Spitfire PR Mk. IV: Aerial Spy

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Spitfire PR Mk. IV, the mainstay of RAF reconnaissance operations from June 1941 until the end of 1942.

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Individual histories of photo-reconnaissance Spitfires are often difficult to track. This aircraft, serialled BP888, was a Spitfire PR Mk. IV(T), the suffix indicating tropicalised version. Produced by Supermarine in February 1942, it served operationally with the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit in Benson, Oxfordshire. Seven months latser, it  was for unknown reason transferred to A&AEE in Boscombe Down for trials. This is also where the above photo was taken.

The PR Mk. IV was the first mass-produced photo-reconnaissance version of the Spitfire. The preceding recce Spitfires, developed as early as 1940 and designated PR Type A through G, were all converted from Mk. I fighter airframes. The PR Mk. IV emerged as a marriage of the MK. VC  with the wing and general configuration of the “Type D”. It featured integral wing tankage of 57 gal in each leading edge, plus 30 gal in an overload tank located behind the pilot. This amount of fuel gave the relatively small aircraft an unprecedented range of up to 2,000 miles, thereby presenting new opportunities for strategic reconnaissance deeply into the enemy territory.

An additional 14-gallon oil tank was fitted in the port wing gun bay which enabled the Merlin engine to run over the long time period. This was accompanied by a sump blister underneath the wing plus a small blister on top of the port wing for the relief valve.

Even though the Mk. IV was factory-built, individual aircraft could vary quite a lot, especially as their main operator, PRU in Benson excelled in putting many more or less advanced modifications to their aircraft. BP888 had two downward-looking cameras plus an oblique one for low-level reconnaissance work, with the access panel visible behind the cockpit. Other photos from the same session also show that it had twin wing “fences” over the wheel wells, a feature which is was not normally associated with the “C” wing. Also,  this aircraft appear to have had a standard fighter-style canopy, without the teardrop side blisters often associated with PR Spitfires.

Mk. IV became the mainstay of RAF reconnaissance operations from June 1941 until the end of 1942.
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