R. J. Mitchell

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For the author, see R J Mitchell (author).
R. J. Mitchell
Reginald Mitchell Spitfire designer.jpg
R. J. Mitchell, aeronautical engineer
Born 20 May 1895 (1895-05-20) [1]
Butt Lane, Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, England
Died 11 June 1937(1937-06-11) (aged 42)
Portswood, Southampton, Hampshire, England
Occupation Aeronautical engineer
Spouse(s) Florence Dayson
Children Gordon Mitchell
Parent(s) Herbert Mitchell[1]

Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE, FRAeS, (20 May 1895 – 11 June 1937) was an English aeronautical engineer, working for Supermarine and then Vickers. Between 1920 and 1936 he designed many aircraft, including light aircraft, fighters, bombers and flying boats. He is best remembered for his work on a series of racing aircraft, which culminated in the Supermarine S.6B and an iconic Second World War fighter - the Supermarine Spitfire.

Early life[edit]

R.J. Mitchell was born at 115 Congleton Road, Butt Lane, Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, England.[2] After leaving Hanley High School, a co-educational grammar school in Stoke-on-Trent at the age of 16, he gained an apprenticeship at Kerr Stuart & Co. of Fenton, a locomotive engineering works.[1] At the end of his apprenticeship he worked in the drawing office at Kerr Stuart and studied engineering and mathematics at night school.

Early career[edit]

Supermarine Walrus (1935)

In 1917 he joined the Supermarine Aviation Works at Southampton. Advancing quickly within the company, Mitchell was appointed Chief Designer in 1919.[1] He was made Chief Engineer in 1920 and Technical Director in 1927. He was so highly regarded that, when Vickers took over Supermarine in 1928, one of the conditions was that Mitchell stay as a designer for the next five years.

Between 1920 and 1936, Mitchell designed 24 aircraft including light aircraft, fighters and bombers. As Supermarine was primarily a seaplane manufacturer, this included a number of flying boats such as the Supermarine Sea Eagle, the Supermarine Sea King, the Supermarine Walrus and Supermarine Stranraer. However, he is best remembered for his work on a series of racing aircraft, which culminated in the Supermarine S.6B, and the famous Supermarine Spitfire fighter.

The S.6B was a British racing seaplane developed by Mitchell for the Supermarine company to take part in the Schneider Trophy competition of 1931. The S.6B marked the culmination of Mitchell's quest to "perfect the design of the racing seaplane" and was the last in the line of racing seaplanes developed by Supermarine that followed the S.4, S.5 and the Supermarine S.6.[3] The S.6B won the Trophy in 1931 and later broke the world air speed record.

Mitchell was awarded the CBE in 1932 for his contribution to high-speed flight.

Supermarine Spitfire Fighter[edit]

The technical skill that led ultimately to the design of the Spitfire was developed through the experience RJ Mitchell and his team gained in the evolution of the Schneider Trophy seaplanes. The significance of the many earlier planes is often overlooked when people refer to RJ Mitchell, as is the fact that as a man he was very concerned about developments in Germany and feared that British defence needed to be strengthened, especially in the air.

In 1931 the Air Ministry issued specification F7/30 for a fighter aircraft to replace the Gloster Gauntlet. Mitchell's proposed design, the Type 224 was one of three designs for which the Air Ministry ordered prototypes.

The Supermarine Spitfire prototype, K5054, prior to its first flight

It first flew on 19 February 1934, but was eventually rejected by the RAF because of its unsatisfactory performance. While the 224 was being built, Mitchell was authorised by Supermarine in 1933 to proceed with a new design, the Type 300, an all-metal monoplane that would become the Supermarine Spitfire. This was originally a private venture by Supermarine, but the RAF quickly became interested and the Air Ministry financed a prototype.

Many of the technical advances in the Spitfire had been made by others: the thin elliptical wings were designed by the Canadian aerodynamicist, Beverley Shenstone, and shared some similarities with the Heinkel He 70 Blitz; the under-wing radiators had been designed by the RAE, while monocoque construction had been first developed in the United States. Mitchell's genius was bringing it all together with his experience of high speed flight and the Type 224.

The first prototype Spitfire, serial K5054, flew for the first time on 5 March 1936 at Eastleigh, Hampshire. In later tests, it reached 349 mph, consequently, before the prototype had completed its official trials, the RAF ordered 310 production Spitfires. Mitchell is reported to have said that "Spitfire was just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose." [4]

Later years[edit]

In August 1933, Mitchell underwent a colostomy to treat rectal cancer. Despite this, he continued to work, not only on the Spitfire, but also on a four-engined bomber, the Type 317. Unusually for an aircraft designer in those days, he took flying lessons and got his pilot's licence in July 1934.

In 1936 cancer was diagnosed again, and subsequently, in early 1937, Mitchell gave up work, although he was often seen watching the Spitfire being tested. Mitchell went to the American Foundation in Vienna for a month, but died on 11 June 1937 at age 42. His ashes were interred at South Stoneham Cemetery, Hampshire four days later.[5]


Mitchell was succeeded as Chief Designer at Supermarine by Joseph Smith, who was responsible for the further development of the Spitfire. Nevertheless, Mitchell's design was so sound that the Spitfire was continually improved throughout the Second World War. Over 22,000 Spitfires and derivatives were built.

Mitchell's career was depicted in the film The First of the Few. He was portrayed by Leslie Howard.

The school Mitchell attended, Hanley High School, was renamed Mitchell High School in his honour in 1989. He is commemorated by plaques at his birthplace and at his subsequent home in Southampton. Also the primary school just by the home of his birthplace was dedicated to him by being called Reginald Mitchell County Primary School in Butt Lane, Kidsgrove, Stoke on Trent. Built in 1909. [6]

Personal life[edit]

In 1918 Mitchell married Florence Dayson. They had a son, Gordon. While working on the Spitfire at Woolston and Eastleigh, Mitchell and family lived in Portswood, Southampton, at 2 Russell Place.[7]

Mitchell's family[edit]

Mitchell's son, Dr. Gordon Mitchell (1920–2009)[8] was left to tell his father's story in two books, R.J. Mitchell: World Famous Aircraft Designer (ISBN 978-0947750053) and R.J.Mitchell: Schooldays to Spitfire (ISBN 978-0752437279). On 5 March 2004, Dr. Mitchell unveiled a 3/4 scale representation of the prototype Spitfire K5054 at the entrance to Southampton Airport (formerly known as Eastleigh Airport), Southampton, on the 68th anniversary of its first flight. Gordon spent most of his life living in Tilehurst near Reading with his wife Alison and his three children (Penny, Adrian and David). Penny has two children, Nick and Emma. Alison died in 2005, and Gordon died on 24 July 2009 in Cheltenham General Hospital.



  1. ^ a b c d Price 1982, p. 11.
  2. ^ Ritchie, Sebastian. "Mitchell, Reginald Joseph (1895–1937)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004. Retrieved: 21 August 2010.
  3. ^ Price 1977, p. 11.
  4. ^ Deighton 1977, p. 99.
  5. ^ Mitchell, Gordon. "RJ Mitchell" A life in aviation." rjmitchell-spitfire.co.uk, 2009. Retrieved: 21 August 2010.
  6. ^ Jamieson, Alastair (27 February 2011). "Family of Spitfire designer angry over renamed school". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  7. ^ "Designer of the Spitfire commemorated with Blue Plaque." English Heritage press release. Retrieved: 18 September 2009.
  8. ^ Gordon Mitchell : Obituary
  9. ^ Quill 1983


  • Deighton, Len. Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain. London: Grafton, 1977. ISBN 0-7858-1208-3.
  • Dibbs, John and Tony Holmes. Spitfire: Flying Legend. Southampton, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1997. ISBN 1-84176-005-6.
  • Eforgan, Estel. Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2010. ISBN 978-0-85303-941-9.
  • McKinstry, Leo. Spitfire: Portrait of a Legend. London: John Murray, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7195-6874-9.
  • Mitchell, Gordon. R.J. Mitchell: Schooldays to Spitfire. London: Tempus Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0-7524-3727-5.
  • Palfrey, Brett R. and Christopher Whitehead. "Supermarine Spitfire: History of a Legend." Royal Air Force (RAF). Retrieved: 27 December 2006.
  • Price, Alfred. The Spitfire Story. London: Silverdale Books, 1995. ISBN 1-85605-702-X.
  • Price, Alfred. Spitfire: A Documentary History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997. ISBN 0-684-16060-9.
  • Quill, Jeffrey. Spitfire: A Test Pilot’s Story. London: Crécy Publishing, 1998; Air Data, 1996; John Murray, 1983 (first edition). ISBN 9-780947-554729.
  • Shelton, John (2008). Schneider Trophy to Spitfire - The Design Career of R.J. Mitchell (Hardback). Sparkford: Hayes Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84425-530-6. 

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