My Spitfire Experience July 1 2010
“There I was sitting in the cockpit of my Spitfire fighter hunting Messersmidt’s in the skies over London in the Battle of Britain. “
Peace had returned to the world. I had turned 14 and one day a truck came by a recently vacated lot in our neighborhood and unloaded what I immediately declared a RAF Spitfire. All the neighborhood kids showed up to examine this wonder from far away. I was possibly a little more curious then some of the others.
For a few months in 1946 I would go down to that camouflage painted warrior and get up in the cockpit and be viewing the sky through the windshield in nothing flat. ” I would press the firing button on the control stick and my ears heard the roar of those eight .303 machine guns thundering in the wings, while the big wooden 4 blade propeller whirled with the power of the Rolls- Royce Merlin engine.”
There is no radio mike or sound or headphones for that matter just a telegraph key for my right hand. The instrument panel was a maze of things I could only guess at as nothing actually moved but imagining what they actually did was a lot of fun.
Well as soon as I saw that plane I had to know all about it. I was on it, in it, under it and on the two wings that lay one on top of the other, both upside down, each folding single hinge attachment assembly burned through. I was so disenchanted that there was little chance of putting it right that I proceeded to find out how everything on this war hero was put together.
I found the 8 Browning machine guns still in the wings, their access port covers gone and the center of the guns actions burned to immobility, except for one! I could, with effort, pull the gun action back part way! Wow! That was really something! I started to imagine how I could get that gun out of there but the mounting bolts and nuts were like none I had ever seen before so tools were an obvious problem. I have to tell you I looked that plane over long and hard in case some tool had been left behind. I even went and got dad’s flashlight to help me check what dark interiors I could access.
I was in the cockpit again and I managed to slide the cockpit canopy shut. Sitting on the metal seat without any cushion or parachute barely let the back of my head touch the bottom of the pilot’s head rest pad. I also could not line my eye up with the gun sight ring and knob in this early model without lifting my body higher of the seat. It warmed up quickly inside and I had a bit of a panic as the canopy did not open as easily as it had closed.
The last picture shows the ring and post of my experience!
Now here is where it now becomes clear just what this fighter was. It was a Hurricane made by Hawker because ‘my spitfire’ had a greenhouse style canopy. I didn’t learn this fact till just a short while ago when I started to look for pictures to go with my story. The Hurricane went into service about a year before the Spitfire and was the primary aircraft type in the Battle of Britain. In fact more Hurricanes were lost in that action then Spitfires. The Hurricane did not have the side drop door that the Spitfire had so pilots had a more difficult time exiting a damaged aircraft!
I might note that in my looking into the wings around the guns I saw peeking out a couple of machine gun bullets so I tried to remove them. A push here and a slide this way and a belt of ammunition came out of hiding. It was 6 feet long and when I went home that night I wore that band of bullets around my neck as I walked the 2 blocks up the hill.
When my dad arrived home from the store that night I proudly showed him my trophy. Somehow his excitement did not match mine and we had a long talk about the armaments of war. It turned out that Dad had been an Ariel Gunner Instructor in WW One and was very familiar with the .303 caliber ammunition. The machine gun he trained others to handle was the Lewis gun which used a flat canister drum rather that a belt. We went together to return the ammunition to someone in charge at Seattle Pacific Collage whose property the Hurricane rested on. It wasn’t long before the Hurricane disappeared.
I often imagine just how much fun I could have had if I could have gotten that working machine gun out of the wing as well. Sometimes imagination is best left as it is.
I later found out from the grapevine that the Rolls Merlin engine was all that the collage kept of the Hurricane for use in it’s engineering course. The value of a complete fighter aircraft in 1946 was sure less highly regarded then today.