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Thread: Spitfire Short Field Takeoffs

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    Supporting Member Baffin's Avatar
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    Spitfire Short Field Takeoffs

    Spitfire Short Field Takeoffs

    As the gloom of night fell over RAF Littlestone, my wingman and I were forced to land with the sun behind us. We knew the field had been bombed, with two large craters midfield on the runway, so we flew minimum speed final approaches to touch down as close to the runway threshold as possible. Without being able to see the runway damage due to the low angle of the sun, we each aimed as best we could for the end of the runway and basically let the airplane arrive on “Brick One”. It was comforting to see that we used only a small portion of the available runway for successful landings.


    How to takeoff in these basically “Blind” conditions required some creative thinking. So, throwing the book away, we tried a Flaps-Down, max power takeoff in an attempt to shorten the ground roll as much as possible. In order to get airborne before those craters at midfield devoured our eager Supermarines, we used the takeoff speeds we were familiar with and were pleasantly surprised with the outcome. The Spitfire “begs” to become airborne with the flaps extended, but is somewhat reluctant to accelerate for a normal departure clean-up. I decided to perform some testing to develop an “acceptable risk” short field takeoff procedure.

    The A.P.1565B “Pilots Notes” (Spitfire IIA/B Flight Manual) states that flaps MUST be UP for takeoff due to the 85° angle when DOWN. That’s pretty definitive guidance, but on the next line it describes in some detail what happens if the pilot has a “Serious omission of drill” (e.g. Screws Up) and takes off with flaps extended by mistake. The aeroplane will takeoff but the intrepid aviator is cautioned not to retract flaps until at least 120 MPH is attained. Well, that’s a license to steal for a Spit driver trying to takeoff at night from a bombed airport with no short field procedure guidance from the Air Ministry.

    Drawing on my experience as a Cessna instructor, I decided to try known short field techniques used to teach private pilots short/soft field takeoffs.


    Don’t try this on your own privately owned Spitfire that you keep at the local airdrome. This is for EXPERIENCED CLoD Spitfire pilots only and should be seen as a training exercise or an emergency procedure. In other words, I just made this up, but it’s fun and works well if you’ve practiced it.


    Trimming tabs – Set elevator trim - 50% ANU (Aircraft Nose UP) at the 2 O'clock gage position. At night, or if control is too difficult, use zero trim (centered at 3 O'clock). Rudder trim – Pilot’s preference.
    Mixture Control – Back to NORMAL.
    Pitch Control – FULLY FINE (lever fully forward)
    Radiator Shutters – FULL OPEN
    Flaps – DOWN. Check top-of-wing flaps extended doors open.

    Emergency Short Field Takeoff Procedure

    Align the aircraft with as much usable runway as is possible.

    Begin with neutral elevator and appropriate ailerons for crosswind.

    If at all possible, pick an object in the gunsight like a cloud, star, etc. to “aim “at.

    The runup has two purposes: Obviously, it provides immediate, maximum thrust for acceleration at brake release but it also directs the application of correct rudder for the remainder of the takeoff. Don’t cheat with the “Wheel Chocks” command. You likely will not have enough rudder in at the “Remove Chocks” command. Use the brakes instead.

    Hold the wheel brakes during engine runup to MAX power with Boost Cutout Override (BCO)-ON. This is easier said than done since the Spitfire wants to yaw aggressively. If the brakes won't hold or the plane becomes uncontrollable, release the brakes and start the takeoff.

    As you start the takeoff, concentrate on your gunsight aim point until you feel stabilized, then glance at the airspeed, looking for 65 MPH. At 65MPH, which comes quickly, the Spitfire should “beg” you to fly, but if it doesn't, rotate smoothly to MAKE it fly very close to stall speed. Remember, all you want to do is get it off the ground before you run out of runway or hit a crater.

    Once you are sure you’re airborne, apply forward stick pressure to arrest the climb and allow the plane to accelerate. Retract the landing gear when you are sure you don’t need it anymore. With 50% or more ANU trim, the Spitfire really wants to pitch up, so forward stick pressure is unnaturally high. Keep “pushing” the stick until you get to 120 MPH, at which time you should select flaps UP. Be prepared for a “Sink” upon flaps retraction as lift decreases suddenly. Apply a little back pressure (Release a little forward stick) to prevent any descent.

    Now you can apply AND (Aircraft Nose Down) trim and reduce power to MIL (BCO OFF) to return to your familiar departure routine. At night, it’s a good idea not to trim before flap retraction so you do not accidentally enter a dive with poor visual cues.

    Some techniques that did not work so well:

    • Holding full aft stick at brake release works well for “Soft” field takeoffs in Cessnas, but will kill you in a Spitfire. It's easy to over-rotate and stall. Neutral elevator stick position works well with more normal pitch control.
    • Normal Trim Settings tend to encourage a sink rate after lift-off and at flap retraction. 50% ANU is less comfortable, but safer. Zero trim Mid-Point (3 o'clock on the guage) is a suitable compromise for night operations. Full ANU is a real handful but can be used in day VFR to assure early lift off.

    Here endeth the lesson…
    Last edited by Baffin; Feb-16-2020 at 15:46. Reason: 50% ANU now preferred
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  2. #2
    Supporting Member 69th_Damon's Avatar
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    Re: Spitfire Short Field Takeoffs

    Way back in the 80's I got instruction in a Robertson STOL modified Cessna 206 from a company pilot. One of the modifications was that the with the flaps lowered both ailerons had about a 10 degree down angle making the flaps full length. Elevator was neutral till the target lift off speed was reached then the yoke was JERKED back suddenly lifting the plane off the ground then eased forward enough to keep in ground effect.


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