The Spitfire aircraft draws from an eternal wellspring of public devotion extending its legacy nearly a century after its invention. The plane was on full parade on Tuesday, as Prince Harry of Wales joined veterans (on his 31st birthday, no less) to watch a large collection of vintage planes fly during events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
As the New York Times described in 1940, the Battle of Britain threatened to permanently reshape Europe's balance of power. Veteran testimonies like that of Tom Neil's flooded the internet alongside expressions of gratitude for the actions of the "few" who Winston Churchill once famously said were owed "so much":
The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
It's not every day you see a historic event, important or not, competing with celebrities on social media, and yet the #BattleofBritain hashtag trended for most of the day on Twitter in the UK.
Spitfires are such fucking beautiful planes— Zoe Mazdon (@Zoe_Mazdon) September 15, 2015
Got a bit emotional watching 3 spitfires flying low across the house today— David Burke (@DavidMBurke) September 15, 2015
WWII Indian (Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim) pilots who flew Birmingham built Spitfires during The Battle of Britain pic.twitter.com/a0WZJKnWGi— Kal S Dhindsa (@KhalSir) September 15, 2015
Accounts also used the hashtag #OnThisDay1940 to share hundreds of stories, thoughts, images, and videos.
The Spitfire is also a symbol of gender equality and pop culture
Crowned as Britain's most beloved aircraft, it's also credited with forging a key accomplishment for gender equality in the workplace. Women pilots flew the Spitfire toward the ending years of the war. Consider Joy Lofthouse, who was only a teenager when World War II began. At 20, she and hundreds of other young women trained to fly the Spitfire in the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).
In honor of the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day this past May, the 92-year-old Lofthouse returned to her old job. A video produced by the BBC, below, captured her return to the skies nearly seven decades after the war ended.
The ATA holds the honor of being one of the first British government employers to pay male and female employees equally. It set a precedent to put equal pay on the negotiating table for women employed by other government agencies. The Spitfire Women became a true-life "league of friends," according to fellow retired pilot Molly Rose, seen in the below video discussing her fond memories with Lofthouse in 2014.
Incredibly, the Spitfire's legacy doesn't end with winning battles or forging a path for pay equality. The aircraft also inspired author Roald Dahl to write one of his first books, The Gremlins:
Dahl's gremlins — tiny creatures who lived and worked on Spitfires —served as loose inspiration for one of the most iconically bizarre creatures of American pop culture, the precocious monsters featured in Joe Dante's 1984 film Gremlins.
The Spitfire is one of the only machines I can think of that still receives high praise decades after its use; not even the radio or phone in their modern iterations get this much love. And if the end of World War II, Roald Dahl, a royal prince, and gender equality can't get you interested in this old plane, maybe its market value will. According to Aero News, a restored Spitfire from 1940 recently sold for $4.8 million; its proceeds were partially given to a wildlife protection group.