Supermarine Spiteful Single-Seat, Single-Engine Fighter Prototype
The Supermarine Spiteful was developed during World War 2 as a possible successor to the storied Spitfire fighter series.
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The Supermarine Spiteful was an outgrowth of the fabulous, war-winning Supermarine Spitfire single-engine, piston-driven fighter of World War 2 (1939-1945). The Spitfire evolved along many lines during the war years, the finalized forms becoming much more advanced versions than those seen in the skies during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. Some of the last variants were as fast as early turbojet fighters and packed an impressive offensive punch, keeping them flying for years after the line should have been rightfully replaced by more modern types. The Spiteful did not encounter nearly the same level of success as its root design, seeing just a total of nineteen aircraft built including two prototypes - the jet age had quickly dawned and rendered most prop-driven fighters obsolete in the grand scheme of aerial combat.
Despite the excellence showcased by the Spitfires in combat, it was becoming apparent that the design was soon to meet its performance limitation due to its unique elliptical wing set. In testing, the aircraft was stressed to the limits as it dove to reach 600 mile per hour speeds. To remedy this a new 35-foot span straight, laminar-flow, tapered wing was under consideration in November of 1942. The wings would accommodate a pair of 20mm cannons each to retain a formidable armament array but have to be manufactured to rather precise tolerances.
Prototype Spitfires with the new wing were ordered and these would be based on the Spitfire F.Mk VIII variant and number three total examples (Specification F.1/43 of 1943 was written up to cover this initiative). Essentially the work would retain much of the form and function of the Mk VIII Spitfire with the new wing unit simply added to the airframe. The engine would be revised to become a Rolls-Royce Merlin or Griffon fit and either engine would be used to drive a pair of three-bladed propellers in a contra-rotating fashion. The base maximum speed target was around 525 miles per hour.
Sufficiently impressed with the pending design, it was decided in late 1943 to gear up existing production lines for the new fighter for the latter half of 1944. Delays were seen with the precision involved in fabricating the special wings and the lack of skilled labor only hampered the overall effort. The first prototype was finally made airworthy and flown on June 30th, 1944. This aircraft featured the new wings with the Spitfire F.Mk XIV body and proved itself a faster mount though its performance did not immediately match what had been hoped for. This aircraft was lost in a fatal crash on September 13th.
The second prototype was in the air during January 8th, 1945 and testing revealed issues with the wings related to stalling and low-speed handling but there was no arguing full, straight line speeds of the new aircraft. A new enlarged tailplane added area which improved handling at low speeds some though the additional drag reduced straight-line speeds to match that of the late-model Spitfires. Testing continued from June 1945 until October 1945 - though, by this point, the war in Europe had ended in May so there was a reduced need for the new aircraft. In the end, only Griffon engines were used in the Spiteful project and a four-, then later, five-bladed propeller unit was standardized over the original contra-rotating units.
The third prototype followed in early 1946 and this featured a five-bladed propeller unit ahead of a new, low-drag air intake assembly found under the nose. A review of this aircraft showcased concerns related to general in-the-field maintenance, arming/rearming practices, and the cockpit arrangement. This model continued flying into 1947.
The Spiteful was finally ordered through the Spiteful F.Mk XIV (Mk 14) model in keeping with its origins from the Spitfire F.Mk XIV (Mk 14) line. The aircraft was powered by a Rolls-Royce Griffon 69 series inline developing 2,375 horsepower with maximum speeds reaching 483 miles per hour. The initial call was for 150 of the type but the end of the war and progress being made with turbojet-powered fighters rendered the need for a new prop-driven, land-based fighter somewhat moot. As was the case with so many late-war programs, the Spiteful program suffered in the face of the post-war military drawdown period and its serial production was inevitably stopped after just seventeen examples had been completed. Production of Spitefuls ended as soon as December 1945 and many of the airframes were subsequently sold off by mid-1948.
There was a short-lived attempt to keep the Spiteful design aloft through the Supermarine "Seafang" initiative (Specification N.5/45 of 1945), this aircraft to follow in the steps of the wartime Supermarine "Seafire" - the navalized variant of the storied land-based Spitfire. This essentially converted the Spiteful to a carrier-based fighter for possible service with the Royal Navy. A "one-off" model was pulled from the existing Spiteful stock and was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Griffon 89 series engine of 2,350 horsepower to serve as the prototype Seafang. Changes to the design were appropriate and included folding wings for improved storage aboard space-strapped British carriers, reinforcement of the undercarriage, and addition of arresting gear. Many aspects of the Spiteful remained but this was not enough to warrant serial production of this form either - the Royal Navy eventually settled on a jet-powered design that became the excellent de Havilland "Sea Vampire" fighter. The Seafang was realized in two limited developments - the F.Mk XXXI and the F.Mk XXXII fitted with the Griffon 61 and Griffon 89 engine respectively.
One last initiative saw the Spiteful slated for possible serial production (under license) by rebuilding France. This fell to naught as the French, too, saw the long-term value of investing in jet-powered types - leaving the Spiteful design to the pages of military aviation history and nothing more.
The Supermarine Attacker, an early-generation jet fighter, used the completed wings of the Spiteful aircraft. 182 production units were made and these served with the Fleet Air Arm and the Pakistani Air Force through short service lives running from 1951 to 1964.