Spitfire: frequently asked questions

What Engine did the Spitfire Have?

The Supermarine Spitfire is the most iconic British aircraft of World War Two. It has a unique sound, made by the 12-cylindered engine.

Most Supermarine Spitfires had the Rolls-Royce Merlin, a V-12 engine of 27 litres. Later marks of the Spitfire had the Rolls-Royce Griffon, which had a capacity of 37 litres. The first flight by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engined Spitfire took place on March 5, 1936. The first Griffon engined Mk XII flew in August 1942, and first flew operationally in April 1943. This Mk XII could exceed 400 mph (640 km/h) in level flight and climb to an altitude of 33,000 ft (10,000 m) in fewer than nine minutes.

A 27-litre Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, sectioned so you can see inside

Was the Spitfire the fastest plane in WW2?

No, but it was the fastest during the crucial Battle of Britain in 1940. The fastest plane in WW2 was the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, a German rocket-powered interceptor aircraft. It was the only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to have become operational. It was extremely fast, being the first piloted aircraft of any type to exceed 1000 km/h (621 mph) in level flight. The Komet was also extremely dangerous to fly, and destroyed only 9 Allied aircraft against 10 losses. Many pilots were killed during testing and training. Unfortunately the Komet, although having the coolest name, looked like a bit like a flying pig (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messerschmitt_Me_163_Komet#/media/File:Me163.jpg) whereas the Spitfire was probably the most beautiful aircraft ever built.

Was the Spitfire the best plane in WW2? There are many contenders for the best plane of WW2. The Japanese Zero? The American Mustang? The German Focke-Wulf FW-190? Or the jet-powered Messerschmitt Me 262? In the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire had the highest victory-to-loss ratio among British aircraft: Johnnie Johnson (34 kills), Bob Tuck (27 kills), and Douglas Bader (20 Kills) were the top aces. But Oberleutnant Otto Kittel shot down 267 Soviet planes, most of them from a Focke-Wulf FW-190! It all depends what you’re measuring. But the Merlin-powered Hurricanes and Spitfires probably swung the course of the war by winning the Battle of Britain and stopping a German invasion.

Is a Spitfire better than a Mustang? The Mustang was faster, despite using the same Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. This was largely because it had a more efficient wing profile. It also had enough range to accompany heavy bombers to Berlin. But the Spitfire was supreme during the brief period of the Battle of Britain. It could always turn tighter than any other plane.

Which is better, a Spitfire or a Messerschmitt? The Messerschmitt BF 109 was one of the best planes of all time. It was designed by Robert Lusser and Willy Messerschmitt during the 1930s.  Its engine wasn’t quite as powerful as the Rolls-Royce Merlin in the Spitfire, but its direct fuel injection meant it could out-dive the Spitfire. The Spitfire could turn tighter and faster, though. In the horsepower race between the two combatants Rolls-Royce just managed to keep ahead. If you would like to know how the engineers did that, read my book!

How many Spitfires are left? Out of the 20,351 Spitfires built around 240 remain. Of these, around 60 are airworthy. 70 are used for static display and around 110 across the world are either held in storage or are being restored.

How many Spitfires were shot down during the Battle of Britain? Spitfire losses were 208 lost in combat, seven destroyed on the ground, and 42 in flying accidents