Doctor of Teleocity
Ad Free Member
- Dec 2, 2003
- The Netherlands
This is Reginald Joseph Mitchell, who will forever be remembered as being the father of the Supermarine Spitfire, which no matter how you slice it, is very much a legacy that nobody can surpass.
Early production model Spitfires with two blade wooden propellers. Mitchell himself would see nothing of the type's glory as he died in 1937 not long after the type entered service.
But everybody has to start somewhere, and it was all the way back in 1916 that Mitchell was hired by Supermarine to develop what was back then a brand-new concept in aviation. And it was to counter THESE.
Zeppelins, which during the first world war, were used by the Germans as long range high altitude bombers. Which struck English cities at night and with total impunity, because the interceptor aircraft of the time couldn't reach the altitude the blimps were cruising.
Also, with radar being a technology which didn't exist yet, and telephone being a technology in its infancy, those blimps were the Stealth aircraft of their day. They would appear out of nowhere, and because it took time to get the call in to the Interceptors to scramble and take care of them, got out of there scot-free.
So when Mitchell and his team got the order to develop a dedicated night fighter, they knew they had their work cut for them. How can you take down something which flies higher than any normal aircraft, and be there when it arrives on the scene and once it has, how can you spot it in the ink black skies?
They decided the best answer was THIS monster, a quad plane, twin engined beast they called the Nighthawk.
And a side view. So how was this behemoth supposed to take on a Zeppelin, what on earth were they THINKING?
Actually, what they were thinking about created a plane which incorporated some very innovative concepts which are commonplace in modern day aircraft. Such as:
- A fuel payload which enabled it to stay airborne for 18 hours on end.
- A crew rest area in the fuselage, so they could fly the plane in shifts.
- An enclosed cabin with a heater because as those poor saps had to fly at such high altitudes, they could freeze to death.
- A very powerful searchlight in the nose, so it could see the blimps in the night sky. It was for that reason why the plane also had a petrol powered generator onboard.
- Two turrets, one in the nose with a machine gun. And the other on top of the cabin with a heavy calibre cannon.
Again, this was all the way back in 1916.
The sole Nighthawk in the assembly hall of Supermarine, showing its scale to dramatic effect.
So, so much forward-thinking, why was there only one made?
Well, when testing the aircraft, it was found that it took way too long to reach cruising altitude and it was so slow that even a Zeppelin could overtake it. And with aviation technology advancing at a very high rate, it was rendered obsolete pretty much straight away. As types such as the Sopwith Camel and the S.E.5 now were entering service with the performance to take out a Zeppelin with ease and needed far less time to do so.
So was R.J. Mitchell's first design a failure?
- As an interceptor for high-flying Zeppelins it was.
But take a look at long range maritime patrol aircraft that came around three decades later, such as the Lockheed P-2 Neptune or the Grumman S2F Tracker. They all took a page out off the concept of the Nighthawk since it ended up making such perfect sense.
A Neptune as operated by the Royal Netherlands Navy, its searchlight very clearly visible, a feature it got directly from the nighthawk.
Yeah, they made only one, but that sole Nighthawk was the right plane in the wrong era and in the wrong role.
The sole remaining part of the Nighthawk.