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3:56pm on Sunday, 21st June, 2009:
What was the most famous fighter of World War 2?
Well, according to my 1962 encyclopoedia, The Living World of Science:
This book was published 22 years after the end of the Battle of Britain, so was as remote from the event as we are from 1987. It can be assumed that the consensus in 1962 was that the Hurricane was indeed the most famous fighter of all time. Today, though, even though the contribution of the Hurricane to the success of the RAF in the Battle of Britain is undisputed, its fame has been eclipsed by that of the Spitfire.
So why is this?
The merits of the aircraft as machines of war are very similar. The Spitfire was superior in combat (which is why it was deployed almost exclusively against fighters, whereas the Hurricane mainly got to take on bombers), however the Hurricane had a much faster turn-around time between flights (9 minutes as opposed to 26 minutes) so was able to see more action. As a result of this (and the fact that there were more of them), the Hurricane accounted for more kills in the Battle of Britain than did the Spitfire.
However, the Spitfire has two things going for it that the Hurricane doesn't.
The first of these is its looks. Here's a picture of a Spitfire and a Hurricane together:
(original here). The Spitfire is the one at the back — although I don't really need to tell you that because it just looks so good. It's so elegant, so well-balanced, so stylish — no wonder people today remember it more than the Hurricane. It's just so classy.
The second thing the Spitfire has that the Hurricane doesn't is its name. It's the best name for a fighter that anyone has yet devised. It spits fire! Who would want to go up against an aircraft that spits fire?! A hurricane is an unstoppable force of nature, sure, but it doesn't spit fire at you. Those Luftwaffe pilots in their Messerschmitt Bf 109s were beaten before they took off — how could their collection of letters and numbers stand up against something that would spit fire at them? I mean, it spits fire!
So today when we think of famous fighters, well, there are some that everyone has heard of, and I'm sure different countries have their own aircraft that have particular resonances. None of them look as good as a Spitfire, though, and none of them have that morale-busting name.
So sorry, encyclopoedia writers of 1962: the Hurricane may have been the most famous fighter in your day, but making a claim for its being perhaps the most famous "of all time" is starting to look a little rash...
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