Spitfire Progress – Wings
Progress continues on the restoration of Spitfire RW388 by the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society Limited (MAPSL). This week it’s time to really get things off the ground* with one of the Spitfire’s most recognisable features – its wings.
(*Pun very much intended)
RW388’s wings were detached in order to remove it from the building in February 2018. Since arriving at Medway the exterior surfaces have been stripped of old paint, rubbed down, then primed. The access and inspection panels have all been removed to be cleaned and renovated.
Little did the team at MAPSL know, but the port (left) wing of the Spitfire was hiding a host of secrets waiting to be discovered!
First came the graffiti found on the inside of the inner small flap – successfully removed during the cleaning process.
Next, a metal rod was unexpectedly discovered in the wrong place. This turns out to be an inner ram used in the hydraulics that retract the wheels into the undercarriage. The rod was bent, probably a result of the aircraft’s last landing in 1952, which was heavy enough to take RW388 out of service. The ram is rather too damaged to be reused – so a new one will be fitting for the restoration. We will keep the old ram though, especially as it evidences an important event in RW388’s service history.
A bird’s nest was the final secret to be unearthed. It probably dates to the 1950s or 60s when RW388 spent time as gate guardian outside RAF bases. Unfortunately the nest completely disintegrated when it was disturbed – so sadly the nest hasn’t been added to our Natural History collections!
The elliptical wings of the Spitfire are one its most identifiable features – it’s certainly one of the things I look out for when I hear the roar of a Merlin engine overhead. But not every Spitfire was fitted with exactly the same wings – evidenced by RW388 itself.
RW388 is an example of a clipped-wing Spitfire. Rather than curving to a point the tips are squared off and shortened. You can see the difference in the pictures below:
Shortening the wings lowered the effective altitude of the Spitfire but increased the roll rate, making it more maneuverable at lower altitudes. This increased the Spitfire’s competitiveness against aircraft such as the Fockewulf Fw190 and made it a more efficient air-to-ground attack fighter-bomber later in the war. The Merlin 266 engine in RW388 was also tuned for lower altitudes (as discussed in our engine blog). In fact, it’s the engine, rather than the clipped wings, that officially give RW388 ‘LF’ (lower-altitude fighter) status.
Clipped wings were not the only alteration made to the Spitfire wing shape. Extended tips were also used for high-altitude performance. These tips improved the rate of climb and maximum altitude at the expense of diminished maneuverability at ‘normal’ altitudes. Experiments even took place with interchangeable wingtips that could be swapped to suit different tactical requirements.