Vickers-Supermarine MK I Spitfire No K9796, 1939.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Designed by Reginald Mitchell and powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, the Spitfire was integral to Britain's front-line air defence during World War II, and together with the Hawker Hurricane fighter played a key role in the Battle of Britain of 1940, the first check on German arms during the war. The prototype of the aircraft first flew in 1936 and entered active service with the RAF in 1938. Over 20,000 Spitfires were built for the RAF, and the aircraft remained in service until the 1950s.