Secrets of the Spitfire, Lance Cole

Secrets of the Spitfire, Lance Cole

The Story of Beverley Shenstone: The man who perfected the elliptical wing

Beverley Shenstone was a Canadian aeronautical engineer and aerodynamicist who played a major role in the design of the distinctive modified double elliptical shape of the Spitfire's wing. During a long career he spent several years in pre-war Germany, working on some of the most advanced aircraft designs of the day (first with Junkers and later with Alexander Lippisch, an early advocate of the flying wing and tailless aircraft). He worked at Supermarine for most of the 1930s, and was a senior member of the Spitfire design team, working on the wing and its connection to the fuselage.

At the heart of the book are the very detailed discussions of the design, development and the technical performance of the Spitfire wing. Cole certainly proves one of his points - the elliptical wing form clearly wasn't adopted without a great deal of thought, and everyone involved believed that it would result in better performance than a standard tapered wing. This fits nicely with the memories of just about every pilot who flew the Spitfire, who all report that it was a delightful aircraft to fly, seeming able to respond to the pilot's commands effortlessly. Cole goes into a great deal of detail on the aerodynamic advantages of the Spitfire's wing shape, and I must admit much of this section is rather beyond me (the author is an aviation expert). There is enough detail here to satisfy the expert reader and enough general explanation to allow the general reader to follow Cole's arguments.

There are a couple of irritants here, mainly because the author is so keen to prove his point. In particular the frequent comments that a particular piece of information is being published for the first time do start to grate after a bit and do the frequent references to the Heinkel He 70. This aircraft had a simple elliptical wing and appeared just before the Spitfire, leading some writers to mistakenly believe that the Spitfire wing was inspired by the German aircraft. Cole proves that elliptical wings predate the He 70, and that Shenstone's design had very little in common with that aircraft's wing, but the argument does tend to spill out of the chapters already devoted to it into other parts of the text.

These are minor flaws, and really come from the author's enthusiasm for his subject. Shenstone is an interesting figure, who played a major part in the design of the Spitfire. The detailed calculations he left behind when he left Supermarine were used when the wing was altered later in the war. After the war he moved into civil aviation, where he rose to a high position within British European Airways. He was also interested in gliders and man-powered flight, and made significant contributions in both fields.

This is a passionately written biography of an interesting figure who genuinely deserves to be much better known that he is.

1 - Before Take-off - Early Days in Canada
2 - Canadian Wings - From Water to Air
3 - Toronto to Southampton via Dessau, and the Wasserkuppe
4 - Supermarine Days
5 - Perfecting the Spitfire
6 - The Mystical Ellipse
7 - Supermarine's Modified Double Ellipse
8 - The Spitfire's Vital Advantage
9 - Sailplanes and the Spitfire?
10 - Beyond the Leading Edge
11 - The Heinkel 70 and Other Issues
12 - Atlantic Commuter
13 - Canada or Britain?
14 - British European Airways
15 - Viscount, Vanguard, Trident
16 - Airlines Gliders and Man-powered Flight
Epilogue: Tail Piece

Author: Lance Cole
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2012

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