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The Spitfire was one of WW2's iconic aircraft, its fame coming from its spectacular performance in the Battle of Britain. But in that battle, Hawker Hurricanes outnumbered Spitfires 2:1.

Often articles about Spitfires use images of Hurricanes. How can I tell the difference between a Spitfire and Hurricane visually?

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    $\begingroup$ I'd dispute that claim about Spitfire. Zero is quite iconic too. $\endgroup$ – Antzi Aug 19 '16 at 3:12
  • $\begingroup$ Let's just say it's "one of" WW2's most iconic aircraft. The P-51, Me109 and Zero are all pretty famous, along with plenty of others $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Aug 19 '16 at 3:55
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think you could dispute that it's Britain's most iconic WW2 aircraft, though. There are certainly other distinctive British aircraft from that period, but none so famous. $\endgroup$ – Dan Hulme Aug 19 '16 at 12:32
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There are quite a lot of differences, some more subtle than others, but I tend to find this is the best angle for identification: the side view. Although as we'll see later in this answer, the top/bottom view has a fairly obvious difference, and there's a clue that we can use to identify from the front or rear

Hurricane and Spitfire

So what are you looking at?

On the left is the Hurricane. It's slightly larger than the Spitfire, although that's not always a great help from distance. Perhaps more usefully, the fuselage is fundamentally different shape: I'll elaborate on this in several areas where we can directly compare.

Firstly, the rear fuselage. At first glance the two are very similar, but the Hurricane has a much more pronounced "drop" to the tail, while the Spitfire's is a "rise".

What do I mean by that? Follow the line of the top of the cockpit canopy: the Hurricane's fuselage behind the canopy drops away, while the bottom of the fuselage is relatively flat. On the Spitfire, it's reversed - the top of the fuselage follows the line of the canopy, while the bottom comes up to meet it. It's a subtle difference at first glance, but once you've seen it once it's a very clear distinction. When looking at the Hurricane's rear fuselage, it almost appears to have a "dog leg", where the rearmost area drops in relation to the middle of the aircraft. The Spitfire's follows a much more continuous line

The Spitfire is also clearly much more sleek - it's a "pencil" shaped fuselage, long and thin and curvy. The Hurricane is more blunt and "solid".

Other differences? Look at the tail. The Spitfire's is relatively small and curves upward from the top of the fuselage in a smooth curve, while the Hurricane's comes off at a sharper angle. Similarly the Hurricane's horizontal stabilizer is higher - almost in line with the top of the fuselage.

The Engine cowling shape, as with the cockpit, is different: where again the Spitfire's continues a nearly straight line from the bottom of the cockpit, the Hurricane's has a distinct curve.

If you can get closer, you will also note that the Hurricane's fuselage is almost "ridged" - it's a metal frame with a fabric covering, and that gives it a bumpy appearance, vaguely visible on the above photo.

Spitfire Hurricane front

What about if you can't get a side view, though? Here's the Spitfire (below) and Hurricane (above) from the front... but you can see the same from the rear

Well from the front, there's a single very nice clue under the fuselage: the radiator housing: that box-like structure hanging from the bottom of the plane. The Hurricane has one, and it's on the centre of the fuselage. The Spitfire's is not, it's under the right wing. On some later models, there are two, one under each wing.

The next photo is included mostly for the wing shape, but the aforementioned radiator boxes are visible too: from this, we can tell the Spitfire is a relatively late war model: a Mk IX (9) onward: although there are other subtle clues that suggest this is a much later model... the 5 bladed propeller indicates a Griffon engine, so a Mk XIV (14) or later. Anyway, we can see the Hurricane's single centre radiator, and the Spitfire with one under each wing

Spitfire Hurricane underside

And finally, how about the bottom? Well, the Spitfire's wing is extremely distinctive: it has an "Elliptical" wing, shared with only one or two other aircraft. Once you can recognise the Elliptical wing, you can recognise the Spitfire very easily in flight. The Spitfire's wing, particularly the trailing edge, is very curved compared to most other contemporary aircraft. The Hurricane's wings are much more conventionally shaped, with both leading and trailing edges being straight (a trait shared with aircraft like the Typhoon/Tempest, P-51, Me109, A6M "Zero" and most other aircraft from the WW2 era)

Late War Spitfire
(source: modelingmadness.com)

Late War Spitfires (the above is a Mk 22) are even more distinctive: they have a "bubble" canopy that protrudes entirely from the fuselage.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Perhaps more usefully, the Hurricane has more straight lines, while the Spitfire's more curvy" I'm not sure that's useful at all. Looking at your first photo, the Spitfire has a straight line from the top of the windscreen to the start of the vertical stabilizer, from the bottom of the windscreen to the front of the nose and from the back of the wing to the bottom of the tail. The Hurricane is curved in all of those areas. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Aug 19 '16 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ And all of these photos need credits. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Aug 19 '16 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, I thought adding the photos from a URL automatically added credits: there was something at the bottom of the post with the links! I'll look at adding them back in. The "Curves vs straight lines" thing is more of a "Let's discuss this" rather than a hard and fast rule: I then point out several areas further down the post where we can apply it to specific areas like the wings and rear fuselage sweep $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Aug 19 '16 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ The Spitfire's elliptical wing has always been the dead giveaway for me. I honestly cannot think of another WWII-era aircraft with that planform, certainly nothing as well-known as the Spitfire. $\endgroup$ – KeithS Aug 19 '16 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ I joined this community just to upvote this. $\endgroup$ – Renan Jul 13 at 17:24
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I built models of each of these aircraft as a kid. And also saw them repeatedly in the Commando comics I read. From the standpoint of a child who knew very little about aviation but had built them as 1/32 models, there are two standout differences:

The Spitfire has a distinctive elliptical wing. The Hurricane has a more regular wing that is rounded.

enter image description here

The Hurricane has a rectangular canopy. The Spitfire has a rounded canopy. Admittedly these general terms are not the best to describe the canopy, but there is a distinctive visual difference in the canopy. Wikipedia states the Hurricane has a distinctive "hump-backed" silhouette.

enter image description here

Both are very cool. But the Spitfire is somewhat cooler. Even a 9 year old knows that.

Wikipedia has a good image of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The Spitfire wing should be obvious, and one of the Spitfires has the clipped wing. Two of the Spitfires also have invasion stripes.

enter image description here

And some extra goodies.

enter image description here enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ The canopy isn't a great way to identify Hurricane and Spitfire: Early mark Spitfires had a conventional (rectangular) canopy, and there are Hurricane examples with the Malcolm (rounded) hood. And then there are Spitfires examples with neither. $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Aug 19 '16 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ If you believe the canopies to be very similar, please find an example. $\endgroup$ – timbo Aug 19 '16 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ Here's a spitfire canopy without so much as a curve in sight... spitfirespares.co.uk/Website%20Products%20427/spitfire.jpg and another here raf-in-combat.com/wpsite/wp-content/uploads/edd/2014/11/… - Early ware Spitfires did not have Malcolm hoods nor Bubble Canopies, and cannot be distinguished from Hurricane's based on "Rectangular vs Curved canopy". Few survived the war, but if identifying Spitfires in wartime photos/films, the canopy isn't a great indicator. Here's another warfaremagazine.co.uk/assets/images/articles/medium/… $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Aug 19 '16 at 4:01
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    $\begingroup$ You should mention other things like inward and outward facing gear and the intake. $\endgroup$ – Coomie Aug 19 '16 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ All of these pictures need to be credited. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Aug 19 '16 at 9:42
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This is a Spitfire from its most distinctive viewpoint. Note the elliptical wing. Some later models had the tips of the wing clipped.

Spitfire

This is a Hurricane.

Hurricane

This problem is complicated by the fact that there were many variants of the Spitfire (especially) and the Hurricane. Here are some easy-to-spot differences.

This is a Spitfire again.

Spitfire

Note the Spitfire has bubble canopy. Hurricane has a razorback. The Spitfire has a rounded vertical stabilizer. The Hurricane is rounded. Most Spitfires have extended barrels for cannons. Most Hurricanes do not have cannon (some models did). The hurricane was fabric covered. Note the fabric ripples on the tail.

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  • $\begingroup$ The elliptical wing works, but there are plenty of Spitfires without bubble canopies. Equally there are Spitfires with 0, 2, or 4 cannon, and Hurricanes with 0, 2, or 4. You're comparing a very early Hurricane to a very late Spitfire: for comparing similar age (Mk I, II, V) early war aircraft, this really doesn't apply $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Aug 19 '16 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ Even the earlier Spitfires have a bubble canopy of sorts. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/… Even on the early Spits, the canopy distinguishes it from a Hurricane. The A and D wing Spits do not have cannon tubes but most were B or C wings. Likewise, most Hurricanes were were machine gun armed (as noted above). If you see a cannot tube it is most likely a Spitfire. $\endgroup$ – user3344003 Aug 19 '16 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ There are Hurricane's with Malcolm hoods, and plenty of Spitfires with conventional canopies. You give three "likely" identifications but two can be shared with the Hurricane and therefore aren't truly ways to identify the aircraft. Only the Bubble Canopy is a distinctive feature, and isn't enough to distinguish all Hurricanes from all Spitfires $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Aug 19 '16 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ All of these pictures need credits. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Aug 19 '16 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ @JonStory Not all Spitfires have elliptical wings. $\endgroup$ – Dan Hulme Aug 19 '16 at 10:11
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Certainly on many of the earlier model spitfires, the aerial was closer to the cockpit canopy than the hurricanes. Later models had much finer (thinner) aerials, more difficult to see.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome to aviation.se. The answer in it's current state is quite short and may be better suited as an comment. Edit your answer to include relevant data to back up your statement such as pictures or references. $\endgroup$ – jklingler Sep 6 '18 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! To add to @jklingler’s comment, it may also be helpful to add pictures to show the differences you mention. $\endgroup$ – dalearn Sep 6 '18 at 16:20
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When both Hurricanes and Spitfires were a common sight over England's skies, there was a saying: greenhouse = Hurricane, blister = Spitfire. This refers to the cockpits. The Hurricane has a many-paned canopy whose top is flat and level with the top of the fuselage. The Spitfire has a curved canopy which sticks out from the top of the fuselage.

As others have pointed out, there were many variants of both aircraft, and some variants lack the biggest recognition features. One variant of the Spit even lacks the distinctive elliptical wings, with cut-off straight wing-tips instead. Although I don't have the exact figures, I think the cockpit canopy is the most reliable indicator.

You can't see in the photos people have posted, but the sound of the Merlin engine which most Spitfires had is very distinctive as well. If you've heard it once, you'll recognise it again, and you won't confuse it with another aircraft.


One joke I've heard from today's aviation enthusiasts is that a Spitfire looks very similar to a Seafire, while a Hurricane looks almost the same as a Sea Hurricane. The joke is of course that those two are both naval variants, so obviously they look very similar to their land counterparts, but if you can't tell them apart to start with, that doesn't help.

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  • $\begingroup$ The cockpit canopy isn't the most reliable indicator - as discusssed elsewhere in this thread, there are examples of both Hurricanes with the Malcolm hood, and Spitfires with a conventional ("Greenhouse" canopy) $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Aug 19 '16 at 14:53
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The main gear in a Hurricane retracts inwards (wheels together), while in a Spitfire it retracts outwards (wheels apart)

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  • $\begingroup$ You answer is quite confuse or not elaborate enough. What do you mean by closing a leg? $\endgroup$ – Manu H Aug 19 '16 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ I think it means that the Hurricane's gear retracts inwards, the Spitfire's retracts outwards. While accurate, it's only helpful if you have a good view of the gear, and doesn't help for most of the pictures in the current answers. Without more detail it seems it would be better as a comment. $\endgroup$ – fooot Aug 19 '16 at 17:38

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