Supermarine

Formed in 1912, Supermarine began business by producing sea-going aircraft. The company became famous for its successes in the Schneider Trophy, especially the three wins in a row of 1927, 1929 and 1931.

In 1928 Vickers Aviation took over Supermarine. In 1938 Supermarine and Vickers were taken over by Vickers-Armstrong.

The first Supermarine landplane to go into production was the famous Spitfire, which proved to be a successful design and, along with the Hawker Hurricane, entered into legend after its role in the Battle of Britain.

Other well-known planes from World War II were the Seafire (a naval version of the Spitfire, the Spiteful (successor of the Seafire) and the flying boat Supermarine Walrus.

Many people say that the Spitfire Story really started back in 1912, and in some respects it does. It all began with Mr Noel Pemberton-Billing, who lived on the River Itchen in his three-masted schooner, buying a disused coal wharf in which he was going to build his boat that would fly, and so the base from which the Spitfire was to appear was formed.

Pemberton-Billing registered his telegraphic address as "supermarine" and set about building his flying boat. The aircraft, named the P.B.1, was completed in 1914 and put on display in Olympia, London. This was just before the start of the First World War and the aircraft was put to one side and forgotten and in fact it never even flew.

On the first Monday of the war Pemberton-Billing gathered his staff together and informed them that his company must produce a scout aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps. Out of all the designs came the Supermarine P.B.9, aircraft being so basic in those days that by the following Monday the aircraft was built and ready to fly.

Leaving Mr. Hubert Scott-Paine with the day-to-day running of Supermarine, Pemberton-Billing left to join the Royal Navy. Scott-Paine and his staff carried on with other fighter aircraft designs, but in 1915 interest switched to an unconventional four-winged Zeppelin interceptor named the Nighthawk. This aircraft was also a failure but the company remained interested in fighter aircraft and flying boats.

In 1917 Supermarine took on a young R.J. Mitchell who was to change the fortunes of the company. Mitchell and Supermarine set about building an aircraft devised by the Royal Navy to be called the Navyplane.

After the First World War, in 1919, Supermarine entered the Schneider Trophy air race with their single engined Sea-lion flying boat. Sadly the aircraft hit an obstruction in the water and crashed during take-off.

The Mitchell/Supermarine partnership then set about redesigning the 1919 entrant and in 1922 the Sea-lion II emerged from the Woolston factory. The aircraft won the air race that year at an average speed of 145.7 mph, but the next year saw the American team beat the Sea-lion III. Supermarine maintained their interest in high speed flying machines but looked more towards building moderately sized flying boats.

"R.J." was already aware that to increase the aircraft speed he needed to decrease the drag created by so many obstacles such as rigging lines, struts and the general shape of the aircraft. Mitchell's final set of drawings showed a revolutionary monoplane that took him a while to convince the management that this was the way to go to improve top speed of the aircraft. In 1925 the Supermarine S.4 rolled out for its first test flight.

During the test flights pilot Henri Baird reached a new world record of 226.75 mph, however the day before the race the S.4 crashed into the sea. Mitchell carried on with the S.4 design and improved it so much that a new aircraft was built, named the S.5. The race this year was held in Venice and Flight Lieutenant S.N.Webster won the race at an average speed of 281.65 mph.

In 1928, with Supermarine showing itself to be an aircraft company to be reckoned with, but with some financial difficulties, an offer was made by Vickers (aviation) Ltd to partner Supermarine in the development of high speed flight. Consequently the company became Vickers Supermarine Ltd. of Woolston, Southampton.

With the new Rolls-Royce 'R' engine put into a redesigned S.5 aircraft a new plane was built and called the S.6. On the 7th September 1929, at Calshot, at least a million people saw the S.6 win the Schneider Trophy race for the second time in a row for Britain. One more win and the trophy would be Britain's to keep.

After problems with the government withdrawing their support for the air race followed by the society of British Aircraft Constructors it looked like Supermarine would not have the financial backing required to build a contender for the 1931 Schneider contest. Fortunately the highly patriotic, very flamboyant and, more importantly, rich Lady Houston stepped in with a cheque for 100,000 for the British contender. This was very important not only for the Schneider Trophy but also for Supermarine's and Mitchell's study on high speed fighters for the Royal Air Force.

With less than six months to go to the next round of the races Mitchell redesigned the S.6 twice and the end result was a more powerful, much lighter S.6.b. Nobody knows why but England was the only country to enter the event in 1931 and the S.6.b went on to complete the course at an average speed of 340.08 mph and win the trophy outright for Britain.

When in October 1931 the aircraft industry was requested to provide a new fighter aircraft for the RAF, capable of over 200 mph and carrying four machine guns, Supermarine set about design of such an aircraft. Mitchell used the knowledge gained with the S.4, 5 and 6 and came up with the Supermarine Type 224. This aircraft had an unconventional gull-wing and incorporated two machine guns in the wheel fairings. The aircraft could only manage a mere 228 mph and did not fly until February 1934. It was quite obvious that it would not fit the bill for the RAF and in fact Mitchell was also disappointed with the performance of the aircraft.

All this time "R.J." was also designing another fighter but he did not make this public until the failure of the Type 224 was plain to see. Supermarine decided to build this aircraft as a private venture under the Air Ministry Specification F37/34. The Spitfire was born.