RJ Mitchell. A life in aviation.
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Perry, Lord of Thorpe

Having recently flown Spitfire T9 IAC161 (originally in 1944 designated PV202). I can testify what a wonderful aircraft the spitfire is, responsive, sensitive and light with a wonderful visibility. This country owes more to Reginald Mitchell, Lord Dowding and the Battle of Britain pilots than can ever be repaid. Truly is "so much owed by so many to so few".
I am truly honoured to have had actual hands on such a wonderful and historic aircraft - nothing else will ever come close.

Open letter first published in the Daily Telegraph, Thursday, September 15, 2005

It is always an appropriate time to remember those who gave so much to ensure the freedom of our country, however 2005 has added resonance, marking as it does the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and 65 years since the Battle of Britain. At such a time, it is right to remember the contribution of the many, as well as the contributions of some remarkable individuals, such as R J Mitchell, the designer of the legendary Spitfire.
Mitchell was a modest man who did not court fame, preferring to channel his considerable efforts into the design of 24 separate aeroplanes during his 16 years at the Supermarine works in Southampton. The Spitfire, loved by those who flew in her, represented the pinnacle of his career.
Sadly Mitchell died of cancer in 1937, aged just 42, without knowing of the vital role his Spitfire would play in making victory possible in the crucial Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, nor was he to know of the vitally important role that the Spitfire played, as the RAF's primary fighter weapon, in all theatres of the five years of the war following the Battle of Britain, in the achievement of final victory by the Allied forces in 1945. We are therefore particularly glad to welcome the new statue in his honour, being unveiled today, at the Science Museum in London. The statue is both a testament to an immense individual effort and an appreciation of the enduring peace in our continent which it helped to establish.
In this 65th anniversary year, we should remember the pilots who fought for six years in the Spitfire, the near mythical plane in which they took to the skies, and the designer who provided the means for our victory then, and our liberty today.
Yours faithfully,
Rt Hon the Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar
Rt Hon the Lord Heseltine
Rt Hon the Lord King of Bridgwater
Rt Hon the Lord Mason of Barnsley
Rt Hon Sir John Nott
Rt Hon Michael Portillo
Rt Hon the Lord Robertson of Port Ellen
Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup GCB AFC ADC DSc FRAeS FCMI RAF, Chief of the Air Staff

It is said of a man 'By his works shall ye know him'. R J Mitchell will always be acknowledged as a truly remarkable individual who, in a short but wonderfully productive life, placed in the hands of the RAF's fighter pilots the instrument which ensured the preservation, not only of their freedom and that of their country, but also that of Europe as a whole.

Squadron Leader Clive Rowley MBE RAF, Officer Commanding the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

Every time that I walk up to a Spitfire to fly it, I am struck by the sheer privilege that is mine and by the innate beauty of the aircraft. It is sleek, purposeful and has been described, absolutely correctly in my opinion, 'as the second finest set of curves known to man'. The cockpit is snug but uncluttered and simple, the controls are intuitive to use and everything falls easily to hand. On the ground the Spitfire can be something of a handful particularly in tricky wind conditions; even after ten years of flying them I retain the greatest respect for the aircraft when landing - they can bite! In the air, though, the aircraft is in its element. It is delightful to fly, the controls are light and the aircraft is beautifully responsive. The pilot really can become part of the aircraft - think about what you want the aircraft to do and it's doing it without any conscious inputs on the controls. I am always amazed at the potential for development that was resident in R J Mitchell's original Spitfire design - how much of that was fluke and how much was genius, I guess we will never know but I know that my money is on the latter. With the BBMF fleet of five Spitfires, I am fortunate enough to fly Spitfires ranging from a 1940 MkIIa (the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world) up to the 1945 Griffon-engine PR MkXIX Spitfires. By the end of the Spitfire's development, the original design had permitted the aircraft to carry an engine with more than twice the power of the original, its maximum take-off weight and rate of climb had more than doubled, its firepower had increased by a factor of five and its maximum speed had increased by a third; all this in essentially the same airframe. The fact that Spitfires served operationally with the Royal Air Force from 1938 through to 1954, bears witness to the brilliance of R J Mitchell's design genius.

HRH The Duke of Kent

Britain owes the Mitchell family, and R J Mitchell in particular, a debt of honour as the creator of the legendary Spitfire. It is only right that we recall his contribution at this time as we celebrate the 65th anniversary of The Battle or Britain, in which the Spitfire played such an important role. Download a pdf of the letter

Jeremy Clarkson

The fact is simple. The Spitfire looked good. It was every bit as dashing as the young men who flew it, and in flight it was as graceful as any bird. Its progress through the sky seemed effortless, as though it was simply riding the breeze and its Merlin engine was only there to provide a suitable soundtrack. Possibly, just possibly, the Spitfire is the greatest machine ever made.

Alex Henshaw, MBE, Chief Test Pilot, Castle Bromwich

Our nation will forever owe RJ Mitchell a debt that can never be repaid, but to all those who know and care, RJ and his incomparable Spitfire will never be forgotten.

Joan Walley MP (Stoke on Trent North)

“North Staffordshire is enormously proud of the work of RJ Mitchell. His outstanding engineering skills, innovation, drive and design singled him out as a great engineer whose endeavours deserve national recognition. He undoubtedly helped to assure this country’s freedom. The part played in the Battle of Britain by the legendary Spitfire and the Spitfire pilots should never be forgotten. We must remember R J Mitchell.”

John Denham MP (Southampton Itchen)

“RJ Mitchell's life and work is inseparable from the lives and history of Southampton people. From those who worked (and, during the war, died) in the Supermarine factory, to those who marvelled at his aircraft or worked on them, to those who today make modern Ford Transits under a roof he designed, he helped shaped a whole city and its residents.”

Sion Simon MP (Birmingham, Erdington)

"RJ Mitchell, the chief designer of the Spitfire, didn't live long enough to receive the gratitude and recognition he so thoroughly deserved. The legend of the Spitfire and the great engineer behind it should be remembered for generations to come."

Bruce George MP (Chair, Commons Defence Select Committee)

“RJ Mitchell was unquestionably an important figure in both the History of Britain and in the field of aviation. Perhaps the greatest testament to his importance is the legacy and affection and gratitude, felt to this day, for the Supermarine Spitfire.”

The Right Honourable The Lord Balfour of Inchyre, PC, MC, Under Secretary of State for Air, 1938-1944

I know I fell in love with her the moment I was introduced that summer day in 1938. I was captivated by her sheer beauty; she was slimly built with a beautifully proportioned body and graceful curves just where they should be. In every way to every young man - or, in my case, middle-aged man - she looked the dream of what one sought. Mind you, some of her admirers warned me that she was what mother called "a fast girl", and advised that no liberties should be taken with her until you got better acquainted.
I was warned to approach her gently but once safely embraced in her arms I found myself reaching heights of delight I had never experienced before.
Thus was my introduction to that early Spitfire, the consummation of RJ Mitchell's design work of sixteen years, supported by a team of colleagues without whom, as he was always at pains to stress, he could never have achieved all that he did.

Extract from the Foreword of Schooldays to Spitfire (Dr Gordon Mitchell)

Sir Robert McLean, chairman of Vickers Aviation Ltd., and The Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd.

The impression left on the mind of one who had been in the closest contact with Mitchell for many years in his plans for the future, and in his views on these new problems that arise from day to day in the evolution of flying, was that of a critical mind, not prepared to jump to conclusions or take decisions except on grounds of whose soundness he had satisfied himself. At the same time, no idea was too daring or adventurous to be considered, never from the academic point of view, but always from that of practical application.

Extract from an Appreciation of the Late RJ Mitchell in Schooldays to Spitfire (Dr Gordon Mitchell)

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R.J. Mitchell, Schooldays to Spitfire by Dr Gordon Mitchell. Updated to December 2005 including all the events sponsored by the Sidney E Frank Foundation - Link to Tempus Publishing
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