In my last entry Seaplanes and plump-bottomed angels, I introduced some of the people behind the Supermarine 6SB, a magnificent seaplane that won the Schneider Trophy. One person I didn’t introduce was the plane’s designer, Reginald Joseph Mitchell.
Hewn from dark grey slate, his statue cuts an imposing figure in our Flight Gallery as it stares at the two great planes that made Mitchell’s reputation: the 6SB and the Spitfire. Mitchell was born in 1895 and at 16 he became an apprentice at the Kerr Stuart & Co locomotive works. He joined the Supermarine Works in1917 and progressed extremely quickly to become Technical Director. He came across as a shy person but this guy didn’t suffer fools and grew very angry if interrupted while in thought. Eyebrows rose to the fact he was married to a headmistress eleven years older than him.
In the sixteen years Mitchell worked at the Supermarine Company he developed no less than 24 aircraft. The Type 224 aircraft known as the Shrew was rejected by the RAF in 1934 – a major set-back. But Mitchell was working on something else as well…
The Supermarine private venture Type 300 (an all metal mono plane) with a Rolls Royce PV12 engine eventually became the legendary Spitfire with its Merlin engine. The Spitfire, first tested in 1936 was a major defence in the Battle of Britain and was still used by the RAF in the 1950s.
And what did Mitchell have to say? Apparently when he heard what the plane was going to be called he grumbled “just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose” .