A light wind blew in from the English Channel on the morning of March 6, 1936. The weather wasn't perfect for flying, but the unbroken cloud layer was high, and Vickers Supermarine's chief test pilot was keen to get going. Wedging his large frame into the narrow cockpit of a sleek, pale blue prototype, 'Mutt' Summers fired up its Merlin engine and taxied out across the grass field. Moments later he lifted gracefully into the air for the first time what was arguably to become the greatest single-seat interceptor fighter of all time. Within a decade this classic little fighting machine, and the pilots who flew it, had become legend.
The world over, the Spitfire was, and to most people still is, simply the most beautiful aircraft ever built. Upon every pilot that ever flew it, this little fighter left a deep and lasting impression. Like the finest thoroughbred, it embodied grace and elegance with speed and agility, and it flew superbly. In the hands of its greatest pilots the Spitfire was unbeatable in one-to-one combat and, in the summer of 1940 when Britain stood alone against the might of Hitler's 'Fortress Europe', this little fighter came to symbolize the hopes of an embattled nation. The unmistakable sound of Spitfires returning from battle, with Merlin engines crackling and gun ports whistling, became an ever-lasting memory for a grateful island people.
The Spitfire was developed more than any other aircraft in history, Supermarine producing no fewer than 24 different variants between 1936 and 1948 when production ended. It served throughout World War II in almost every Theater and in countless roles. The Spitfire was flown by pilots from Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and many of the European countries Hitler invaded. It was the mount of the famous American Eagle Squadrons and saw service with the USAAF in Europe and the Mediterranean. No Allied fighter came near its record of success in World War II.
In a special tribute to the Spitfire, and the pilots from all nations who flew it, Robert Taylor has painted a masterful study of the legendary fighter featuring a flight of MkIX Spitfires, generally considered to have been the greatest of all Spitfire marks, returning to their RAF base at Kenley in July, 1942. High on adrenaline after a dogfight with German Fw190s over France, the 611 Squadron pilots make their high speed run for home above the distinctive patchwork fields of Southern England.