What Makes The Spitfire Such A Well-Loved British Symbol?

When asked to name a World War Two airplane, most people will probably put the Spitfire near to the top of their list. The iconic design of the Spitfire is still celebrated today in everything from weathervanes to coins and comic books, but just why does this small and mighty plane have such a hold on our imaginations? Here are just a few reasons!

Simple and graceful design

The iconic design of the Spitfire has made its image one of the most recognizable and replicated symbols of World War II. The elliptical wings and neat streamlined fuselage are memorable and aesthetically pleasing. It has the grace and beauty of a bird of prey, and an equivalent ability in the air that made it Britain’s greatest wartime asset. 

The simple yet groundbreaking design made it easy for the plane to be modified and upgraded. The original designer RJ Mitchell died in 1937, and Joe Smith took up the mantle to develop the ultimate Supermarine Spitfire Mark I. This had a range of 500 miles and a 1,130 horsepower Merlin engine, with a top speed of 363 mph.

Historical significance

The Spitfire is credited with bringing victory in the Battle of Britain in 1940. Spitfires and Hurricanes held their own in the skies, despite being heavily outnumbered by German aircraft. The Mark I Spitfires had the agility, speed and manoeuvrability in the air to overcome the heavy German fighter planes.

The well organised Royal Air Force achieved a remarkable victory against the odds, and the tide of the war finally turned. The RAF managed to down 1,887 German planes in its defeat of the Luftwaffe, while the British lost 1,023 planes. Britain now had the upper hand against the Germans and the way was paved for an eventual Allies victory. 

The heroism of its pilots

Of course, the famous victory would not have been possible without the collective heroism of the WWII fighter pilots. Their immense bravery and skill was remarkable, with many just in their late teens or early twenties. Others made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, friends, and family.

During the D-Day landings of June 1944, the most recent versions of the Spitfire were able to be adapted to fighter-bombers, and played a crucial supporting role as the RAF advanced into continental Europe. 

Its place in our culture

There were almost 22,000 Spitfires and at least 46 variations built between 1936 and 1947, and their legacy has been woven into our cultural fabric. They have been endlessly celebrated in literature, art, and film, and are unlikely to ever fade from cultural history.  

A lasting legacy

There are still several well-preserved Spitfires in the UK and around the world today. Some are used for static display, but around 60 (including 30 in the UK) are still fully operational and take part in flying displays. It is even possible to book a special flight in an airworthy Spitfire and experience the legendary aircraft first hand.