ELHAS Meeting Report - March 2010

Thirty five members and guests attended the March meeting to hear Mr John Claridge give an illustrated talk about the history of the Supermarine Spitfire. John graduated from London University with an honours degree in aeronautical engineering and subsequently spent six years working in the aerospace industry. He then changed tack and moved into computers eventually becoming chief programmer for the States of Jersey. He has always had a passion for aeroplanes and gained his pilots licence which led to the offer of a job as test pilot for a newly developed aircraft the TSR2. Unfortunately this aircraft was scrapped in favour of an American machine. However he continues to indulge his love of aeroplanes by regularly "flying" in a Boeing 737 cockpit which he has constructed at his home.
He began the talk by giving us a brief history of flight starting with Icarus, through the Wright brothers and up to the pre war development of the Spitfire. The Spitfire took four years to build and develop and was the brainchild of Reginald Joseph Mitchell. The name Spitfire was chosen because it was an Elizabethan word meaning an uncontrollable lady with a fiery temper. In fact this was something of a misnomer for the Spitfire since one of its major attributes was its ability to manoeuvre and the way the pilots learned to control and fly the machine was to contribute to its very success in the theatre of war. This was the aircraft pilots loved to fly. John explained that the innovative ability of R.J. Mitchell coupled with the foresight and tenacity of Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding led to the development of the Spitfire in spite of a very lukewarm response from the government. John's enthusiasm for his subject was very evident as he described how over 20,300 Spitfires were built and it became the fighter with the longest service record, going into operation in August 1938 and flying its last European mission on May 5th 1945. He also described the role of the 'Spitfire Sisterhood', ladies who flew unarmed aircraft from the factories where they were built to the airfields. Although they were supposed to be strictly non combatant many of them did engage with the enemy despite the planes being unarmed. There are now 44 restored Spitfires scattered across the world, and organisations and enthusiasts are always on the lookout for more examples. John concluded his presentation by reciting a Patience Strong poem, a prayer for airmen, a fitting tribute to the brave pilots of the Second World War to whom we all owe so much.

The next meeting will be Monday 26th April when Eric Wright will give an illustrated talk about York Minster. This will be followed by our annual Pea & Pie Supper.