The Supermarine Spitfire and it’s Mighty Merlin Engine

Supermarine Spitfire

The Supermarine Spitfire introduced into the Royal Air Force in 1938 found fame during the Battle of Britain in World War Two (1940)and served with distinction in many Air Forces around the World for many years. It suffered from a lack of range (like most fighters designed in the 1930’s) but was perfect for short ranged interceptor missions with its high-speed, maneuverability and powerful armament. The dog fighters dream!

The Spitfire with it’s distinctive elliptical wings (they taper at the wingtips to minimize) and smooth lines is almost a work of art (a deadly one at that) and has become one of the most famous aircraft from World War Two. It was produced from 1938 to 1948 with over 20,000 built (different variants).

Supermarine Spitfire

Many examples of the Spitfire remain in aviation museums around the world but less than 50 remain flight capable (the majority are in the UK, but more are being restored). I have been fortunate enough to see a number of Spitfire’s over the years (flying and static) including often seeing 2 flying Spitfire’s back in Australia (Temora Aviation Museum), and luckily 2 Spitfire’s fly regularly right here in Washington State too (Flying Heritage Collection and Historic Flight Foundation).

Supermarine Spitfire

The Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington have an immaculate Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc which they fly regularly each summer (this particular aircraft from 1942 flew in the British-based free Czech 312 Squadron). I have seen this Spitfire a number of times in the past 12 months but on a visit to this museum on February 10th, 2012 I got to take a very different look at this famous aircraft by seeing what is under the cowl (the sheet metal around the engine of an aircraft).

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc
The normal view of Spitfire Mk.Vc at Flying Heritage Collection (2011)

The mighty Rolls Royce Merlin engine of the Spitfire was on full display as it was undergoing annual maintenance. In fact every hatch on the aircraft was open and even the propeller hub was removed. A very unusual way to see this normally very sleek fighter.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc Rolls Royce Merlin
Spitfire Mk.Vc at Flying Heritage Collection (Feb 2012)

Rolls Royce Merlin

The Spitfire was powered by a succession of Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 engines throughout World War Two (the same engine which also powered many famous aircraft: Avro Lancaster, DeHavilland Mosquito, Hawker Hurricane and North American P-51 Mustang). It was eventually replaced by the more powerful Rolls Royce Griffon V-12 engine (piston engined fighters needed more power and speed).

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc Rolls Royce Merlin
Rolls Royce Merlin

The Spitfire Mk.Vc was powered by a 1,470-hp Rolls Royce Merlin 45 engine which produced a top speed of 374 mph / 602 kmph. To hear it running and in flight is something special, but to get a close up look at a fully operational engine and how it is connected to the airframe is a unique experience. I felt like I was getting a glimpse into the past, the engine looked brand new! For a moment I could easily have been standing in a hangar in the 1940’s.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc Rolls Royce Merlin
Spitfire Mk.Vc

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