It was one of the most elegant fighters ever to be built and when it was created, it was a new breed of aircraft. Instead of the pilot strapping himself into the airplane, it was rather, the airplane was strapped onto the pilot—both becoming one. Unlike its contemporary, the Hawker Hurricane, which used biplane construction techniques, utilizing wood and fabric, the Spitfire was of modern all-metal construction. More importantly, it could be expanded to allow for greater power and armament, and stayed in production throughout the war, while others faded away. It was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft and after it made its inaugural flight on March 5, 1936, more than 20,000 Spitfires were built.
It was the design of Reginald J. Mitchell, chief designer of Supermarine Aviation Works, a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong. It was direct descendant of a series of floatplanes built to compete for the Schneider Trophy in the 1920s and 30s, one of which was the Supermarine S.6B. The S.6B was powered by a 2,300 hp (1,715 kW) PV.12 Rolls-Royce engine—this engine would later become the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin. The S.6B won the 1931 Schneider Trophy in 1931 at a record speed of 340.08 mph (547.19 km/h) and would break the world speed record again in seventeen days at 407.5 mph (655.67 km/h). This was more than 200 mph (322 km/h) faster than any airplane in the RAF. Mitchell continued to refine the Spitfire until his death at age 42 from cancer in 1937, where work continued under Chief Engineer Joseph Smith.
Deliveries of production Spitfire Is began in June 1938, just over two years after 'Mutt' Summers flew the first prototype at Southhampton. In the two years preceding production, Supermarine laid out their Woolston factory for large-scale production, and organized one of the largest subcontracting programs ever envisioned in Britain. Until that time, as it was becoming increasingly evident that there was no limit to the likely demand for Spitfires. It was also obvious that one factory alone was not going to be able to meet the demand, even with subcontracting.