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Aircraft Review : Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1 by RW Designs

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Aircraft Review : Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1 by RW Designs
 
"I either go up, or blow up...  Which one do you want" Says an irascible Sir Michael Caine in the 1969 file "Battle of Britain" as he sat in a Supermarine Spitfire waiting to get back into the fight with some annoying Germans that wanted to invade the United Kingdom in the long summer of 1940.
 
Forever the Spitfire will be associated with those few months of desperation to counter the German advance across the English Channel. To a point that is unfair as the aircraft was very successful in many other European, Mediterranean, Pacific and the South-East Asian theatres of war including Burma (Myanmar) of where it was in a ground attack role helping to defeat a Japanese breakout attempt in the last battle of WW2. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire served in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber and trainer, and it continued to serve in these roles until the 1950s, and was also a World Record Speed holder when a modified Spitfire XI reached 606 mph (975 km/h, Mach 0.891) in a 45° dive, which was just a touch under the sound barrier.
 
Even in the Battle of Britain it was actually the Hawker Hurricane that shot down more aircraft than the Spitfire. Namely in the higher numbers of aircraft of Hurricanes and it's ability to quickly be turned around on the ground in 9min compared to the Spitfire's time of 26min to rearm and refuel. But the Spitfire's fame came from its interceptor role and its ability to out turn the German main fighter escort the Messerschmitt BF109 at 212 m (700 ft) in radius while the 109E's was estimated as 270 m (890 ft) radius at 3,657 m (12,000 ft). The Bf109 had an counter advantage of fuel-injection that allowed steep attacking dives against the Spitfire's carburettors that would dry up against similar negative "G" forces. Speeds were relatively the same with the Spitfire having a slight advantage of 355 mph with the Bf109 at 342 mph. So overall both fighters were very close in performance, so what was the deciding factor that made the Spitfire famous and the Hurricane to shoot down the numbers.
It was the Bf109's range. The Bf109 could only stay on station over the South English countryside for twenty minutes before having to turn tail and head home, while the Spitfire had the speed and agility to make the German aircraft fight to survive and burn more of those precious pounds of fuel. No doubting the immense bravery on both sides and that created a classic battle of survival of which could have easily gone either way...  the rest as the say is "history".
 
The film makers even in the late 60's battled to get flyworthy aircraft to make the "Battle of Britain" which even if the actual film is by drama standards just good, it was the aerial filming that makes the film a unique record of the period and the only chance to see real Spitfires doing what Spitfires do best in the air. To an impressionable 12 year in myself I followed the making of the film more intently than actually watching it.
Most aerial footage was filmed from a North American B-25 Mitchell N6578D, flown by pilots John "Jeff" Hawke and Duane Egli of the Confederate Airforce fame, and in that 27 Spitfires were available for the aerial flying although only 12 could be made flyable. secondly use of six Hawker Hurricanes, of which three were only actually used for flying. Altogether 100 aircraft was used in the film's aerial sequences which was mostly filmed off the coast of Spain and Malta. Two double seat Spitfires were also used for internal aircraft filming and the huge cost of all this would certainly mean a film that would never make any actual money at the boxoffice in its release in 1969 (It has in time and through multiple VHS/DVD sales over the years the film has finally made a profit).
 
Most of the World War 2 field airfields have now past well into history in the lower counties of the United Kingdom. 75 years gone now and very few of the "Few" remain. The aircraft themselves are also slowly disappearing, a few crash and a few just disappear and lost to time. But still many of the machines of that significant battle do still remain in our lives if only now housed mostly in museums and private owners.
 
One place to see the best collection of Spitfires is the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar in Kent UK, that was once home to two Spitfire Squadrons 32 and 79 and three Canadian Squadrons No 213, No 229 and No 242 that were active at the airfield during the Second World War. Currently in flying or restoration condition there is noteworthy list of aircraft including a classic Spitfire Mark I X4650, Mark XVI RW382, MKIX TD314 with MKIX LZ842, MKIX BR601 and MK V EE602 aircraft and a rare airworthy Hawker Hurricane Mk I.
 
So I though that Biggin Hill would be the best place to checkout X-Plane's latest release of the classic Supermarine Spitfire from RW Designs.
 
RW Designs Supermarine Spitfire
 
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RW Designs are a bit like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates in that you "Just don't know what you are goin' to get next"  With first an airliner in the Airbus A332, The excellent Twin Otter and then the Beechcraft Duke B60 and now a WW2 fighter in the form the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1. So there is no recurring theme in there other than they are all great aircraft.
 
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Modeling of the aircraft is very good, but not overly detailed. The rivets are well done but overall you would expect more harder detail and a more worn war weary model. Panels do look like panels but there are no dirt noted joins or rough edges. Where there is good detailing is around the cockpit, frames and the glass (glass canopy is a highlight) are excellent. (a removable engine cover and Merlin engine would have been a great feature).
 
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But that classic Spitfire silhouette is unmistakable, a Spitfire is a great looking aircraft.
 
Cockpit
 
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In the cockpit the 3-D work is excellent, but a few worn through areas would have helped in the authenticity. The aircraft looks brand new, with a straight out of the factory look. But you can't deny it is all very well done.
 
Like any aircraft cockpit it looks at first very complex, but when you break the areas down to there working places it all quickly falls into place.

The Spitfire uses a spade grip style control column, which is the one of the signature visual clues of the aircraft. The wing armament cannon trigger is perfectly right thumb placed for instinct quick firing.

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A P8 Navigation computer is installed deep behind the control column, hard to see and use while flying.
 
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Throttle and mixture levers are to the left as is the large trim wheel or elevator control. Airscrew control lever is here as well which changes the pitch of the propellers.
 
The main instrument panel is very pre-war in design but very effective. Main centre panel has six instruments in speed (MPH), Artifical Horizion, Rate of climb/descent (Thou/feet), Two dial altimeter, Heading Compass and Turn/Side Slip indicators (L-R).
 
Top left row are the Navigation Lights and Flap switch (up or Down). Below is the Oxygen regulator of which you have a mask situated back right besides your seat. Clock and Landing Gear Indicators are down next and the final lower row are the two Magneto switches, Brake Supply and Elevator position indicator.
 
Right side top is a huge RPM dial with engine boost pressure and fuel pressure gauges below. Oil Temperature and the vital Radiator temperature dials are next to the Oil Quantity gauge. Lower right panel are the two top and lower fuel tanks in Gallons. There is 48 gallons in the larger top while the smaller bottom tank carries 37 gallons, note they are both read with different settings as with sitting tail down on the ground and level in the air. There is a starting heat switch lower right. High right is a Volt dial and generator switch.
 
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Directly in front of you is the gun sight, huge thing it is with two adjustment wheels which we will use in flight. The view forward is certainly restrictive.
 
So how do you start a Spitfire
 
There are certainly no electronic engine management system or any other modern gizmos on a Spitfire, so you have to coax and be very patient when bringing Pre-War aircraft into life. If you have owned a really old car with carburettors you would know how the deal works.
 
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First you need to switch on the top and bottom fuel switches (1.), then open the throttle (2.) a little (half-an-inch). Then set the mixture (3.) to full on (forward). The Airscrew pitch needs to also be full forward (4.).
 
Right lower is the Fuel pressure switch (5.) and the two far left magneto switches (6.) have to be on.
 
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The important lever in the Spitfire cockpit is the radiator flap control (7.) Full forward or open to start. You can check your tanks fuel load (8.) by pressing the button to activate the dial. For start magneto power (9.) switch on the far right switch and the fuel and oil pressures (10.) should respond.
 
You have to prime the fuel system to start. To do this you nudge the fuel primer pump handle (11.) and out it pops, touch again to pump. The amount of strokes depend on the air temperature (cº) which is noted in the tutorial.
 
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I gave the pump (12.) handle 5 strokes and then lifted the guard on the starter switch (13.) which is situated on the lower panel behind the stick, push to start. The Spitfire Should then fire up in a cloud of white smoke, adjust the idle with the throttle to smooth the rotation out.
 
You can switch off the start magneto and switch on the engine generator switch (14.) on the top right next to the volt indicator. Note how quickly the engine heats up (15.), you can't sit on the ground for very long with a running Merlin and that is why Sir Michael became very agitated and cursed his ground operations crew.
 
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On your left are three switches to cover lower (16.) Heading heat and Radio power. You have a basic COMM radio and a transponder (17.) and you will need to turn them both on. There is also higher a fuel pump switch  (18.) and left lower is a pitot heat switch that is not marked.
 
Here in this left side area is also a MENU popup. It is quite basic and is really only a view and two setting menu. Three views cover the "Pilot's (forward) view, The hard to see "P8 Navigation Computer" and the "Radio". Settings include Engine vibration (very good) and Engine Heat Management.
 
Flying the Supermarine Spitfire
 
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You keep the canopy open while on the ground and until you are in the air. In the real aircraft it is cooler, but it is really required open to see where you are actually going...  this is a tail dragger of course. But visually it is hard, if not impossible to see out of the aircraft on the ground.
 
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You are totally relieved to get some air going into the Merlin to cool it down, but easy on the power and feel the aircraft into the air. It's efficient wings don't need any flap.
But practise is needed to keep the aircraft on the centre line, myself I took off to the right of the centre lines to see them. You unstick from the ground around 150mph and there is a lot of power for the age of the aircraft.
 
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Spitfires have a handpump mechanism to raise and lower the landing gear. There is a pump handle you move backwards and forwards to do the job, but in X-Plane the work is done for you. Just move the lever to RAISE or LOWER.
 
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In the air the Spitfire it is like a formula one car, just you closed in there and all that power. The biggest factor is not to get fixated on the panel dials. If you do you find yourself flying around keeping the speeds level and then also slightly climbing and lowering your altitude in following around the clever artificial horizon instrument. It is best just too relax and fly the aircraft, forget the instruments and balance everything out of the real horizon and settle the speed. Although you do feel the fear of a17 year old, thrown into a Spitfire cockpit for the first time and wondering what the hell they had got themselves into, difference between them and me is that there is no Bf109 coming down at me from inside the sun trying to kill me.
 
What can kill me is the engine overheating? It is a strange process to keep that Merlin happy and cool. Keeping the radiator flaps open creates huge drag, close them and the engine overheats. There is a strange equation of the faster you go the cooler the engine gets. problem is to go faster means closing the flaps and lessening the drag, but do that and heat spirals again. So you have to go faster slower until the speed cooling over-rides the radiator cooling than you can go to the Spitfires maximum speed. Same on slowing down in the opposite way to keep the heat at bay.
 
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No doubt it the Spitfire is a pilot's aircraft, the machine is light and putty in your hands and you can see why it was such a great interceptor with speed one moment and flipping around in a graceful if lethal curve to kill the next, just watch out for any carburettor starvation.
 
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You have two panel lights, one situated either side of the cockpit that throws a red glow over the instruments (Canopy has to be closed for the lights to work), adjustment for each panel light are the rheostat knobs deep behind the control column next to the starter switch. There is a landing light on the right wing which you drop down which is feeble thing and nice navigation lights.
 
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The gunsight is turned on by a switch to the left of the sight, the twin wheels are your adjustment...  but the cannons do fire as per X-Plane's armament system (A note that the review copy did not have the firing cannons, so I could not see the fire power delivered. But RW Design's says this is now working on the release version).
 
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Except for straight ahead the view is very good all round, although real Spitfire pilots complained of early poor perspex warping that made other aircraft trying to kill you hard to find.
 
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Flying out fast over the coast of the English Channel you can't but give refection of the bravery of Spitfire pilots, the real diamonds were the intelligence gathering souls. Flying many hours solo alone in the dark over enemy territory finding targets to photograph or changes to the enemies defences. Their own best defence was speed and the Spitfire was the best aircraft for such missions, but many of those gallant souls never came back...
 
Liveries
 
There are five liveries in JZ-E (G-AIST) - J (G-MKIA) - KL-A (G-CGUK) - PR-O (X4586) - QV-I (G-CCCA) of which I gather are still active flying Spitfires. JZ-E is default. A paintkit is also supplied.
 
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Time to head back to the Biggin Hill airfield. Low and fast is always fun and you feel the speed of the aircraft. 
 
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Twisting left and right, the right to rule the skies over the Kent countryside has long gone, this is now not a war footing area, as peace and bureaucracy now presides... 
 
But I still got permission to do a flyover of the Biggin Hill control tower and its original vintage passenger terminal.
 
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I powered over low and very fast before breaking off left to slow right down to circuit land on RWY21 from the North-East. The Spitfire is a blunt instrument, so you have to watch coming off the throttle and settling down at a slow speed (and yes the engine gets hot again, this time going through the roof in temperature) worse is that the wing will stall at the root, but there is more lift at the edges.
 
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Flaps are simply "up" or "down" which is easy and again you tune the speed with the throttle power. Pump...  pump...  gear down and 10mph is quite easy to achieve for a slow landing.
But you will need all of that slow speed to check out exactly were you are going to place down the aircraft in flying almost blind to the runway edges, those spindly legs of the undercarriage will mean you will need to keep the aircraft very level to land and not hop from one wheel to the next.
 
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Down and a taxi to the area in front of the old Fighter Command base area. Fancy flashy Private Jets now dominate EGKB, as today it the an reinvented airport to cater for the rich classes and their expensive toys.
 
But without doubt the true heart of Biggin Hill still sits here. On the grass in front of the old apron in retirement, here is an old warrior reflecting in the afternoon sun of her glory days. The the long gone days when she with her sister the Hawker Hurricane defended the realm still can be heard if you listen closely into the wind...  Rule Britannia.
 
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Summary
 
A Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1. is a beautiful aircraft, A single seater fighter of its time of simple perfection. loved then and beloved now.
 
RW Designs have done a great Spitfire, the cockpit detailing, instrumentation and replication of the aircraft's systems and their actions is excellent. From the inside of the aircraft it is very, very good.
Externally you want a little more? Opening hatches, engine covers just things to interact with the machine more and the certainly the external aircraft modeling is good, but you feel it is slightly bland and needs a bit more dirt and oil to make it more realistic and not look like a museum piece. For the users that just want to fly then the Spitfire is very good, but if you want interaction with the aircraft (ground power, restocking armaments, static elements) then you are missing those items here.
 
Overall the Supermarine Spitfire is a great classic aircraft, really great to fly and you can really interact with the aircraft in setting and starting up the machine and the distinctive Spitfire eccentricity foibles are all in there to master, and you get a big part of history to fly around in as well...  A truly great war hero of an aircraft, even Sir Michael Caine would totally agree with you on that one.
 

______________________________________________________________________

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Yes! the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1 by RW Designs is available from the new X-Plane.Org Store here :

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1

Price is US$22.95

Features :

  • Detailed and complete 3D model
  • 4K texturing
  • Normal maps
  • Custom lights
  • 3D night lighting
  • 3D engine vibration
  • Reflective gun sight
  • Over 150 animations
Systems
  • Period accurate navigation computer
  • Oxygen
  • Electrical
  • Retro-fitted radios
Custom Sounds
  • 7 different sounds to replicate the roar of the Merlin Engine
  • Sounds powered by SASL
  • Custom systems modeled with sound

Installation :   Download file size is 241.50mb to your X-Plane - Fighter Aircraft Folder. Installed file size is 355.00mb

Notes: None

Documents :  An Aircraft Manual (23 Pages) and a Flight Tutorial (6 Pages)

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Requirements :

X-Plane 10.40+ (any edition)
Windows 7+, MAC OS 10.7 (or higher) or Linux
1GB VRAM - 2Gb+ VRAM Recommended

Version 1.0 (last updated January 16th 2016)

Developer Support Site : (RW Designs X-Plane.Org Support)

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Review by Stephen Dutton

16th January 2016

Copyright©2016: X-Plane Reviews

Review System Specifications:

Computer System:  - 2.66 Ghz Intel Core i5 iMac 27”- 9 Gb 1067 Mhz DDR3 - ATI Radeon HD 6970M 2048 mb- Seagate 512gb SSD 

Software:   - Mac OS Yosemite 10.10.1 - X-Plane 10 Global ver 10.42

Addons - Saitek x52 Pro system Joystick and Throttle : Sound - Bose  Soundlink Mini

Scenery or Aircraft

- EGKB - Biggin Hill (XP10) 1.3 by Chars (X-Plane.Org) - Free

 

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