With nearly half its weight coming from the Merlin engine, the Spitfire’s light body gave it speed and manoeuvrability – two qualities that helped it defeat its Messerschmitt rival.
In comparison to pretty much any fighter before it, the Supermarine Spitfire was exceptionally lightweight. One of the first aeroplanes to incorporate a stressed-skin aluminium structure, this – along with the semi-monocoque fuselage and shape of the elliptical wings – meant that resulting fighter aeroplane was extraordinarily fast and manoeuvrable.
Throughout World War II, the Spitfire was commended for its impressive manoeuvrability. It may not have been able to out-dive a German Messerschmitt Bf-109, but it didn’t need to. The handling of the aeroplane was impeccable, needing just the slightest of nudges on the control column to turn and being capable of complicated moves to out-fox its enemy. ‘Victory rolls’ became a well-known manoeuvre of this much-loved fighter plane. Hugh Hunt, a Professor in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge, and Tony Hoskins, a renowned restorer of Spitfires, discuss what made the aircraft able to perform so well, in a nod to those who manipulated the aeroplane’s qualities in order to emerge victorious from the Battle of Britain.