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Spitfire MK IX LF
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Flying the Spitfire MK IX LF
by James Robert Feuilherade

Formerly a Major in the SAAF, and now serving a two year contract with the Royal Air force of Oman, as a QFI flying the Pilatus PC9M, with the rank of Squadron Leader.

"The South African Air Force Museum's example was a Spitfire Mk IX LF or otherwise called the Spitfire Mk XVI when fitted with a Packard built Merlin engine.

The aircraft is basically a MkIX with the tear drop type canopy and the "clipped" wing tips, which many Spitfires had during the war. The clipped wing tips gave a better roll rate up to approx 20 000 Ft, and most Spitfires used in a ground attack roll had the clipped tips for better low level manoeuvrability. The clipped tips are workmanlike, but not as beautiful as the full elliptical wing, in my view. The "teardrop" canopy is interesting, as the canopy was tried out early in the war, and received very favourable comment from test pilots as to its allowing for much better all round view from the cockpit. However for some reason it was only adopted towards the end of the war. Some people say this Mk of Spitfire was the ultimate as it still had the great handling of the MkIX, (a lot of pilots felt that after the MkIX, the Spit started to get a bit too powerful and too heavy, causing some of the sweet handling characteristics to be lost), with the better canopy and the high rate of roll with the clipped tips.

Our Spit was built at Castle Bromwich in 1945, and was part of a donation of 136 Spitfires given to the SAAF after the war for pilot weapons and air combat training. The SAAF Spits were used to train pilots who went to the Korean War, to fly Mustangs and later F86 Sabres. The Spitfires were finally withdrawn from SAAF service in 1954. As to flying the aircraft, well you don't sleep much the night before your first flight!! Our aircraft always started easily if primed correctly, and once that beautiful engine was running, you always felt a thrill.

The aircraft has no steerable tail wheel and turns are done by using full rudder and differential braking. The brakes are air operated and if used on the ground with the engine off, a loud hissing is heard which sounds weird! The brakes are also controlled by a little bicycle type lever on the control column spade grip, it sounds strange, but it works quite well. After a gentle power check, (open the throttle too much on the ground, and she can go over on her nose), you are ready to go. The aircraft is actually quite simple and there are not a lot of systems to check. Important to have the radiators set fully open, and rudder trim set fully nose right! On the runway you can tilt your head sideways with the canopy open and see quite adequately past the long nose.

The aircraft accelerates very quickly, even at only +6 to +8 pounds boost, (just over half throttle!), and you have good directional and pitch control due to the slipstream over the tail. The propeller spinner is held on the horison and at 100 MPH, she lifts very smoothly off the ground. The Undercarriage is now raised by moving the U/C lever down and out of the gate and holding it for a short pause to ensure the hydraulic system is pressurised. (When the lever is in the gate, either up or down, the system is at idle and is not pressurised by the engine driven pump). This is a bit tricky ,as moving the lever too soon or too fast, can leave you with a partial retraction and with an undercarriage leg blocking the radiator intakes! Luckily this happened to me only once. the cure is to re-cycle the U/C.

As the Spit accelerates further, coolant radiators are set to automatic, the canopy is closed and then you notice a rapidly growing pressure on your left leg as you try to counter that full right nose rudder trim setting! A few turns of the small rudder trim wheel sorts that out. Finally you start to get your breath back and you can now devote more attention to how the aircraft flies. I remember watching a video on the Battle of Britain, and in the video a wartime Spit pilot Pete Brothers said the Spitfire seemed to read your mind and turn and do things without you seeming to actually do it with the stick. At the time I thought these were the quaint reminisces of an old warhorse, but after flying the aircraft I realised he was dead right.

The controls are so light and powerful. that it feels as thought your hand is hardly moving on the stick, if you throw it around. I am quite convinced that is why the Spit was so good in combat, as you can fly it hard all day, without your arm getting tired. Believe me in combat, flying an aircraft with heavy controls, after a while your arm does get tired no matter how hard you try to still be quick. (I have practised aerobatics in a Harvard, for a few days in a row, and my arm was sore!). The "broken" stick (only the top part moves for roll control), also works well, as your arm is not moving all over the cockpit either. The aircraft has very gentle stall characteristics, and there is nothing "nasty" about it.

You get a nice buzz on the stick as you approach the stall giving you plenty of warning. The aircraft kind of feels friendly, and you feel it will always give its best for you. I can understand now, how pilots grew to love it so much. Being able to out turn and fly out from under the guns of a 109 or FW 190, must have made pilots feel like kissing her on the spinner after landing! At low power settings the engine is actually remarkably quiet, but as you open the throttle and you start getting into + boost settings, there is a wonderful growling that starts coming from up front! In flight it is quite a sight, to look out over that long elegant nose. Downward view is poor, as you are sitting almost directly above that broad elliptical wing. As I have said the controls are very light and powerful, the elevator trim is also powerful and sensitive, a small turn of the trim wheel will have a noticeable effect.

Well after this, comes the other very important part, getting it on the ground and stopped, in one piece! After setting up on downwind, brake pressure is checked on the gauge (You want about 250 to 300 PSI), below 160 MPH, the U/C is lowered carrying out the same measured use of the lever, mixture set full rich fuel booster pump on, prop pitch set fully fine, radiator set to open. and open the canopy. As you turn final, the U/C down indicator is re checked and the throttle is briefly closed, to check the U/C up warning hooter is silent. This was always fun as with the canopy open and the throttle closed, the backfiring exhaust stubs sounded like 12 shotguns going off in front of you! then you selected flaps down. The Spit has only two flap settings, up or down to 64 deg. With the split flaps going down, the Spit pitches noticeably nose down improving your view, and making speed control on finals relatively easy.

A quick check on air pressure to see the flap system is not leaking (the flaps are also operated off the air pressure system, so if you loose air pressure because of a leak in the flap system, you will have no air pressure to operate the brakes on landing and you went to cross the threshold at approx 100 MPH). Now comes the only tricky part about flying the Spit, I found the aircraft is easily landed by a slight hold off and touching down on the main wheels, with the tail wheel about a foot off the ground, the view is still adequate over the nose in this attitude and directional control is good. However after lowering the tail to the ground, you have to be positive and quick with rudder inputs as with no steerable tailwheel and no slipstream over the tail (throttle closed), you have to dance on the rudder a bit to keep her straight. With that narrow track undercarriage, any swing must be stopped quickly, or it could fast develop into a ground loop. Can get interesting in a crosswind.

Braking to help directional control can be used but with caution as the brakes fade when they get hot, and you could put her on her nose. Taxing back is straight forward, but an eye must be kept on the radiator temps as the landing flaps also restrict air flow through the radiators. In fact a wary eye is constantly kept on radiator temps in flight as the engine will overheat very quickly if something goes wrong with the coolant system. After all that you can finally relax and it is a great experience to fly the Spitfire, but I found it was also a relief to have brought it back without bending it!! Well I hope some of your site visitors will find this of interest!