Design legend or design history?

If you were impressed by Evan Davis’s flight in a Spitfire on Today this morning, it’s worth disentangling some of the myths about the aircraft by reading Kenneth Agnew’s excellent article about the aircraft in Journal of Design History.

In this little classic of design research, Agnew discusses the problem of deducing design processes from surviving objects, especially when the original documentation is incomplete, there are few (or no) un-restored examples, and there are many popular misconceptions about the quality of the design or the performance of the object.

The photograph, from the Aircraft Restoration Company website, shows the elliptical wing design discussed by Agnew.

Kenneth Agnew, ‘The Spitfire: Legend or History? An Argument for a New Research Culture in Design’. Journal of Design History, vol. 6, no. 2 (1993), pp. 121–30