Airborne Awesomosity

Swapping Spits

Following up a legend with another great is virtually impossible, just check out The Godfather III, The Who’s replacement for Keith Moon, and the Jaguar XJ-S. There are exceptions to that rule, including Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather II, and the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. But can anyone name the Supermarine Spitfire’s successor?

By the end of the war piston-engine aircraft like the Spitfire were bumping up against performance limits that were a function of construction and design techniques, rather than an issue of power. The Spitfire’s biggest problem was its loveliest asset – that incredible elliptical wing. The wing that made the Spitfire so pretty and such a maneuverable fighter was too lightly-constructed and inefficient in shape for speeds that powerful new engines like the Rolls Royce Griffon could propel it to, and it became clear that the Spitfire would need to be radically changed.

In the mid-1940s jet fighters were gaining ground and Britain’s first, the Gloster Meteor, began to prove itself in service as early as August, 1944. But many in the military and government still did not believe jets were going to succeed, so as a contingency the British Air Ministry continued to issue requirements for new piston-engine aircraft. Supermarine’s solution was a Griffon engine mated to an advanced laminar-flow wing, much like that found on the North American P-51. This new wing was first glued to a Spitfire XIV for testing but for reasons unknown, that aircraft crashed during testing in 1944.

When the standalone Spiteful model appeared, its airframe was an update of the Spitfire XIV’s, with better visibility, a larger tail for stability, and a wider undercarriage track for better ground handling. With around 2,400HP, the Spiteful proved an amazing performer and once hit 494MPH in level flight, which is in the top five all-time for unmodified piston-powered aircraft. However, it was a bit of a handful at low speeds and seemed to offer little advantage over the jet-powered Gloster Meteor and De Havilland Vampire being developed at the same time.

The Royal Navy tested a carrier-borne version called the Seafang, sporting a unique contra-rotating propeller to counteract torque effects from the very large propeller blade but it too proved no better than the naval versions of the Vampire and Meteor, was outclassed anyway by the Hawker Sea Fury, and was cancelled after only a few were built. Sadly for fans of the beautiful machines of this era, no examples of the Spiteful or Seafang remain today.

Seafang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Image credit: tanks45tripod.com; q-zon-fighterplanes.com; airwar.ru]

  • CaptianNemo2001

    Looks like they could have just borrowed some slightly used FW-190's and saved some money…

  • The Professor

    The Royal Navy named them wrong. It should have been the Spitfang or the Seaspit.

    • Number_Six

      Or Facefulospit and Fangtasia / Spittlefit and FangseaPants / Pitspit and Gangfang…

  • pj134

    Thank you for posting my preferred Audrey while some people are arguing between Marilyn and Gina.

  • highmileage_v1

    Nice. The Martin-Baker MB-5 had similar performance but wasn't anywhere near as pretty.

    • Number_Six

      Wow, there's a name I haven't seen in years. So many capable aircraft came out just in time to be obsoleted by jets. Incidentally, I once lived near the Martin-Baker test airfield, Langford Lodge, in Northern Ireland. They have a 6,200ft rail for testing rocket sleds and it was pretty noisy even from a few miles away where my family's home was. It's a neat place to visit because there are many remains from the WWII airfield.

  • Number_Six

    Featured post! Featured post!

  • Will Campbell

    There is a Martin-Baker MB5 replica at Stead Airport near Reno Nevada (Home of the Reno Air Races). I've never seen it, but I know its there.

    I think it could be pretty cool if someone designed a racer based off the Spiteful. If they got one to do 494 mph in level flight in the '40s with a little clean up and modern technology, it would be a contender. To win at Reno these days, you need a plane that can average 490+ mph for the race. Currently the highly modified P51s Strega and most recently Voodoo have been the two fastest in the field with race averages in the very high 480s with the opening lap of the races often about 500 mph. A race built Spiteful could be a contender I think

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