Image credit: The Spitfire Society
But the one that holds the dearest place in the hearts of the public is the Spitfire. When the throaty rumble of its engine roared in the sky above London, many of those who had heard it in the dark days of the 1940s felt the prick of tears.
There are many reasons why the Spitfire stirs such emotion.
It’s fast – as early as 1944 this little plane reached speeds of 606 mph (767 mph breaks the sound barrier!) before its propeller disintegrated.
It’s incredibly maneuverable - pilots spoke of ‘becoming one with the aeroplane’: when that propeller broke apart the pilot coolly pulled it out of its 45 degree dive into an elegant glide and landed safely at Farnborough.
And it’s universally acknowledged as being a perfect synthesis of form and function – what we think of as a beautiful design.
But perhaps its greatest attraction is its sheer pluckiness.
The Spitfire has become honoured as a freedom fighter, playing a crucial role in defeating the Nazis in the Second World War, most iconically against the massively superior numbers of German planes at the Battle of Britain. The affection the British have for this little plane has been celebrated in countless films, from The First of the Few with David Niven in 1942 to Dunkirk in 2017.
It has transcended the darkness of war to become a symbol of daring, courage and imagination. It was a Spitfire pilot, John Gillespie Magee, who wrote so eloquently of the joy of flight in his poem High Flight:
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…
…with silent, lifting mind, I’ve trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
Maybe children looking at our Spitfire wallpaper won’t have quite such lofty thoughts, but we like to think they might enjoy something of the spirit of freedom the plucky little plane embodies!