Thursday 9pm – 10.30pm, BBC4
Between World War One and World War Two, the Air Ministry released specification F7/30 which called for a modern, fighter capable of a flying speed of 250mph. An excellent, independent company called Supermarine submitted a monoplane called the Supermarine Type 224, but it failed in its bid and was beaten to selection by the Gloster Gladiator. The designer, R.J. Mitchell was undeterred and set about improving his design, refining it and creating a smoother, cleaned-up aircraft, the Type 300. The work paid off, and 1934 Air Vice Marshal Cave-Browne-Cave gave Supermarine £10000 to develop the aircraft, becoming what we know today as the Spitfire. What many may not know, Winston Churchill, then a politician, tried in vain to stop Cave-Browne-Cave funding this project.
This feature-length documentary proudly tells the story of what is the most iconic and famous British military aircraft. It’s Merlin or Griffon engine noise still has grown men bounding out of the door for a glimpse of this aircraft, many of them looking up and imagining what life was like for the brave Battle of Britain pilots in World War 2.
Speaking with the remaining ‘Few’ throughout, these, now-elderly pilots recall taking on the might of the Luftwaffe, defying the odds and protecting the nation in their Spitfires. We get glimpses of what life was like as archive footage is played from cameras mounted in aircraft wings, showing Spitfire’s shooting at ME 109’s, Dorniers and Heinkels. But for the enthusiasts, the footage of modern day surviving Spitfires effortlessly zipping through the clouds and performing aerobatics will be the highlight.
The documentary also looks at the vital, and often forgotten element of the Air Transport Auxiliary – the department of female pilots who provided ferry services of aircraft from factories to the RAF. In fact, one of the most remarkable sights in the film is that of former ATA pilot, 100 year old Mary Ellis, who is reunited with an aircraft she signed for and is still flying today.
It also addresses a very human touch, speaking with the pilots who shot down aircraft, exploring what the emotion was like and how they felt.
It is a remarkable tribute to the brave men and women who not only flew the aircraft, but the many who maintained and supported it at home and abroad.
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