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View Full Version : What it is like to fly a real Spitfire



WilhelmVonPrang
06-06-2007, 09:32 AM
I found this at:-
http://www.pprune.org/forums/archive/index.php/t-48477.html
whilst trying to find information on tailwheel locks and how they were implemented on the Spit - no luck yet...

This has probably been posted here before but I cannot verify that through any search engine use. I have also tried to locate the author, without success but humble thanks to John Farley for the original posting. Within lies a jewel...

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John Farley
30th December 2001, 00:30
Slasher

I have been waiting in vain for someone much better qualified than me to answer your question about what it is like to fly a Spitfire. But no joy, so I will have to give it a go.

Back in 1991, I was privileged to fly the OFMC Spit IX for 18 trips during that air show season. Mark Hanna briefed me and without exaggeration I can say it was the best pilot-to-pilot brief I have ever had. So I knew what I had to do but at the same time I was extremely concerned in case I bent it. It was eight years since I had stopped flying professionally and any flying currency came from the odd trip in this or that light aircraft. Hardly the stuff to make you feel confident when tackling a National Treasure.

That concern dominated "what it was like to fly" until I passed over the Duxford hangars after my first take off. Up until then it was all about executing the brief and I had no mental horsepower left to actually appreciate things. The takeoff was all about what you would expect, no forward view, keeping straight, power on gently, making sure you kept the power back within the conservative limits set, keeping straight, raising the tail very carefully (just enough to see) and not beyond a slightly tail low attitude in order to keep the prop from hitting the ground on bumpy grass. Did I mention keeping straight? After unstuck there was an instant need to change hands to get the gear up using a combined gear and flap hydraulic selector gate on the right - the operation of which was anything except instinctive.

Then over the hangars I looked out sideways and saw the wing. That may seem a strange comment to make, but these days one is so often sitting out in front of whatever you are flying and so cannot see the airframe. Anyhow, there were these wings, at which point it actually sunk in that I was flying a Spitfire. I shouted out loud "Yes" and then felt a right prat a moment later for such un-cool behaviour.

A few minutes earlier, when walking out to the aircraft I had passed Ray Hanna, and he had mentioned that at shows he wanted to see no straight in approaches in his favourite aircraft, but a nice turning final until the flare - otherwise I could expect my cards. I said something on the lines of "we would have to see about that" and got on with thinking about the trip. Little did I realise the significance of what Ray said until I came in to land. In handling terms this frightening monster had became a pussycat on finals. By that I mean it was light on the controls, with excellent response about all axes and it flew really slowly as well. To get horribly technical it was light and floaty, not a lead sled. The end result was a feeling that it was totally happy aerodynamically and not going to bite you. Of course you could see absolutely zero out the front, but that was easily fixed by doing a turning final.

So suddenly it all became clear. All those war time movie shots of tight turning finals, with wings levelled only in the flare, was not a bunch of aces showing off at all (as I had previously thought) but the natural and easy way for anyone to land a Spit. It helps that the aircraft is quite clean, even gear and flap down, so it needs only a trickle of power as you approach the flare. This of course means there is not much of a change in lift or control circumstances when you eventually ease off the throttle.

These days I have been known to give a talk to aviation societies entitled "The Spitfire, the Lavi, the MiG-29 and the Harrier a common denominator?" What can four such very different aeroplanes have in common? Well for my money each aeroplane is world class in respect of one characteristic. In the case of the Spitfire (Mk IX at least) it is the exquisite lateral control during the landing manoeuvre. I have never experienced better.

(In case you are interested, for me the Lavi has the easiest multirole fastjet cockpit to operate, the MiG-29 has the most benign high alpha handling fighter wing, while the Harrier has the best operating site flexibility) But I digress, back to the Spitfire.

Some modern pilots used to fully powered controls, might be a tad surprised at the muscle needed to get max manoeuvrability at higher speeds, but that is manual controls for you.

Flying display manoeuvres with a much reduced boost setting required one to be gentle and flowing or you could easily finish up slow and in the buffet and going nowhere and needing quite a while to build up energy again. I am sure that with +12 or more boost it would have been quite a different aeroplane. But regardless of the power available, one thing would not have changed with the slightest touch of less than zero g the donk would cut. I understand the injected 109 was naturally a much better bet in that regard. Having the freedom to push to evade must have been important. Needing to roll and pull to suddenly get the nose down would take a lot longer, perhaps too long.

I have not mentioned what it is like to sit a few feet behind a Merlin that is firing up, idling, at high power or whatever. Why? Because I am just not good enough with words to do the experience justice.

The worst aspect of operating the Spitfire? Engine temperature handling on the ground. It naturally had to be warmed up before doing the mag and power checks, but then you only had a minute or two before you had to either get airborne and avail yourself of some ram flow through the radiators or shut down again.

Hope that helps.
----------------------------------

WilhelmVonPrang
06-06-2007, 09:32 AM
I found this at:-
http://www.pprune.org/forums/archive/index.php/t-48477.html
whilst trying to find information on tailwheel locks and how they were implemented on the Spit - no luck yet...

This has probably been posted here before but I cannot verify that through any search engine use. I have also tried to locate the author, without success but humble thanks to John Farley for the original posting. Within lies a jewel...

----------------------------------
John Farley
30th December 2001, 00:30
Slasher

I have been waiting in vain for someone much better qualified than me to answer your question about what it is like to fly a Spitfire. But no joy, so I will have to give it a go.

Back in 1991, I was privileged to fly the OFMC Spit IX for 18 trips during that air show season. Mark Hanna briefed me and without exaggeration I can say it was the best pilot-to-pilot brief I have ever had. So I knew what I had to do but at the same time I was extremely concerned in case I bent it. It was eight years since I had stopped flying professionally and any flying currency came from the odd trip in this or that light aircraft. Hardly the stuff to make you feel confident when tackling a National Treasure.

That concern dominated "what it was like to fly" until I passed over the Duxford hangars after my first take off. Up until then it was all about executing the brief and I had no mental horsepower left to actually appreciate things. The takeoff was all about what you would expect, no forward view, keeping straight, power on gently, making sure you kept the power back within the conservative limits set, keeping straight, raising the tail very carefully (just enough to see) and not beyond a slightly tail low attitude in order to keep the prop from hitting the ground on bumpy grass. Did I mention keeping straight? After unstuck there was an instant need to change hands to get the gear up using a combined gear and flap hydraulic selector gate on the right - the operation of which was anything except instinctive.

Then over the hangars I looked out sideways and saw the wing. That may seem a strange comment to make, but these days one is so often sitting out in front of whatever you are flying and so cannot see the airframe. Anyhow, there were these wings, at which point it actually sunk in that I was flying a Spitfire. I shouted out loud "Yes" and then felt a right prat a moment later for such un-cool behaviour.

A few minutes earlier, when walking out to the aircraft I had passed Ray Hanna, and he had mentioned that at shows he wanted to see no straight in approaches in his favourite aircraft, but a nice turning final until the flare - otherwise I could expect my cards. I said something on the lines of "we would have to see about that" and got on with thinking about the trip. Little did I realise the significance of what Ray said until I came in to land. In handling terms this frightening monster had became a pussycat on finals. By that I mean it was light on the controls, with excellent response about all axes and it flew really slowly as well. To get horribly technical it was light and floaty, not a lead sled. The end result was a feeling that it was totally happy aerodynamically and not going to bite you. Of course you could see absolutely zero out the front, but that was easily fixed by doing a turning final.

So suddenly it all became clear. All those war time movie shots of tight turning finals, with wings levelled only in the flare, was not a bunch of aces showing off at all (as I had previously thought) but the natural and easy way for anyone to land a Spit. It helps that the aircraft is quite clean, even gear and flap down, so it needs only a trickle of power as you approach the flare. This of course means there is not much of a change in lift or control circumstances when you eventually ease off the throttle.

These days I have been known to give a talk to aviation societies entitled "The Spitfire, the Lavi, the MiG-29 and the Harrier a common denominator?" What can four such very different aeroplanes have in common? Well for my money each aeroplane is world class in respect of one characteristic. In the case of the Spitfire (Mk IX at least) it is the exquisite lateral control during the landing manoeuvre. I have never experienced better.

(In case you are interested, for me the Lavi has the easiest multirole fastjet cockpit to operate, the MiG-29 has the most benign high alpha handling fighter wing, while the Harrier has the best operating site flexibility) But I digress, back to the Spitfire.

Some modern pilots used to fully powered controls, might be a tad surprised at the muscle needed to get max manoeuvrability at higher speeds, but that is manual controls for you.

Flying display manoeuvres with a much reduced boost setting required one to be gentle and flowing or you could easily finish up slow and in the buffet and going nowhere and needing quite a while to build up energy again. I am sure that with +12 or more boost it would have been quite a different aeroplane. But regardless of the power available, one thing would not have changed with the slightest touch of less than zero g the donk would cut. I understand the injected 109 was naturally a much better bet in that regard. Having the freedom to push to evade must have been important. Needing to roll and pull to suddenly get the nose down would take a lot longer, perhaps too long.

I have not mentioned what it is like to sit a few feet behind a Merlin that is firing up, idling, at high power or whatever. Why? Because I am just not good enough with words to do the experience justice.

The worst aspect of operating the Spitfire? Engine temperature handling on the ground. It naturally had to be warmed up before doing the mag and power checks, but then you only had a minute or two before you had to either get airborne and avail yourself of some ram flow through the radiators or shut down again.

Hope that helps.
----------------------------------

Morteiin
06-06-2007, 11:40 AM
Interesting reading. But that last paragraph, what's that all about? Overheating on the ground within a couple of minutes after doing mag and power checks. How long do those checks take to do then? What I'm wondering is whether this kind of overheating is modelled in-game. If so, I've never noticed, and if not, it seems to me like it should be (in SOW:BOB at least). Getting it into the air or damaging it seems to me like a pretty fundamental feature to include. Maybe I'm just misunderstanding what I'm reading there.

horseback
06-06-2007, 11:54 AM
The tendency to overheat on the ground was common to many fighters of that generation, designed for high performance with a brand new engine design in the mid-late thirties.

I understand that the 109 and 190 were at least as prone to overheat while waiting for clearance for takeoff; it was a major reason for the regular practice of taking off in pairs and fours during the war.

That sort of concern about getting off the ground quickly only seems unusual to modern pilots, whose point of reference came three generations of aircraft later.

cheers

horseback

Schwarz.13
06-06-2007, 12:18 PM
In Battle Of Britain, Michael Caine's character is sitting at cockpit readiness and says "How much longer Ops? The engine's overheating and so am I! We either stand-down or blow up which do you want?". The film had Bob Stanford Tuck and Ginger Lacey as technical advisors (among others).

Nice read though Wilhelm. The bit i am confused about is the part about the engine cutting with zero Gs - he states it was a Mk IX he was flying - i thought the problem of the engine cutting due to 'bunting' was resolved sometime after the MkI/II? However i'm sure someone with more knowledge can enlighten me...

ste_lakey
06-06-2007, 12:26 PM
Good post Wilhelm. I met John Farley at university where he gave a presentation on his test flying career and all the types of aircraft he has flown.

Xiolablu3
06-06-2007, 12:48 PM
Nice read, thanks!

I am also confused at the engine cut out comments.

Is he saying that even the later marks had the engine cut out problem?

If so then surely the P51 should have had this problem too - I have never heard of that before?

Very strange, I thought this problem was solved on the MkV and later, and even the later M1's and mk2's had 'Miss Shillings Orifice which stopped the cut out problem.

Viper2005_
06-06-2007, 12:56 PM
In theory an original Mk.IX should not suffer a negative g cut at all.

However:

1) Aircraft flying on the airshow circuit are often in a very different mod state from those used operationally 60+ years ago. This may include having the "wrong" engine(s) fitted. No point fitting a 60 series Merlin with a complex & expensive 2 stage 2 speed supercharger when you'll only ever be operating at low level (and at low power settings to conserve engine life), so quite often different Merlins are fitted; 20 series or the civil 500 series being popular (longer overhaul life). The chances are that FS gear will never be used even then so it may well be disabled. Different engines have different ancillaries and different performance characteristics. Many Griffon Spitfires are now fitted with modified Shackleton engines etc.

2) Thinking about the date it is somewhat haunting to consider the following:

http://www.aaib.dft.gov.uk/cms_resources/dft_avsafety_pdf_501355.pdf
(NB - you need to read the whole thing carefully!)