I’ve been patiently waiting for a combat flight simulator to do a Spitfire XIV for a couple of decades. The last time I flew one was in Aces Over Europe by Dynamix in 1993. For some of you, the last time you flew an XIV may have been in European Air War by Microprose in 1998. In either case, it’s been a long time since we had the opportunity to fly one of the ultimate Spitfire models in action. And now we can, thanks to the release of the Spitfire XIV in IL-2: Great Battles patch 4.6. Now that it’s out many of you may be asking what the new Spitfire is like, how it performs in combat, and how does it compare versus other Spitfire models and versus other aircraft in the series? This is my in-depth review of the aircraft in IL-2!
But first, some history
I always like to start an aircraft review off with some history. I’ve written a piece not too long ago about the type and how it came to be. I also answered some of the questions out there about why this later model of Spitfire is arriving in Battle of Normandy and how it and the Spitfire IX fit into the mix of late war Spitfire models. If you want the full read, check that out here.
The short version of the Spitfire XIV’s history starts in 1941 where Supermarine and the designers of the Spitfire explored a new Rolls Royce engine, the Griffon, as an alternative powerplant that the Spitfire might be able to grow into. Development on prototypes lead to the Mark XII, the first production version of a Griffon Spitfire which had superb low altitude performance. The Spitfire XIV was the definitive Griffon Spitfire and it did that with a two stage supercharger, longer nose, enlarged vertical stabilizer, and several other refinements to the design.
Spitfire XIV models first appeared in January of 1944 on the channel front before being reserved for V-1 chasing as the new threat materialized. Once the V-1 attacks on London and the south of England subsided, Spitfire XIV squadrons were moved to the continent in the fall of 1944 and served alongside the other frontline Spitfire squadrons (most of them with the Mark IX and Merlin 266 powered XVI) as well as the Typhoon and Tempest.
Managing the beast
The Griffon powered Spitfire models were known for tricky handling characteristics in some specific circumstances – mostly while on the ground. With the narrow undercarriage and over 2,000 hp on tap, the Mark XIV and other so equipped Spitfires were well known for ground looping and various other mishaps on takeoff and landing.
Contributing to this reputation was the opposite spin of the Griffon engine versus that of the Merlin. Many pilots, both virtual and in real life, prepared to counter rudder on the takeoff roll only to find out that the aircraft wanted to go into the other direction. Going back and forth between V/IX and XIV will require very careful re-calibration of muscle memory to make sure that you’re using the correct pedal.
Taxiing requires a bit more concentration than in the Spitfire IX although the overall outcome is very similar. Good management and keeping the throttle low will result in generally straightforward taxiing and any over exuberance of throttle will cause an almost immediate ground loop. Forwarded with that knowledge still wasn’t able to fully prepare me for managing this beast and I did end up ground looping a few times.
You can feel the aircraft rocking back and forth when using the throttle to get the aircraft moving which is just small indicator on how much power and torque the Griffon is putting out.
Landings are about as tricky as usual with the Spitfire IX, however, that torque from the engine once again means that gentle throttle management will be rewarded and fire-walling the throttle on final approach is a very bad idea. Gently does it!
Rocketship into the sky
Flying the Spitfire XIV is remarkably similar to flying the other Spitfire models although with a few notable differences that are worth paying close attention to. With the incredible amount of horsepower available, the Spitfire XIV is the fastest climbing aircraft in the IL-2 series with an incredible climb rate of 23.8m/s at sea level. Even under modest engine settings, this Spitfire feels a bit like a rocketship relative to other WWII warbirds and gains altitude quickly.
That climb rate makes it an ideal interceptor fighter and one that can easily climb out and gain altitude prior to a fight. During a fight that climb rate can also make for a very effective zoom climb regaining altitude like few other aircraft.
Putting the Spitfire XIV into a tight turn comes off similarly to other marks of the aircraft as well and the Spitfire XIV is able to pull a tight maximum performance turn only slightly slower than the Mark V and Mark IX. Although this is the case, the enhanced torque of the Griffon requires more management and more dancing on the rudder to keep the aircraft coordinated in the turn. An expert pilot will be able to achieve the full turn rate performance while a lesser experienced one will feel the XIV being a bit more sluggish in that turn. The XIV also seems to complain more loudly in those turns than the other Spitfires. My impression is that the Mark V is easily “chuckable” in a turn while the IX is somewhere in the middle and the XIV will complain the most when turned tightly.
Roll rate is also different with the XIV. Various changes to the wing, the tail and other aerodynamic aspects of the XIV appear to have reduced the roll rate of the aircraft relative to the earlier models. I find roll response to be somewhat more sluggish in the full wing version of the aircraft and that has led me to taking the clipped wing variant more frequently than I do with the IX. Aircraft defending from a Spitfire XIV attack should attempt to use its more sluggish roll rate against it, particularly if the speed of the fight is high.
Modifications and options
The Spitfire XIV comes with a bunch of options in IL-2: Battle of Normandy. The 150 octane fuel enhances low altitude performance putting the XIV within a hair of the other high speed late war fighters and making this an even more dangerous foe. The XIV can also be equipped with bombs of the 250lb and 500lb variety although ground attack is not it’s bread and butter. A mirror can be fitted and the armament can be adjusted between C and E wing configurations.
The C wing, the default, has two .303 machine guns and one Hispano 20mm cannon in each wing. The E wing removes the .303 machine guns in favour of a Hispano 20mm in the outboard cannon position and a .50cal in the inboard cannon position (identical to the Spitfire IXe in configuration).
The E wing provides superior weight of fire and easier aiming while the C wing is more representative of the earlier models of the XIV arriving in early 1944. The C wing has a further modification that removes the .303 machine guns leaving just the Hispano cannons and offering a slight gain in speed – an ideal V-1 chaser.
In most multiplayer scenarios the armament choices are going to be down to personal preference while in single player it will be mostly determined by the historical scenario.
Finally, you have the option of the standard reflector gunsight or the Mark II GGS lead computing sight that you are probably already familiar with in the Mark IX. I love this optic as it makes deflection shots easy to do.
The Spitfire XIV is up to 1CGS’ usual levels of detailing with plenty of texture work, fully animated cockpit, excellent 4K textures all around, and a good collection of skins for the type. Most Spitfire XIV’s were painted with a standard RAF scheme and 1CGS has included several generic options covering a range of schemes prior to D-Day, during D-Day, post d-day and into early 1945. These are no doubt in preparation for future use of the new tactical codes technology. There are also several painted schemes of some well and lesser known fighters.
The one that really stands out the most from the pack is the Belgian Spitfire XIV, circa 1948, which is the only one to offer something a bit different from the RAF wartime standard. There’s also a pair of RAF SEAC schemes from the squadrons that were flying in India and Burma that have a unique look.
Like past Battle of Normandy releases, if you already own IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte you can already get to flying this aircraft in the single player career mode. I loaded up the first chapter of the Bodenplatte ‘Rhineland campaign,’ selected, No. 402 Squadron ‘City of Winnipeg’ and started flying combat missions almost immediately.
1CGS has been really good about making sure that these aircraft, where appropriately connected are fully plugged into that single player experience. It reinforces my opinion that, when complete, the duo of Normandy and Bodenplatte together form an impressive western front air combat sim and it helps add value to folks who own Normandy as their Bodenplatte single player experience grows.
I decided to do something different for my performance comparison in this review. I’ve created a few charts to use as a comparison point and then provide some overall commentary on what they present. So, here are my charts using three performance comparison points and using data provided by 1CGS on this thread here (which is also the same as presented on the info cards when you’re on the objectives/map screen).
To compare this version of the Spitfire I picked the previous Spitfire, the Mark IX as well as the Tempest V, Bf109K-4 and Fw190D-9. All of the high end late war piston engine fighters! I included the 150 octane versions of the Spitfire variants, the Tempest Mark V at +11lb as well as the DB and DC versions of the DB-605 in the Bf109K-4. I could have included the P-51 Mustang as well but the charts already packed full!
At sea level, the Spitfire XIV is still slightly behind the competition even with the 150 octane boost which admittedly does bring it into range of the other types. However, its in the mid and high altitude range where the XIV takes the crown. Additional testing with the IXc using the .303 removal modification may yet yield higher speeds and that wasn’t compared here.
Maximum climb rate is another place where the Spitfire XIV absolutely dominates exceeding the climb rates of the other types. I forgot how impressive the Spitfire IX was in climb rate as well and it comes in a close second.
Finally, the Spitfire XIV delivers an impressive performance for maximum performance turn being only half a second behind the Spitfire IX which verifies my more anecdotal comments above. It will, however, take a much more skilled pilot to achieve that and extensive rudder work is required to make it happen.
By the numbers, the Spitfire XIV is either near equal or superior to every other fighter in comparison. So, what does this tell us? Nearly all of the late war fighters are within range of each other at high speeds which means that superiority of one over the other is going to be situational and based on the pilot’s abilities to make the most out of minor advantages.
Note about the graphs: I tried to simplify the visuals as much as possible while also providing some insight into each aircraft. Not every aircraft is compared at the same altitude and not every one of them has the same parameters for comparison but I did my best to put them into some sort of visual display. Let me know what you think in the comments.
1CGS has done their usual job of bringing to life another historical warbird. Texture and 3D modeling are up to par here and are just as good as anything else they’ve done recently. Capturing the XIV’s unique look, among the other Spitfire variants, is a tricky one and I think they nailed it. Also capturing the unique flavour of the aircraft is essential and that too has been accomplished.
The Spitfire XIV retains much of the Spitfire character as the earlier versions do but you feel the added weight and in some ways that makes this a less pleasant aircraft to fly. You must fight the immense power of the engine far more than in the Mark V or IX and that leads to some trade-offs in handling. In a tight close in fight, the Mark IX is probably the better fighter and will probably continue to be the favourite of many a virtual pilot. For raw speed and climb rate, however, the XIV is outstanding and in most circumstances is better than everything else out on the field.
I’ve been waiting to fly this aircraft for a very long time and 1CGS has delivered bringing to us all of the character and challenge of a late war beast such as this one. Flying the XIV is a challenge but one that brings with it the rewards of absolutely incredible performance. I’m glad that it’s finally here and I can’t wait to fly it more alongside the other magnificent aircraft that we already have and that are on the immediate horizon.