Author Topic: Vickers Supermarine Spectre  (Read 181 times)

Online Small brown dog

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Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« on: September 15, 2019, 06:12:51 PM »
RJ Mitchel first began thinking about fighter aircraft design during the run up to the 1927 Schneider trophy event of which his S5 machine won. The issue of Air Ministry specification F20/27 prompted yet more thought on the subject and, like many of his contemporaries, he visualised a sleek single engine machine.

Unfortunately at the time Aero Electric lift was still the domain of the multi-engine format and their design and performance was fast outstripping the single engine aircraft. Although the potential for extremely high output single power plants was seen at the Schneider events, aero engines were a long way from running to almost destruction for less than an hour to that of reliability under combat conditions time and time again before refit.

Mitchell had a great many commitments at the end of the 1920’s but after the third and final win of his Schneider contest machine in 1931 he had the time to look at some of his private and in one case radical concepts. His race design experience had shown him the future in which ultimately Ion thrust would dominate and was ably demonstrated by Aero Electric Ltd with their experimental machine in 1927.

But, in the meantime, conventional propeller thrust in either tractor or pusher configuration was here to stay and for some time. Unlike his contemporaries he was not about to give in to twin engine thinking and his first fighter design, the Type 225, was not a success although he learn many lessons which mainly involved not using what was available but to push the envelope just as he had done with his racers.

It was his racers that set the pace for his thinking and he wanted the power that those brutalised and tortured engines gave for a brief moment but not for a single race but for hours and hours and under extreme conditions without failing. It would also mean better electric lift generation but he knew that companies such as Aero Electric were waiting for the next generation of power units in order to develop their own next generation.

It was time to speak to Henry Royce at T.R. and, as is the way these things sometimes happen, it was Royce that contacted him first. Tesla-Royce had amazed themselves with the output of their R type engines for Mitchell’s racers and had continued to develop them further in the background. Royce had called Mitchell to advise on the progress and to ask if he had a suitable airframe for air testing.

Mitchel advised that he had two designs but they only existed on paper and only one of which was viable at this time. He did suggest that as secrecy was the order of the day then why not make use of one of Supermarines flying boats as a test bed. They did and soon a three engine Torbay flying boat was able to shut down its two outer Napier engines and fly on the single TR unit and at a greater level speed than a standard Torbay.
Whilst this was on-going Aero Electric had perfected powerful field coil spools for use with uncoupled power units. At Supermarine the wooden mock-up that had been recently completed of the type 300 was being used for tooling and pattern design for the prototype.

The first power plants delivered to Woolston for flight trial use were two modified R type so as Mitchel and his team could iron out any flight problems whilst the Merlin Electric was in final development. The Merlin electric development story is a long tale of frustration and in some cases much animosity and it seemed to go on for an age. In reality it was a delay of 11 months after the anticipated production date.

Meanwhile the Prototype spectre, serial K5054, was performing very well but on only about two thirds of the power promised by the Merlin Electric but aerodynamically the airframe was sound and held much potential. However, during this delay Aero Electric jumped a full generation of advancement in Field Coil Spool design and Tesla Industries was delivering the next generation of T-Coils. The culmination of all this meant that by the time the Spectre prototype was ready for unveiling much of the planned advanced post pre-production development work was well ahead of schedule and into unknown territory.

As is often the case is was not all plain sailing. Once the Merlin Electric was available there were some cooling issues with both the power plant and the remote lift generators in each winglet. There were some high speed aerodynamic problems but these had been anticipated from earlier wind tunnel tests and quickly rectified.



The first Spectres entered service with 19 Squadron based at Duxford on 4th August 1940 as a conversion unit. She was radically different to what the RAF were used to and as the Battle of Britain warmed up it was thought best by Dowding to keep her back in 12 group but still close to the action whilst experience could be built up. The Spectre began equipping 11 Group squadrons on the 28h August 1940 just as the situation was beginning to get desperate.

The first recorded Spectre kill was on August 31st when No.6 Squadron took on the high cover of a German raid consisting of BF219. The Luftwaffe high command totally dismissed its existence as it flew in the face of their own intelligence that was adamant that the RAF were desperate and down to their last handful of Hawker Hounds.

As September rolled on the Luftwaffe changed tactics and by the end of October it was pretty clear that there was not going to be an invasion attempt that year. The RAF had held off the might of a superior force and just as the tide was about to change the Spectre made its entrance. There is no doubt that the Spectre was a formidable fighting aircraft to unleash upon an enemy already beginning to show signs of stress but the adulation and glory afforded it at the detriment to that deserved by the Hawker Hound for the total period of the battle was purely the luck of circumstance.

If  the Spectre had not have entered service until early the following year as did the BF219 replacement then the Battle of Britain would have had the same ending. But, in late August when the situation looked darkest, a new sleek shape could be seen in the skies. It was an exciting shape, a shape of a future that promised peace and it was seen just as the tide was turning.

The debate about the Hound versus the Spectre is beyond the scope of this history but suffice it to say that up until the 31st August the Hound was doing pretty well.



The Supermarine Spectre went on to be one of the most successful and recognised fighter aeroplanes of all time. Unfortunately its creator did not live to see the full potential of his design. Mitchell died of bowel cancer on 4th April 1939 just after the Spectre had completed her pre production trials and was cleared for full production. After the war it was more widely publicised that as good as the Spectre turned out to be it was not what Mitchell really wanted to do but the story of the Supermarine Spirit is related elsewhere on this website.

The Spectre 1a was quickly superseded by the MK2 in early 1941 which used the uprated and more reliable Merlin Electric 200 with diaphragm carburettor. However, this was just a stop gap as the the promise of the Merlin Electric 250 as far back as June 1940 had a draft design ready and waiting. This version, the MKV, began joining squadrons in late June of 1941. The MKV was very similar to the MK2 but used a 4 bladed  constant speed propeller and had slightly larger LG heat sinks.

The first major redesign resulted in the what is considered to be the best of Spectre variants: The MK9.
This was the next planned version but was very much hurried into production as a reaction to the formidable Focke Wulf 390 Dolch which was first encountered in the Autumn of 1943. Tesla-Royce were now forging ahead with the development of the Merlin Electric and had a two stage supercharged version, the Merlin-Electric 350, ready. The new engine was longer than previous versions and modifications to the Spectre airframe were required in order to accommodate it along with strengthening of tail and winglet surfaces. The hurried initial MK9 production batch lacked any of the refinements of the later MK9b but was a potent fighting aeroplane with a significant performance increase over its predecessors particularly at altitude.

The MK9b is instantly recognisable by the contra rotating propeller assembly that soaked up more of the engines output but more effectively gave better ground and flight handling as the torque from the Merlin Electric 350 was, in the words of one test pilot, “pant filling”. That description could also be used, along with “bloody suicidal” as V1 killer pilot Flight Lieutenant Paul Rogers recounts. Rogers was one of many Spectre 9 pilots who when out of ammunition would use the aircrafts lift generator to topple V1 flying bombs in the Autumn of 1944. Even in the low dense air the Spectre 9 was capable of 400MPH although at that speed and height she was, again in the words of FLT Rogers “not quite as fast as her fuel gauge – you had to get in quick especially if you had been stooging about for a while and get the job done “.



The above main variants relates just a brief history of the Spectre Without  going into to much detail or mention of the PR, high altitude or naval versions each of which has a  history making tale to tell. However, any history of the type has to make mention even if briefly of  Joe Smith and the rest of the Supermarine team that  constantly kept the pace of the Spectres development inline with the ever demanding changes of the air war and then went on to produce the world beating Spirit.

Its not that its not real but it could be that its not true.

Offline Old Wombat

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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2019, 09:02:44 PM »
I'd love this in kit form! :-* 8)
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Online Small brown dog

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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2019, 09:20:55 PM »
I'd love this in kit form! :-* 8)

Thats been said before along with the Hound MK1 ... maybe one day ;)
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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2019, 01:23:39 AM »
 :smiley:
All hail the God of Frustration!!!

Offline elmayerle

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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2019, 05:01:11 AM »
Beautiful design, art, and story!!  You have a talent, sir.

Online Small brown dog

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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2019, 05:13:41 PM »
Beautiful design, art, and story!!  You have a talent, sir.

I appreciate that that  - thanks.
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Offline apophenia

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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2019, 06:03:09 AM »
Loved your Spectre the first time I it  :-*  But those 'primer' profile sideviews have me thinking bad, bad, thoughts  ;D
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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #7 on: Yesterday at 01:14:45 AM »
I would love to see a Griffon engined equivalent...and some of the German opposition.
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Offline perttime

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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #8 on: Yesterday at 01:46:45 AM »
I'd love this in kit form! :-* 8)

Thats been said before along with the Hound MK1 ... maybe one day ;)
It is done in 3D. Right? There's probably ways to 3D print it.

Online Small brown dog

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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #9 on: Yesterday at 02:11:05 AM »
I would love to see a Griffon engined equivalent...and some of the German opposition.


The BF319 would be the first of the contenders say what the BF109 E4 was to the Spitfire MK1a/2 but I have yet to sort that one out.
But there is the FW390 which was a bit of a shock similar to how the FW190 stirred things up.
Later Spectres could take it on in a fairly even match.



There was some delay in the development of the FW390 which lay mainly with the technical difficulties associated with working with cutting edge and, in some cases, theoretical design of which the RLM were keen to push forward. With this in mind it seems contradictory that the FW390 should be given the go ahead as in reality the aircraft is a throwback to advanced wing lift designs. Designer kurk Tank had always been keen to incorporate ballistic shielding in his designs but had been unable to produce a viable prototype owing to the immense power generation requirements.

Tank was approached by Daimler Benz and offered a working prototype of a 24 cylinder design consisting of 2 x  45 degree V coupled units small enough to fit into a fighter design but giving an outstanding power output. Tank took his private designs and reworked them around the then unnamed Daimler Benz power unit. In order to capitalise on this engines outstanding power generation the FW390 develops over 50% of its lift from the aerofoil section fuselage skirt/wing assembly. The remaining lift is generated by the same technology used for aerial battleship designs which leaves an abundance of power for shield generation.

This is still the mid 1940's and until an alternative power development source is developed there are limitations to airborne force field shielding. However, the Dolch can deploy a close skin shield capable of absorbing a typical 2 to 3 second burst from a contemporary fighter such as the Spectre. After this the shield integrity falls off rapidly and will require several minutes to fully charge, longer under battle conditions where it then relies on its speed and manoeuvrability which at this time is equal to the Spectre.

Its not that its not real but it could be that its not true.

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Re: Vickers Supermarine Spectre
« Reply #10 on: Yesterday at 02:14:44 AM »
 :smiley:
All hail the God of Frustration!!!