RJ Mitchell. A life in aviation.
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8th September 2005

Blue Plaque for R. J. Mitchell Designer of the Spitfire

English Heritage

R.J. Mitchell (1895-1937), designer of the greatest fighter plane of World War II, will be commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque on Thursday 8 September at 11.30am at 2 Russell Place, Portswood, Southampton, where he lived from 1927 until his death in 1937. The Blue Plaque will be unveiled by R.J. Mitchellís son, Dr Gordon Mitchell, just a week ahead of the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

R. J. Mitchell had 2 Russell Place built to his own drawings. It was while living here that he perfected the design for his greatest legacy, the Spitfire single-seat fighter plane, between 1934 and 1936.

Reginald Joseph Mitchell was born near Stoke-on-Trent, the eldest of three sons of Herbert Mitchell, and was apprenticed for five years at the age of 16 to a local locomotive engineering firm. He studied engineering, mechanics, mathematics and drawing at night school during his apprenticeship.

With the outbreak of war in 1914, Mitchell became increasingly interested in aircraft and in 1917, joined the Supermarine Aviation Works in Southampton. Within four years, he had been appointed chief engineer and designer and remained with the firm until his death. Initially, Mitchellís work concentrated on flying boats but with the resurrection of the Schneider Trophy after the First World War, he focused on high-speed seaplanes. He first achieved success with his S-5 in the 1927 race followed by further victories in 1929 and 1931 with the S-6 and S-6B, enabling Britain to win the trophy outright, for which he was awarded the CBE in the New Year Honours in 1932.

Mitchell then turned his hand to the design of a fighter aircraft which became his greatest creation, the Spitfire. The Spitfire was a masterpiece of practical engineering, combining Mitchellís high speed flight experience and a range of innovative design features. Early in 1936, the prototype Spitfire was ready to be tested and flew for the first time on 5 March from Southampton (Eastleigh) Airport.

Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer in 1933. He was told by his surgeon, following a major surgery, that there was the gravest risk that the cancer could return, making his achievements all the more impressive, since throughout the time he was designing the Spitfire, he knew that he was probably dying. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "It is rarely appreciated that the designer of Britainís most famous fighter aircraft engaged in a courageous struggle against acute physical and psychological discomfort during the four most productive years of his career." Mitchell died in 1937, at the age of 42. Tragically, he did not live to see the Spitfire play its vital role in the Second World War.

In his 20 years with Supermarine, Mitchell designed a total of 24 aircraft, although it is for the Spitfire that he is best remembered. The plane has been described as "unquestionably the most famous and successful British fighter of World War II". With its high speed Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, novel wing shape and excellent rate of turn, the Spitfire has become legendary. Like his Spitfire, Mitchell, who was played by Leslie Howard in the 1942 film "The First of the Few", has also become something of a legend too.

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8th September 2005 - English Heritage
Blue Plaque for R. J. Mitchell Designer of the Spitfire

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