North East Aircraft Museum      

The North East Aircraft Museum's exhibit WK198 was the machine in which Commander Mike Lithgow established a new world speed record of 1,186km/h at Castel Idris, Libya on 26. September 1953 (the picture at right shows WK198 in Libya). This beat the record established by a Hawker Hunter three weeks earlier. Supermarine Swift WK198 practising over Libya, for its attempt on the World Record

After active days, the aircraft went to Kirkham, where it was used as an instructional airframe. Kirkham was closed in 1957 and the aircraft was lost until it was noticed in a scrapyard at Failsworth. It was not NEAM who had originally found it at Failsworth, but a chance visit by a group from the Museum in 1981 found the yard about to be cleared under a compulsory purchase order, and the aircraft about to be scrapped, along with the battered fuselage of the last surviving Brigand, some Firefly components and a cockpit section from a Balliol. It was then that the Museum acted to secure the loan of the remains for the itself.

Originally built as an F1 ( the third true production F1 to be built), it was later converted to serve as the prototype F4, incorporating re-heat and a variable incidence tailplane. In this guise, it was first flown by Mike Lithgow on 2. May 1953.

On 5. July 1953, flown by Mike Lithgow, it broke the London-Paris speed record, averaging 1076.9 km/hr for the 342 kilometer distance.

It took part in the coronation flypast on 15 July 1953, but afterwards suffered engine seizure when (luckily) approaching Chilbolton - it managed to force-land.

It flew at Farnborough in 1953, followed immediately by the World Speed Record (see above). This beat the three-week old record set by Neville Duke in a Hawker Hunter. A further attempt soon after was let down by a re-heat failure on the final run.

Several photos of WK198 are can be seen on pages 290 and 291 of the book Supermarine Aircraft since 1914 by C.F. Andrews, EB Morgan (Putnam)

Small print : On 3. October 1953 JV of the US Navy, flying a Douglas Skyray, was able to achieve a speed of 1,211 km/h.

WK198 in an earlier state !!

Supermarine Swift of the
North East Aircraft
Museum at the Farnborough Air Show 1998

WK198 at the Farnborough Air Show



In a sense, this period saw a renewal of the Supermarine / Hawker rivalry which had existed during the Spitfire / Hurricane days and was now played out between the Supermarine Swift and the Hawker Hunter. This time the Hunter won hands down - unfortunately the Swift was not successful as a fighter in RAF service, although some later aircraft served successfully in a low-level reconnaissance role. To be more precise, the Swift program was originally envisaged as a back-up insurance to the Hunter program.

The lineage from the Spitfire is thus :- the Spitfire developed into the Spiteful; Spiteful wings were used for the Attacker; swept wings were added to the Attacker to produce the Swift.

In more detail :-

  • The Spiteful developed directly from the Spitfire (there was a naval version - the Seafang). This aircraft was overtaken by events , i.e. the introduction of jet aircraft, before it could be fully developed.

  • The Attacker was a jet aircraft fitted with the laminar flow wings developed for the Spiteful, and powered by the Nene engine..

    It had its origin in the Supermarine E.10/44, and was due to enter the RAF as an interim type until the introduction of the Gloster E1/44. However, the E1/44 was an unswept aircraft which never improved greatly upon the Meteor and was cancelled. The E10/44 never actually entered RAF service but a naval derivative, the Attacker became the first front-line jet fighter in the Royal Navy. The first Attacker was flown in July 1946, by Jeffrey Quill, the chief test pilot, who had also flown some of the first Spitfires.

    It entered Navy service on 17. August 1951, but from 1954 began to be replaced by the Sea Hawk.

    It was not fast enough to contest the World Speed Record against the Meteor, but on 27. February 1948 Mike Lithgow, in the Attacker prototype, achieved a new speed record of 908.89 km/hr round a 100km closed-circuit course.

  • Type 510 consisted of one aircraft, VV106, which first flew on 29. December 1948 piloted by Mike Lithgow, powered by Nene 2 engines. It created as sensation when flown at Farnborough in 1949.

    It had taken two years from conception to the first flight, and involved adding 40 degree swept wings and tail to an Attacker fuselage - it was the first British aircraft with both swept wings and swept tailplane (horizontal stabilizer).

    And it was also the first swept-wing aircraft to both land and take off from an aircraft carrier (Illustrious) but this program was never carried forward.

    When it started reaching Mach 0.93, Supermarine could say jokingly that they, at last, had an aircraft capable of beating the Mach 0.92 (in a dive) of the Spifire.

    This aircraft came to be known as the Swift.

  • Type 528 VV119 which first flew on 27. March 1950. It was soon converted to type 535 (see below).

  • Type 535 First flew as this type on 23. August 1950. While still under test, VV119 'starred' as 'Prometheus' in the film Sound Barrier.

  • Type 541 Two pre-production types. WJ960 first flew on 1. August 1951, WJ965 first flew 25 August 1952.

    WJ965 was modified such that it was capable of exceeding the Sound barrier, in a dive, which it did the first time on 26. February 1953, over Chilbolton.

  • Swift F1 It was introduced into the RAF in February 1954, becoming the RAF's first swept-wing aircraft. More powerful Avons were used in place of the Nene. Unfortunately, because of several accidents, it was grounded in August. 18 built.

  • Swift F2 Replaced the F1 on 30. August 1954 but then two were lost in pitch-up incidents, leading to this version being grounded as well. The aircraft had pitch-up problems, which caused the aircraft to flip over when trying to correct. 17 were built.

  • Swift F3 never flown by the RAF, being used as an instructional airframe. 25 built.

  • Swift F4 6 built, although the original order was much larger. Incorporated a variable incidence tailplane which it was hoped would correct the way the previous versions had tended to pitch up during turns at high altitude. The tailplane did appear to solve this particular problem, but others problems developed. Reheat had been included on this type, but there were problems igniting the afterburners at altitude, which was obviously a serious problem for a fighter. 6 built.

    In mid-1953 the aircraft developed engine problems leading to engine seizure. Several times the Swift was brought back with no power rather then ejecting and losing a precious prototype.

    At Chilbolton in Hampshire, test flying began to take place seven days a week, to the undoubted pleasure of the local population. In the book From Spitfire to Eurofighter the author, Roy Boot, relates how, at 20.00 one evening in 1953, he heard the sound of a jet engine on the outskirts of Southampton which, he learnt later, was WK198 applying re-heat during ground runs at Chilbolton 27 kilometers away.

  • Swift FR5 low-level reconnaissance aircraft, which therefore obviated the need for afterburners. They apparently performed well in this role - replacing the Meteor FR Mk 9. These Swifts were themselves replaced, after 5 years, by the Hawker Hunter FR Mk 10. The design was basically a Mark 4 with a lengthened nose for the camera, and dog-toothed wing leading edges. It first flew in May 1955, and stayed in service until 1961. 35 were built.

  • Swift F7 never entered RAF service but used for research. The aircraft's problems had been sorted out - but too late.

The total number of Swifts ordered was 499, but only 197 were actually built.

A supersonic version of the Swift, the Type 545, was approved, and in February 1952, an order was placed for two aircraft, but this project was scrapped just when the first prototype was nearing completion.

Supermarine only produced one other aircraft - the type 544 Scimitar for the Royal Navy, before being fully absorbed into Vickers.

WK 198 at the Farnborough Air Show in 1998

Mike Lithgow


Mike Lithgow joined the company from the Fleet Air Arm.



Other Swift Pages on the Internet