Supermarine Spitfire PR19
The history of the magnificent Supermarine Spitfire is well documented in many other websites. However, although most people know the aircraft was originally designed and operated as a fighter, fewer are aware that it was also used in a number of variants as a pure reconnaissance aircraft. The possibility of adapting the earliest version of the aircraft was quickly recognised and right back an early Spitfire Mk 1 was fitted with cameras in the wings and became a PR1A that undertook a reconnaissance sortie near Aachen on 18 Nov 39. As the war progressed further versions of the Spitfire were adapted for reconnaissance duties as the PR Mk 10 and Mk 11 and these version saw extensive service during the latter part of the war but are outside the scope of this article.
The final version of the aircraft developed for reconnaissance duties was by general consent the best, the Spitfire PR19, and this version saw extensive service after the war in a number of theatres. This version built on all the lessons learnt from previous aircraft, combining the wing of the PR 11 containing 66-gallon leading edge fuel tanks and potential camera installation and was powered by the 2000hp Griffon 65 series engine used in the Mk14. The total internal fuel capacity of the PR19 was 252 gallons, although there was the option of also carrying a 90 gal or 170 gal drop tank, the added drag virtually outweighed the benefit and it was rarely carried.
The camera installation was fairly similar to that used for the Mk 11. Within the fuselage were mounted various cameras, either two fanned or a single F52 36in vertical, two fanned F52 20in vertical or two fanned F24 14in vertical and one F24 14in or 8in oblique. The fuselage cameras were heated by warm air ducted from behind the starboard radiator. Additional cameras could also be carried in the wings in place of the inter-spar fuel tanks and these were also heated by warm ducted air. The installation of a full pressure cabin made life much more comfortable for the pilot during freezing high altitude, long endurance reconnaissance sorties. The last operational flight made by any RAF Spitfire was flown by a PR XIX over Malaya on 1 Apr 1954.
Essentially, the PR19 combined the performance of the Mk 14, whilst having a greater range than the PR 11 and the cockpit conditions of the PR 10. With an all-up-weight of only 7500lb it was capable of a top speed of 460mph, making the PR19 the fastest Spitfire ever produced. More importantly, the aircraft was capable of cruising at 370mph at up to 49,000ft, taking it above the reach of effective interception by other piston aircraft. After the war, the aircraft saw operational service Malaya, during the campaign against communist insurgents; however, the most impressive operations undertaken by the Spitfire PR19 were those sorties over China in 1951. The Spitfire PR 19 was the backbone of the RAF photographic reconnaissance force for many years, serving with a number of squadrons until they were eventually replaced by reconnaissance versions of the jet powered Meteor and Canberra. Two examples of the Spitfire PR19, PS915 and PM631, are still flying with the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby.