The Supermarine Spitfire is one of the best-loved and widely recognised British aircraft of all time. It was designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, among whose other famous achievements was the design of the Supermarine S-series racing seaplanes which secured outright the Schneider Trophy after wins in 1927, 1929 and 1931.
The prototype Spitfire, K5054, first flew on 5th March 1936 powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin, the last of Sir Henry Royce’s engine concepts before his death. Delivery of the first production Mk1 Spitfires into RAF squadron service took place from July 1938. The Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane with their Merlin engines achieved lasting fame during the defensive action of the Battle of Britain in 1940 when the invasion of the British Isles was averted.
By the time production ceased more than 22,000 Spitfires and Seafires (naval versions of the Spitfire) were built. Merlin engine developments brought the aircraft better performance, but the last marks of Spitfire used the larger, more powerful Griffon engine. A total of 48 variants were made during the development and production of the aircraft over 10 years. They served in every combat theatre, operating as fighters, fighter-bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and from aircraft carriers. It was the only allied fighter to remain in full production and front-line RAF service both prior to and after World War Two. The Spitfire also served in 28 other air forces across the world.
The Rolls-Royce Spitfire, PS853, is an unarmed, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, one of a batch of 79 Mk XIXs built at Supermarine, Southampton. The Mk XIX was powered by the 2,050 hp Griffon 65 or 66 and represents the pinnacle of the Spitfire’s development in terms of speed and altitude capability with a top speed of 446mph and a ceiling of 42,000ft.
PS853 was delivered to the Central Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at RAF Benson on 13th January 1945, before moving to Belgium and Holland. The aircraft was engaged on active service with 16 Squadron up until the end of the war and participated in “Operation Crossbow” to detect V1 and V2 “vengeance weapon” launch sites.
At the end of the war it remained on duty in Germany until March1946 when it returned to the UK and was placed in storage. In 1950, PS853 was one of several Mk XIX Spitfires selected for conversion to conduct meteorological research, known as the Temperature and Humidity of the Upper Air Masses (THUM) Flight. PS853 performed the last ever Spitfire THUM sortie on 10th June 1957. Along with sister XIXs PM631 and PS915, PS853 retired into ceremonial and display duties to form the RAF’s Historic Aircraft Flight, the forerunner of today’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF).
In 1996, Rolls-Royce bought PS853 to replace the original Rolls-Royce Spitfire XIV, G-ALGT which had been destroyed in a crash in 1992. The aircraft was re-registered as G-RRGN; the RR for obvious reasons and the GN after the drawing number prefix allocated to Griffon engine parts. The aircraft is painted as 'C' of No. 16 Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, 2nd Tactical Air Force, being the markings PS853 wore between January and June 1945.
The Rolls-Royce Spitfire, as PS853 is now popularly known, has become widely recognised as an ambassador for Rolls-Royce appearing at air displays and charity events as well as at our own corporate functions. Not only does it represent the heritage of the Spitfire and the Rolls-Royce engines that powered them, highlighting the constant technical development of both the aircraft and its engines, it honours the pilots of all nations who flew them and the men and women who built and maintained them.
The aircraft is based in a dedicated hangar at East Midlands Airport, near Derby. It can usually be seen around the display circuit between April and October and during the winter months the aircraft undergoes an annual maintenance inspection programme.
In 2010, 65 years after its first delivery to RAF service and with over 2300 hours flying time accumulated in that time, PS853 was taken out of service for its first major overhaul. The aircraft has received a full inspection and maintenance to all its structures and systems and has returned to its flying duties.
Wingspan: 11.23 m (36’ 10”)
Length: 9.95 m (32’ 8”)
Height: 3.85 m (12’ 8”)
Maximum Take Off Weight: 3909 kg (8600lbs)
Engine: 36.7 litre (2240 cu in) Rolls-Royce Griffon RG 30SM-S rated to 1193 kW (1600 hp at +12lbs boost)