Powered flight has now been going since 1903 when the first uneasy takeoff by the Wright brothers in a motorised glider took the human race into a whole new world of adventure.
With time, however, many distinctive aircraft have emerged, and none more so than combat aircraft. In this tutorial, come with me as we look at drawing an iconic plane from World War 2, the Supermarine Spitfire.
1. How to Set Up Accurate Perspective
Firstly we are going to establish a guideline for our plane, beginning with a horizon line. Since the Spitfire has a rather distinctive wing shape, we want to draw the plane at an angle that best demonstrates this, so you want to be drawing your horizon line across your page just above the halfway point.
For this drawing we are going to be using just a single vanishing point. This particular point needs to be correctly placed, and with this specific picture you may find this is off the page. Therefore, to set this up correctly, you may have to use a single piece of masking tape placed on one side of your canvas (it will be the right side in this particular case) and then add your point using a steel ruler.
Having drawn your vanishing point, take your ruler again and
draw a single line from the point across the canvas marking the middle of the
Next, draw a line that will be used as a guide for the top
of the body.
Then, draw in a third line that will be used as a guide for
the bottom of the body.
We need to add pointers for the wings, which of course are
essential to any aircraft. Starting with the wing closest to the viewer, a line
needs to be drawn from the vanishing point to the point where the tip of the
wing will be.
You then need to draw in another line for the opposite wing.
At this point, if you have placed your points correctly, a fan-like design should
To finish this stage, we need to add two more lines both at converging angles, which
will be for the rear flaps that come out of either side of the rear of the
plane and the rudder at the rear. These additional parts help steer the aircraft and give it stability in
Now we have rough guidelines that we can use to start
blocking our aircraft out.
2. How to Create a Plane From Basic Shapes
Now that we have established the perspective setup for our
Spitfire, we will block it out using simple shapes. We shall start with the body, which you can make using a simple long angled box. If you have set up your
guide correctly, it should be fairly simple to draw this shape.
We shall work on this plane going from left to right, but if
you are left handed you can work in the opposite direction. On top of the
original box needs to go a smaller cube for the cockpit area.
Alongside our first two shapes need to come the wings, and for
these we are looking to create simple triangles that will form a basic
structure of this section of our aircraft. We shall start with the one closer to us.
Don’t forget to draw in another triangle for the second wing
on the opposite side.
For the rear flaps of the plane, we need to draw another two
triangles, but make sure these are half the size of our first two.
For the main section of the rear rudder, we need to add an
upward angled triangle.
A thin rectangle should then be drawn, placed to the right alongside the triangle in Step 6, which will be for the steering section of the rudder.
You can also add a small cube underneath the body of the
plane that will be the trailing wheel which supports the rear of the aircraft
on the ground.
Hopefully, you should now have a skeleton of a plane that
looks something like this!
3. How to Draw an Aircraft in Detail
Having got the skeleton of our plane set up, we shall
now draw it in more detail. You will have to use a steady hand and a lot of
care if you are using ink at this point! Once more, we shall work left to right and
start with the nose of the plane.
We then move on to the body section as it follows the nose.
At this stage, avoid drawing in the details in the cockpit section as it's more
important to get the main parts of your aircraft correct before going into fine
After the body section, you can now add the wings. The Spitfire has a rather distinctive rounded wing shape, which makes it instantly recognisable to enthusiasts. For pilots, it also made it a much better handling machine than its counterparts, so make sure you take time to get this part right.
For the opposite wing, the perspective and angle of the
plane affect how much we can see, so a fair section will be hidden by the
cockpit and engine compartment.
Like the main wings, the rear flaps have a rounded shape so need to be drawn with care. The Spitfire was one of the very last front
line propeller fighters to feature a large front wing design; modern-day
fighters all adopt a large arrow-like shape.
Following on from the flaps, we now move to the tail of the
plane. Again, aerodynamics and easy flying were in mind with the design of this
aircraft, so a rounded tail was a must, with a large rear rudder section.
To complete this stage, we can now add the rear trailing wheel in more detail.
Now, we should have a more refined illustration to look at. During
World War Two, the Spitfire was assisted in bringing down enemy planes by the
Hawker Hurricane. The Hurricane was of a slightly less aerodynamic design but
just as effective at bringing down enemy bombers. The main fighter plane enemy
to face the Spitfire was the German Messerschmitt BF109, which had a similar top
speed to the Spitfire but was not quite as easy to fly, thus giving British pilots
a slight edge in the air.
4. How to Add Finishing Touches to an Aircraft
We now come to the finishing details. This is the part where all the pieces come together and you can add your own little touches to really personalise your own creations.
First, we can add the propeller of the plane and, as the aircraft is in motion, it is very simple to draw a basic ellipse. Be sure to practice drawing these first if you feel you need to!
To give the impression of motion, vary the thickness of your
drawn line and erase little sections of your circle with a fine eraser. If you
wish, you can add in some zig-zag lines to give the impression of speeding
propeller blades, but be sparing with how many you put in. In this tutorial I
have used just two lines.
Other little touches to add at the front of the aircraft are
the series of exhaust vents that run down either side of the nose, but only one
side is visible here.
Underneath the Spitfire is a vent that allows direct airflow
into the engine system.
Now we can draw in the cockpit area, starting with the pilot
and what limited control equipment you can see.
For the pilot, you can either use references from various
print or online sources to help construct him or, if you are confident enough
with your drawing skills, you can construct him from scratch yourself.
The sliding glass cockpit cover and front screen come next.
Thanks to perspective, parts of these two components may obstruct the pilot and
controls, so you may need to erase little sections in order to bring the puzzle
Now we move to the wings, and firstly we shall draw in the
machine gun holes on the wings. Thankfully these days these ports are just a
showpiece, and they have not been fired in anger for some time.
Don’t forget the steering flaps on the rear of both the
On top of the cockpit sits the radio aerial mast. Communication between pilot and ground control was still as important then as
it is now.
An aerial line runs from the aerial mast to a clip on the
tail of the plane. In these still relatively early days of air-to-air radio, a
line was essential for clear communication, but as time has progressed this line
is not needed. The Spitfire and its counterparts were actually some of the last
aircraft to use this dated system.
As we are approaching the end, any additional small details can be added. At this point, too, you can add your own little touches to make your aircraft unique.
At Last, the End Is Nigh!
Finally, you can now erase all of your construction lines and clean up your line art, and we now have a completed historical aircraft to look at!
So there we have a complete illustration of a truly historic piece of flying history that has been in the skies for the past 80 years. You can now add a touch of colour to this image if you wish to really bring it to life! I also hope I have at least given you some inspiration now to go and try it yourself and be adventurous, just as the designers and pilots of the Spitfires were all those years ago. The sky is the limit!