R. J. Mitchell: To the Spitfire is the definitive account of the life and designs of Britain’s best-known aeronautical engineer.
John Shelton calls upon unpublished letters and extensive press accounts, concentrating particularly on the harsh conditions of Mitchell’s apprentice years, the precarious state of the aircraft firm he joined, and moments of good fortune of which he took advantage. He was a ‘chancer’ as well as a methodical developer of, mainly, slow-flying seaplanes. Mitchell’s progress from draughtsman, with no formal training in aeronautical design, to internationally known chief designer is charted through a chronological study of his designs – revealing a formidable work ethic with a complex personality, which combined ‘dreams and common sense’. It will also be shown how the success of his high-speed Schneider Trophy designs propelled him reluctantly into public attention and how his anxiety for his pilots’ safety matched an equal concern that his designs should not let down an expectant nation.
Later expectations on him to produce a ‘killer fighter’ were equally daunting, and the outcome was often uncertain, but details of colleagues’ accounts highlight the essential and unique contribution of Mitchell’s experience and drive to the eventual appearance of the iconic Spitfire.