What is the difference between a Seafire and a ‘Hooked Spitfire’ — a standard Spitfire fitted with an arrestor hook — a great many of which were operated by Fleet Air Arm?
The naval version of the immortal Spitfire had a complicated and sometimes difficult journey into service, but it finally arrived with front-line Fleet Air Arm (FAA) Squadrons at just the right time. As told by Naval aviation historian Matthew Willis in his book Supermarine Seafire, the Seafire was by no means ideal as a naval fighter – lacking endurance and being difficult to land on a carrier – but it gave the Royal Navy an interceptor with superlative performance in the air, helping to turn the tables on the enemy as the Allies went on the offensive.
The Seafire served in the Second World War from the North Atlantic to Japan, and into the 1950s, seeing action in Malaya and Korea.
But what is the difference between a Seafire and a ‘Hooked Spitfire’ — a standard Spitfire fitted with an arrestor hook — a great many of which were operated by the FAA? The first Seafire variant, the Mk lb, had no folding wings, no catapult spools, and its only major external modification was an arrestor hook. Every Seafire lb was converted from a Spitfire. In their essentials, there was little difference.
The most basic answer is that Seafires were ordered as such, through a contract for front-line aircraft placed with a manufacturer or similar company, while hooked Spitfires were aircraft transferred from RAF stocks for second-line purposes and converted as required, generally by Maintenance Units. The detail is bound up in those contracts.
Seafire conversions incorporated all the detail changes required for naval service, which included equipment as radio sets and beacon receivers which enabled pilots to communicate with and find their ship, including a wireless telegraphy set with Morse key.
The myriad small details to fit the Seafire for the conditions of naval use included de-icing fittings for the radio aerials, a shutter for the air intake (fitted to all Seafires but only tropicalised Spitfires) and a rack for signal cartridges — mostly unnecessary on hooked Spitfires.
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Photo credit: Imperial War Museum and Charles Daniels British Aircraft Album via Wikipedia