The Spitfire: Fruit from Failure
Last week my husband sent me this great Slate article on the development of the British Spitfire plane, a brilliantly designed plane that was pivotal to the eventual defeat of the Nazis in World War II. The article is excerpted from Tim Harford’s new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. It’s a long article, so if you don’t make it through the whole article, these 3 paragraphs describe the British government’s plan to develop innovative planes in the 1930s from its aviation companies.
The immediate response was disappointing: three designs were selected for prototyping, and none of them proved to be much use. The Air Ministry briefly went so far as to consider ordering aircraft from Poland.
Even more remarkable than the initial specification was the response of the ministry to this awkward failure. One of the competing firms, Supermarine, had delivered its prototype late and well below specification. But when Supermarine approached the ministry with a radical new design, an enterprising civil servant by the name of Air Commodore Henry Cave-Browne-Cave decided to bypass the regular commissioning process and order the new plane as “a most interesting experiment.” The plane was the Supermarine Spitfire.
It’s not hard to make the case that the Spitfire was one of the most significant new technologies in history. A brilliant, manoeuvrable, and superfast fighter, the Spitfireand its pin-up pilots, brave to the point of insouciancebecame the symbol of British resistance to the bombers of the Nazi air force, the Luftwaffe. The plane, with its distinctive elliptical wings, was a miraculous piece of engineering.
What is your biggest current failure? What are you learning from it? What fruit could possibly come from it?
Now let’s think about our kids: what are their struggles and failures? What good results can come from them?
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