Reconnaisance Spitfires

Vickers Supermarine
Spitfire Mk PR XIX

The Mk. 19 was the last and greatest photographic reconnaissance variant of Spitfire. It combined features of the Mk. XI with the Griffon engine of the Mk. XIV. After the first 25 were produced later aircraft were also fitted with the pressurised cabin of the Mk. X and the fuel capacity was increased to 256 gallons, three and a half times that of the original Spitfire.

The first Mk. 19s entered service in May 1944 and by the end of the war the type had virtually replaced the earlier Mk. XI. A total of 225 were built with production ceasing in early 1946, but they were used in front-line RAF service until April 1954. In fact the last time a Mk. 19 was used to perform an operational act was in 1963 when one was used in battle trials against an English Electric Lightning to determine how best a Lightning should engage piston engined aircraft. This information was needed in case RAF Lightnings might have to engage P-51 Mustangs in the Indonesian conflict of the time.

Vickers Supermarine
Spitfire Mk PR XIX B

On 5 February 1952  a Spitfire Mk. 19 of No. 81 Squadron RAF based in Hong Kong achieved probably the highest altitude ever achieved by a Spitfire. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ted Powles, was on a routine flight to survey outside air temperature and report on other meteorological conditions at various altitudes in preparation for a proposed new air service through the area. He climbed to 50,000 feet (15,240 m) indicated altitude, with a true altitude of 51,550 feet (15,712 m), which was the highest height ever recorded for a Spitfire. However the cabin pressure fell below a safe level and, in trying to reduce altitude, he entered an uncontrollable dive which shook the aircraft violently. He eventually regained control somewhere below 3,000 feet (900 m). He landed safely and there was no discernible damage to his aircraft. Evaluation of the recorded flight data suggested that in the dive, he achieved a speed of 690 mph (1,110 km/h) or Mach 0.94, which would have been the highest speed ever reached by a propeller driven aircraft. Today it is generally believed that this speed figure is the result of inherent instrument errors and has to be considered unrealistic.


Spitfire PR.XIX - the definitive Griffon-engined photo-reconnaissance version - reproduced with thanks from Daniel J. March 'British Warplanes of World War II' (Grange Books)
Spitfire PR. XIX