The achievements of the fighter pilots ensured that the Spitfire became a legend in its own time. No other aircraft as ever enjoyed quite the same charisma nor engendered the same sense of excitement that the Spitfire still evokes in both young and old. It was, of course, in 1940 that the people of Britain took the Spitfire - so easily recongnisable in the air by sight and sound - very much to their hearts. Then, together with its comrade in arms, the Hurricane, it brought the sweet taste of victory into their homes after a series of military set-backs and disasters. Victory in the Battle of Britain was a great feat of arms achieved both by Royal Air Force Fighter Command and (it is important to realise) by British engineerind and industrial organisation. It was a victory to which the British people could rightly feel they had contributed. Jeffrey Quill in this book does not recount the history of the Spitfire nor does he detail the operations in which it took part - although as its chief test pilot few could be more qualified to do so. Rather, as the title suggests, he tells of the events leading up to its dramatic and triumplant birth, and of the precarious first years of survival and growth. For, despite the almost miraculous timing of its conception and of its first flight on 5th March 1936n there were many obstacles wich had to be surmounted before R.J. Mitchell's masterpiece could achieve full potential as a fighter. There was the gearing up of the quite exceptionally successful production lines enabling 22,759 Spitfires and Seafires to be built and kept the air; there was the remarkable programme of technical development which kept the Spitfire in the front line onf the battle from the first to the last day of the 1939 - 45 War; and there was the massive and vital contribution of the hitherto largely unsung heroes in Supermarine, Vickers, Rolls-Royce and countless small sub-contractors that enabled it all to happen. It is high time this extraordinary story was told, and the 50th Anniversary of the Spitfire's first flight is the ideal opportunity.
Jeffrey Kindersley Quill, OBE, AFC, FRAeS (1 February 1913 – 20 February 1996) was a British test pilot who served on secondment with the Royal Air Force and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War. He was also the second man to fly the Supermarine Spitfire after Vickers Aviation's chief test pilot, Joseph "Mutt" Summers. After succeeding Summers as Vickers' chief test pilot, Quill test-flew every mark of Spitfire. Quill's work on the aircraft aided its development from a promising but untried prototype to become, with the Hawker Hurricane, an instrument of the Royal Air Force's victory in the Battle of Britain. The Spitfire later played a leading role in gaining Allied air superiority over Europe. Quill later wrote two books about the Spitfire.
Quill was born at Littlehampton, Sussex, the youngest of the five children of Arthur Maxwell Quill and Emily Molesworth Kindersley. He was educated at Lancing College, which overlooked Shoreham aerodrome, at that time a small grass field with old hangars and a wooden hut for a flying club. While at Lancing, Quill became Captain of Gibbs House (1930) and Prefect (1931). He played in the Cricket XI (1930–31); Football XI (1929–30); and was Sergeant in the OTC, Cert. A. Long before he left school in 1931, the nearby aerial activity had prompted Quill to seek a non-commissioned career in the Royal Air Force. While still a pupil at Lancing, he attended the famous annual RAF displays at Hendon. Two years later he participated in the event.
At the age of 18, Quill was accepted into the Royal Air Force as an acting pilot officer. He learned to fly on Avro Tutor biplanes at No. 3 Flying Training School at Grantham, and went solo after the short time of 5 hours 20 minutes (9 hours being regarded as the norm). He graduated to Siskin IIIA advanced trainers, and his flying ability was assessed as exceptional. In September 1932 he joined No. 17 Squadron RAF at Upavon, where he began flying Bristol Bulldog fighters. While with 17 Squadron he took part in the Royal Air Force display at Hendon in June 1933, demonstrating low flying in a mock bombing attack. He flew as often as possible in order to familiarise himself with the aeroplane, practising aerobatics and flying in cloud. He was well aware of the dangers of flying and later wrote:
Unless aerobatics were practised assiduously to the point where one was familiar with every conceivable combination of speed and altitude of which the aircraft was capable, one was not master of the aeroplane. Therefore a day would come when the aeroplane decided that it was in charge instead of the pilot, and that would be the last day. I never had cause to modify that view, and I kept my aerobatics well honed to the day of my last flight as a pilot."
At the end of 1933 Quill was posted to the RAF Meteorological Flight at Duxford. There he joined a small team flying obsolescent Armstrong Whitworth Siskin IIIAs with open cockpits, no artificial horizon or radio, and only the most rudimentary blind-flying instruments (a Reid & Sigrist 'turn-and-bank' indicator and an inclinometer). Wearing electrically-heated suits which plugged into a socket in the cockpit, the unit made twice-daily scheduled flights (except on Sundays) up to 25,000 ft to collect data at 1000 foot intervals on temperature, humidity and cloud formation for weather reports. On landing, the results had to be signalled or telephoned immediately to the Met Office at Adastral House in London. After Quill took command of the flight in November 1934 he and his team managed to fly every slot for a whole year, regardless of 'unflyable' weather and without missing a flight. For this hazardous achievement Quill was awarded the Air Force Cross at the age of 23. On one occasion, when letting down through cloud, his Siskin hit the ground hard but in perfect landing attitude, bounced over a hedge and overturned, pushing Quill's head forward on to the cockpit coaming (its raised border). Had he not already received a broken nose from an accident when boxing for the RAF, he would have qualified for the "Siskin nose" – a characteristic of many pilots of the period.
In January 1936 Quill applied for release from the RAF and joined Vickers (Aviation) Ltd at Brooklands, as assistant to its chief test pilot, Joseph "Mutt" Summers. His initial task was the testing of the Wellesley bomber, and it was while flying a production Wellesley that Quill had a narrow escape. The 74 ft 7 in-wingspan bomber refused to recover from a spin and at 3,000 ft Quill decided to bail out. As he descended, the spiralling bomber seemed intent on slicing the pilot with its wings, but he landed safely not far from the Kingston bypass.
There was some rivalry between Vickers (Aviation) Ltd and Hawker Aircraft, whose Hurricane had first flown four months earlier. Jeffrey Quill's long association with the Spitfire began when, aged 23, he made his first flight in the prototype fighter K5054 on 26 March 1936 – Mutt Summers having made the maiden flight three weeks earlier – and his priority was to get the Spitfire cleared for acceptance by the RAF. The Spitfire needed a great deal of work before it was deemed safe for young RAF pilots to fly, and it did not enter squadron service until July 1938. However, developed through many marks and variants, the Spitfire remained a first-line fighter throughout the war.
After transferring full-time to Vickers Supermarine in 1938, Quill took complete charge of Spitfire test flying, working closely with Joseph (Joe) Smith who had taken over as chief designer for Supermarine in 1937, following the death of R.J. Mitchell in the same year.
Second World War
During the Second World War, Quill was in charge of development and production flying at Vickers Supermarine, a job that he took so seriously that he felt he must obtain first-hand combat experience. Following the fall of France in 1940, he was determined to rejoin a fighter squadron. Forestalling opposition from his employers at Vickers Supermarine, he successfully argued the need to gain front-line operational experience and was temporarily released on 5 August 1940 to join No. 65 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch, privately hoping that it would be a permanent appointment. On 16 August he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and two days later he shared a victory over a Heinkel He 111. His combat days were short-lived because he was recalled after nineteen days to test the Spitfire Mk III, but they made Quill all the more determined to make the Spitfire an even better fighting machine, and his experiences in the Battle of Britain led to two important changes in the Spitfire. At high speed, the stick force from the ailerons had been very heavy, and this was found to be caused by the ballooning of the fabric covering of the ailerons, and so causing a thicker trailing edge section. This was cured by fitting stiffer, metal-covered ailerons.
Quill also initiated an improvement in the optical quality of the cockpit side panels. His concerns about rearward vision from the cockpit led to changes and improvements to the canopy and rear fuselage. Later in 1940 he became chief test pilot for Vickers Armstrongs (Supermarine) Works.