Mitchell, Reginald Joseph, born 20-05-1895 in Staffordshire, England, at 115 Congleton Road. After leaving Hanley High School, a co-educational grammar school in Stoke-on-Trent, at the age of 16, he gained an apprenticeship at Kerr Stuart & Co. of Fenton, a locomotive engineering works. At the end of his apprenticeship he worked in the drawing office at Kerr Stuart and studied engineering and mathematics at night school.
In 1917 he joined the Supermarine Aviation Works at Southampton. Advancing quickly within the company, Mitchell was appointed Chief Designer in 1919. He was made Chief Engineer in 1920 and Technical Director in 1927. He was so highly regarded that when Vickers took over Supermarine in 1928, one of the conditions was that Mitchell stay as a designer for the next five years.
Between 1920 and 1936, Mitchell designed 24 aircraft. As Supermarine was primarily a seaplane manufacturer, this included several flying boats such as the Supermarine Sea Eagle , the Supermarine Sea King , the Supermarine Walrus , and Supermarine Stanraer , and racing seaplanes. Mitchell also designed light aircraft, fighters, and bombers.
He was first noted in this period for his work on a series of racing seaplanes, built by Supermarine to compete in the Schneider Trophy competition. The Supermarine S.4 was entered in 1925, but crashed before the race. Two Supermarine s.5 aircraft were entered in 1927, and finished first and second. The Supermarine S.6 won in 1929. The final entry in the series, the Supermarine S.6B, marked the culmination of Mitchell’s quest to “perfect the design of the racing seaplane”. The S.6B won the Trophy in 1931 and broke the world air speed record 17 days later. Mitchell was awarded the CBE in 1932 for his contribution to high-speed flight.
In August 1933, Mitchell underwent a colostomy to treat rectal cancer. Despite this, he continued to work, not only on the Spitfire, but also on a four-engined bomber, the Type 317. Unusually for an aircraft designer in those days, he took flying lessons and got his pilot’s licence in July 1934.
The technical skill that Mitchell used in the design of the Spitfire was developed in the evolution of the Schneider Trophy seaplanes. The significance of the many earlier planes is often overlooked when people refer to Mitchell, as is the fact that he was very concerned about developments in Germany and feared that British defence needed to be strengthened, especially in the air. (Did you know)
In 1931 the Air Ministry issued specification F7/30 for a fighter aircraft to replace the Gloster Gauntlet . Mitchell’s proposed design, the Type 224 was one of three designs for which the Air Ministry ordered prototypes.
The Type 224 first flew on 19 February 1934, but was eventually rejected by the RAF for unsatisfactory performance. While the 224 was being built, Mitchell was authorised by Supermarine in 1933 to proceed with a new design, the Type 300, an all-metal monoplane that would become the Supermarine Spitfire . This was originally a private venture by Supermarine, but the RAF quickly became interested and the Air Ministry financed a prototype.
Many of the technical advances in the Spitfire had been made by others: the thin elliptical wings were designed by Canadian aerodynamicist Beverley Shenstone, and shared some similarities with the Heinkel HE 70 Blitz; the under-wing radiators had been designed by the RAE, while monochrome construction had been first developed in the United States. Mitchell’s genius was bringing it all together with his experience of high speed flight and the Type 224.
Death and burial ground of Mitchell, Reginald Joseph.
The first prototype Spitfire, serial K5054, flew for the first time on 05-03-1936 at Eastleigh, Hampshire. In later tests, it reached 349 mph; consequently, before the prototype had completed its official trials, the RAF ordered 310 production Spitfires. Mitchell is reported to have said that “Spitfire was just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose. In 1936 cancer was diagnosed again, and subsequently, in early 1937, Mitchell gave up work, although he was often seen watching the Spitfire being tested. Mitchell went to the American Foundation in Vienna for a month, but died on 11-06-1937, age 42. His ashes were interred at South Stoneham Cemetery, Hampshire, four days later.
His contribution to the Battle of Britain and thereafter to the achievement of final victory in 1945,was so great that our debt to him can never be repaid.