Supermarine Spitfire vs. North American P-51 Mustang
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
This is not a post about the history of each aircraft and how they came in to being. That has been covered elsewhere in numerous books and website articles. Instead, this will attempt to examine what it is like to fly aircraft, the emotions that they conjure up and maybe even settle the argument of which one is ultimately the better aircraft.
My background is not that of a pilot. I spent most of my professional life as an engineer however I have always been drawn to the flying of aircraft rather than trying to fix them. I blame watching Top Gun and Memphis Belle continually throughout my formative years!
Before the CAA altered the legislation I had been fortunate enough to fly a couple of times in Tiger Moths owned by the late Paul Morgan and once when stationed at RAF Cottesmore when several flew in for a visit. At this point I suspected that my dream of flying in a Spitfire would remain just that, a dream.
Fast forward a few years and reading in Flypast Magazine that Spitfire operators could now fly fee paying passengers for flights was an amazing opportunity, then the RAF posted me to the Falklands for a very long 12 months…
Then in 2017 for my 35th Birthday my wife, unknown to me, had secured a flight in MJ627, a former Mk IXc Spitfire, converted to T9 status and operated at former RAF Biggin Hill.
The day of my flight dawned without a cloud in the sky, for those who know their history, Kent in the summer IS Spitfire country.
The team at the Heritage Hangar at Biggin Hill could not have been more friendly and helpful providing a full safety brief and having enough tea and coffee to keep a Squadron satisfied!
After watching three other passengers strap in, depart and recover, all with the biggest grins I have seen in my life, it was my turn. Don, my pilot for the sortie was a former Sea Harrier pilot with the Fleet Air Arm and our mutual connection of Joint Force Harrier quickly led to what I wanted to do with my allotted time. Much to my surprise, he said that he would pass control to me as soon as we cleared the controlled airspace around Gatwick and made the left turn toward the South Coast.
Walking out to the aircraft, I was excited, nervous and trying my best to keep both emotions under a cool and calm exterior. Strapping in, you quickly realise that the office is not a big one. The sides of the fuselage are narrow, very narrow and there is no floor, merely the rudder pedals to rest your feet on. Even in the T9 configuration, it was clear this aircraft had one purpose and one purpose alone.
Having spent some time reading up on the pilots notes for the Mk IX I was somewhat familiar with the process of starting the magnificent Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, but I wasn’t ready for the noise. The Merlin has such a distinct, recognisable sound when stood on the ground listening to it, but from inside the aircraft it sounded harder, more purposeful.
Due to the cooling system on the Spitfire and it being the fourth trip on the morning, there was no hanging around on the ground, we taxied out and briefly held waiting on ATC to clear us to the main for departure. Thoughts of the Battle of Britain and Sir Michael Caine as Squadron Leader Canfield ran through my mind, ‘either we stand down or blow up…’ but I didn’t have long to ponder this iconic scene. Before I knew it we had swung left onto Runway 21, the throttle opened up and we were rolling. The tail rises extremely quickly and before I knew it were climbing into the burning blue sky.
Passing over the M25 and by Sevenoaks, it suddenly dawned on me that I was airborne in a wartime Spitfire, over Kent, in the summer with nothing more than small clouds separating me from the heavens. This was everything I had dreamed of since I knew what a Spitfire was. Then Don uttered those words, ‘you have control’.
Reaching for the iconic spade grip I held my breath. It was as if time had slowed and sped up all at once. I was flying the aircraft, Don’s hands clearly visible in the front cockpit told me that I was now responsible for the aircraft. I could add my name to the list of Sailor Malan, Al Deere et al. even if only in my own mind!
With Don providing some coaching from the front office, I got a feel for the responsiveness of the aircraft. Every, and I mean every word I had read about the Spitfire being an extension of your physical being is true. I did not need to t