Mitchell, Reginald Joseph CBE, FRAeS

Many of the older members of the Spitfire Association did not want the Association to be a memorial for the designer of the aircraft, nor a memorial for the Spitfire itself. The Association is more than that. It is to celebrate and honour the men who served in the Allied Air Forces during World War II, especially the pilots and their support personnel. However, it was thought that it was about time that a story on the man who designed the Spitfire should be included in this website, and we are indebted to Wikipedia for making it so easy for us.

Reginald Mitchell was born on the 20th May 1895 at 115 Congleton Road, Butt Lane, Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, England. After leaving Hanley High School at the age of 16, he gained an apprenticeship at Kerr Stuart & Co. of Fenton, a locomotive engineering works. At the end of his apprenticeship, he worked in the drawing office at Kerr Stuart and studied engineering and mathematics at night school. In 1917, he joined the Supermarine Aviation Works at Southampton. While there, In 1918, Mitchell married Florence Dayson in 1918. They had a son, Gordon. Advancing quickly within the company, Mitchell was appointed Chief Designer in 1919. He was made Chief Engineer in 1920 and Technical Director in 1927. He was so highly regarded that, when Vickers took over Supermarine in 1928, one of the conditions was that Mitchell stay as a designer for the next five years.

Between 1920 and 1936, Mitchell designed 24 aircraft, including light aircraft, fighters, bombers, several seaplanes and flying boats such as the Supermarine Walrus and Supermarine Stranraer. However, he is best remembered for his work on the Supermarine Schneider Trophy series of racing aircraft, culminating in the Supermarine S.6B and the Supermarine Spitfire.

The S.6B won the Schneider Trophy in 1931 and later broke the world air speed record. Mitchell was awarded the CBE in 1932 for his contribution to high-speed flight. His experience with high speed aircraft such as the S6B prompted the Air Ministry to issue specifications to Supermarine, primarily a seaplane manufacturer, for the design of a new and modern fighter aircraft.

Mitchel’s 1931 design to meet these specs was the Supermarine Type 224. This made its first flight in February 1934. However, the Type 224 was a big disappointment to Mitchell, so he immediately embarked on a series of “cleaned-up” designs, using Supermarine’s experience with the Schneider Trophy seaplanes as a starting point. 

He subsequently began working on a new aircraft, designated Type 300, with a retractable undercarriage and a reduced wingspan. This was submitted to the Air Ministry in July 1934, but it was not accepted. The design then evolved through a number of changes, including the newly developed and more powerful Rolls-Royce V-12 engine, later named the “Merlin”. In November 1934, Mitchell submitted detailed design work on this refined version of the Type 300 and, on 1 December 1934, the Air Ministry issued a contract for its construction.

On the 5th March 1936, the prototype, K5054, took off on its first flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome, now Southhampton Airport. More modifications were made, such as a retractable undercarriage, and K5054 flew again on the 10th March 1936. Even though the test pilot said that was not perfect, the Air Ministry placed an order for 310 Spitfires before the official trials had been completed.

The Air Ministry christened the aircraft, the “Spitfire”, taking the name that Supermarine had earlier requested be reserved for future use. Not everyone was happy with the decision, least of all, Mitchell himself, who commented, “Spitfire was just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose.”  Bizarrely, Mitchell had preferred a rather different name, the “Supermarine Shrew,” which was a fat, long-nosed, smallish mole. It was one of Mitchell’s only errors in judgment in an otherwise extraordinary career of getting it right, time and time again. Ultimately, the name Spitfire would emerge as one of the classic names in fighter interceptor history, made famous on both sides of the war. While the Hawker Hurricane would indeed carry the brunt of the work in the Battle of Britain, the Supermarine Spitfire would have a higher kill ratio and greater survivability. Moreover, its reputation would strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. (Web Master: Thanks to Historic Wings, March 2013, for this paragraph.)

Though the Spitfire shared some similarities with the Heinkel He 70 Blitz, and though many of the technical advances had been made by others, such as the thin elliptical wings (designed by his Canadian aerodynamicist, Beverley Shenstone), the under-wing radiators (pioneered at the RAE), and the monocoque construction (first developed in the United States), Mitchell’s genius was bringing it all together. 

Late in 1933, Mitchell was very ill with cancer. Despite this, he continued to work, not only on the Spitfire, but also on a four-engined bomber, the Type 317. Unusually for an aircraft designer in those days, he took flying lessons and got his pilot’s licence in July 1934. Unfortunately, in 1936, he was again diagnosed with cancer, and he gave up work in early 1937, even though he was often seen watching the Spitfire being tested. Soon after, he went to the American Foundation in Vienna for a month, but died in 11 th June 1937 at the age of 42. His ashes were interred at South Stoneham Cemetery, Hampshire four days later. His life and the sacrifices he made to keep going, despite pain and impending death, were the subject of the 1942 Leslie Howard film, “The First of the Few.” The film created some myths, in particular, that Mitchell did not work himself to death; he led a full life, and was working mainly on the bomber project in his final years.

Mitchell Reginald Joseph pic3

The photo is of a Spitfire Mk 1

Mitchell was succeeded as Chief Designer at Supermarine by Joseph Smith, who was responsible for the further development of the Spitfire. Nevertheless, Mitchell’s design was so sound that the Spitfire was continually improved throughout the Second World War, whereas its contemporary, the Hawker Hurricane, quickly became obsolete. Over 22,000 Spitfires and derivatives were built.

(Web Master: FRAeS is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and it is their highest grade attainable.)

Thanks to Wikipedia® 
The Spitfire Association