Tuesday 28 September 2021
  • STEM
  • Age 11-14 (KS3)

With its elliptical wings and sleek, streamlined fuselage, the Spitfire is one of the most recognisable aircraft ever built but whilst we know it for its iconic look every aspect of its design was informed by science. The Spitfire was designed by RJ Mitchell whose aim was to achieve the maximum speed possible, and it was through the combination of aerodynamics along with the power of the Merlin engine where Mitchell’s ambition for the Spitfire was achieved.

Join IWM expert Ngaire Bushell and Geoff Coxon from the STEM-based charity and social enterprise The Skylab as they reveal the chemical combination of atoms and molecules combusting inside the Spitfire’s engine and propelling it through the air.

Explore the Merlin engine through holographic technology created by Perception Codes before taking on the challenge that proves how science and design is vital to powering this aircraft.


Teacher notes:

These notes are designed to give you all the background information you need to introduce your students to this resource with confidence!

Download the Teacher Notes.

Curriculum Links

Find out more about how this resource is mapped against some of the themes and content topics found in the curricula for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Suggested Activities

Watch the video presented by IWM expert Ngaire Bushell and Geoff at The Skylab. You may wish to watch the film through once in its totality before re-watching it and encouraging students to take notes on the processes of combustion and propulsion and the challenge before they attempt it.

Download and print the template so that students can carefully create their own propellor ready to make their predictions on its performance. All of the steps for making the model are given in the Teacher Notes.


Once students have made their model they should predict what will happen to the speed of the propeller when the power of the hairdryer is increased from slow to fast. They should then test their prediction.


Students could also consider what would happen to the speed of the propeller when the propeller blades are smoothed causing them to be flat rather than with pitch. They should then test their hypothesis.

Passionate about bringing holographic technology to life, Perception have created this hologram [hosted on an external website] especially for this IWM resource to give your students a unique way to go beneath the fuselage and view the Merlin Engine.

The holographic resource is best experienced with standard 3D glasses. As part of a pilot project, free 3D glasses are currently being offered to Secondary Schools in Cambridgeshire and Essex, to find out when free distribution to secondary schools around the UK will take place, please subscribe to our Teachers’ eNews.

Related learning resources

Poster image for Adventures in History: Grumpy and his Spitfire

Grumpy and his Spitfire

Find out why pilot George Unwin was given the nickname 'Grumpy' and find out how he achieved his dream of flying a Spitfire.