no supplementary oxygen. When the supercharger kicked in, it was felt as a very definite push from behind. The aircraft then just clawed its way upwards at a rate that was nothing short of startling.
When doing aerobatics the Spitfire accelerates very rapidly in the dive thereby allowing the pilot to achieve the required speeds for looping manoeuvres with minimal height loss.
The aircraft responds beautifully in pitch. A very light pull on the elevators will give you a 3g pull-up without any effort. Slightly more pressure and you are manoeuvring at 5g.
It is plain as to see how tightly this machine can turn, and why it was so successful as a dogfighter. It maintains its energy effortlessly and whatever speed is bled off in a high g turn is regained easily as the wing is unloaded.
The approach and landing
For landing, an elliptical descending path through 180 degrees from downwind onto final is flown that will bring the aircraft to a point on the threshold where three things should occur simultaneously…The wings will be rolled level, the aircraft will be flared for the landing, and the power will be reduced to idle.
The aircraft should then experience a minimal amount of float and touch down at low speed in the three point attitude without too much of a landing roll. This method enables the pilot to keep the runway in sight throughout the approach without the nose of the aircraft obscuring his view.
There are only two flap settings, fully up or fully down. The flaps should not be lowered prematurely as they blank off the area in front of the radiator, thus impeding the airflow through it.
The brakes are old fashioned drum brakes. On hot days at places where there are downhill taxiways, one has to manage the taxi speed very carefully as it does not take much at all to heat the brakes to the point where they become barely effective.
Of all the aircraft I have ever flown, I value and cherish the time I spent on this machine the most. There are so many things that attracted me to it…its beautiful lines, the sound its engine emits, the way one sits in the cockpit, its reputation and history as a fighting machine and its delightful handling qualities.