Spitfire Mk. IX & XVI Engineered – Book Review

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Product summary Title Spitfire Mk.IX & Mk.XVI Engineered Author Paul H. Monforton Published by Monforton Press ISBN 978-0-9784001-0-1 Format Hardcover; A4-size Price CND$139.95, available ...

Product summary

Title Spitfire Mk.IX & Mk.XVI Engineered
Author Paul H. Monforton
Published by Monforton Press
ISBN 978-0-9784001-0-1
Format Hardcover; A4-size
Price CND$139.95, available online from Monforton Press or through selected UK booksellers (Aviation Book Centre, Midland Counties, The Aviation Bookshop, East Anglia Books or Derek Vanstone Aviation Books)

Once in a while a book appears which redefines the scope of our understanding of a certain subject. Considering the popular knowledge about the Spitfire, several titles come to mind; The Spitfire Story by Alfred Price, or Spitfire – The History by Eric Morgan and Edward Shacklady. Or a few, very few others among the continuous stream of Spitfire books which attempt to catch the collective attention of aviation fans worldwide.

These milestone books can be very different, but they have certain things in common. Such as in-depth, own research seeking to primary sources of information. And a thorough, years-long study of the subject.

Arriving in my mail this month is a book which aspires to this category. It is not clear if this was its author’s intention. But “milestone” is a word which comes to mind within five minutes of opening its covers.

The book is Spitfire Mk. IX & XVI Engineered by Paul H. Monforton.

And without doubt, it is a book which every serious Spitfire enthusiast will love. Milestone? Yes, but with a few reservations. Read on.

About the book

Spitfire Mk. IX & XVI Engineered is a 430 pages long, expensively printed colour reference work which provides information about the various features of the Spitfire Mk.IX and XVI to a high degree of accuracy. With large format photos, colour drawings and relatively little text, everything looks something like a superdetailing modeller’s dream reference.

The author approaches his subject systematically and with professional knowledge. Paul Monforton is a manufacturing engineer living in Canada, with over 20 years’ experience in the aerospace industry, working with companies like De Havilland, Mc Donnell Douglas, Boeing, IAI and Bombardier. He is also an avid radio-controlled model engineer. All this shows in the way he approaches his subject. In fact, the entire book is of his own making, including photography, editing, page design and typesetting. A commendable feat.

The drawings

The heart of the book is a set of Spitfire drawings. Covering 133 pages in all, these have been painstainkingly created in CAD based on real aircraft measurements and available factory and service documentation. These drawings provide very detailed reference well beyond anything that any 3-view of the aircraft can deliver. Literally every skin plate, rivet and joint throughout the entire airframe has been measured, drawn and described in accompanying diagrams and data tables. There are also comprehensive measurement data on wing profiles, rib ordinates, various cross sections and other dimensions.

One can recognize modeller’s interest in Monforton’s work as the drawings focus primarily on the outer appearance of the aircraft. For example, there are no cutaway drawings, drawings of the engine’s internals or schematics for the various installations.

The photographs

The publisher made a wise choice of printing the 890 photographs of the various details of the Spitfire as large size colour images – no doubt a difficult decision size it very much affected the price tag of the book. Each photo is properly captioned, many of them extensively, and this commentary is very helpful in understanding the various features of the Spitfire and their operation. Overall, this photo essay is a fantastic source of knowledge about every panel, hatch or blister to be found on a Spitfire.

The individual aircraft serving as subjects of the photographs were:

  • LF Mk. IXc NH188, Canada Aviation Museum, Ottawa
  • LF Mk. IXe MK912, airworthy, operated by Russel Group, Canada
  • LF Mk. XVIe TE214, Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Ontario
  • LF Mk. XVIe SL721, airworthy, operated by Vintage Wings of Canada, Quebec
  • LF Mk. IXb MH434, airworthy, operated by OFMC, Duxford, UK

If there is anything I’d wish to comment about the photographs, its their varying quality. I know from my own experience how difficult it is to obtain consistently good photos in an environment of a restoration hangar or a museum, and I can see similar issues with some of the photographs in the book – undesired light reflections, dead-on flash, overly busy backgrounds. The publisher made a balanced decision of erasing backgrounds on most of the images, leaving only the cutout of the depicted item. It makes the pictures easier to read, but complicates the layout of the photo pages, which tend to look a bit cluttered.

The layout

432 thick-grade glossy pages are packed between hard covers. The quality of print is first class.

There are a few minor omissions which would have made the book easier to use as the source of reference. Firstly, there are no general page numbers, the pages are only numbered within each chapter. Secondly, there is no alphabetical index. Both features combined make it rather difficult to locate a picture or drawing again in this sizeable volume.

Accuracy

I cannot judge the accuracy of the drawings, but the level of attention and detail in Paul Monforton’s work inspires utmost confidence.

However, I have found a lapse in the book’s commentary which I think may cause confusion with a casual reader, and therefore deserves to be pointed out. It is the reference to the B-type wing as one of the wing types used on Spitfire Mk. IX. Indeed, In Chapter 7, the wing of MH434 is depicted and described as the B-type wing. Although this aircraft is a genuine Mk. IXb airframe, its wing is patently of a C-type. To my knowledge, MH434 and other early production Mk. IX aircraft all carried the C wing from the beginning. This type of wing was readily available by then and offered significant structural advantages and belt-fed cannon, both desirable features for a new, high performance version of the fighter.

I have contacted Paul Monforton about this issue and he agreed that a mistake has been made. You can find updates on the Monforton Press website for corrections to this and other identified issues.

Another area which the reader should approach with some caution are the different features of early production Mk. IXs which set them apart from mid-production aircraft which are generally the subject of the book’s drawings. Although the author makes some attempts to sort out this field, the information provided is, to my mind, inconclusive. For example, there is no mention of the difference in elevator horn balance shape between early (Mk. V-type) and late (enlarged) type. I was only able to locate this feature in one drawing, indicated by a dotted line, but no word about it in the text. Furthermore, drawings for the earliest type Mk. XI cowls, converted from Mk. V, are provided (page 3.04), but the reader is left wondering whether it provides complete information or is intended merely as an example. To my mind it’s the latter: it is now rather commonly acknowledged that some early cowlings had appliqué blisters over the intercooler housing, but there is no other drawing to show this variant of the cowling.

Besides the B-type wing issue, these are relatively minor points which do not depart from the overall positive impression of the book, but rather help to better define its scope – Spitfire Mk. IX & XVI Engineered is a bible on mid-production Spitfire Mk. IXc and Mk. XVIe, and can be confidently taken as such. However, it is not, nor perhaps even intended to be the ultimate coverage of the entire Mk. IX/XVI family.

Conclusion

Taken for what it is, this book is well and truly worth its (admittedly high) price tag.

The quality of Paul Monforton’s drawings cannot be faulted – this is a milestone work, way more exhaustive than any commercially available drawings of the Spitfire. This in itself should place the book very high on the shopping list of those who are thoroughly interested in the engineering aspects of the aircraft – especially modellers of all sorts, but also illustrators and those interested in aircraft restoration.

The remainder of the book is exhaustive, very well researched (except for the few points mentioned) and by far more informative than any other Spitfire walkaround that you’re likely to encounter, either in print or on the web.

I don’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in the Spitfire.

Thanks to Paul Monforton for the review sample

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