One thing Revival will go down in history for this year is the Spitfires. That’s as it should be of course in this the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain – and in a place that used to be a wartime Spitfire base.
There’s an astonishing 20 Supermarine Spitfires and associated models parked up in front of the new Aeroclub building as part of the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation display, along with four Hawker Hurricanes (and the world’s only airworthy Bristol Blenheim).
It’s one of the largest gathering of Spitfires since the 1950s. And it’s set to almost double in size on Tuesday 15 September for the national Battle of Britain Day celebrations.
How on earth do you choose between so many wonderful aircraft, particularly when no two are alike – over a decade or so of production there were an incredible 24 marks along with special versions like the Navy Seafire.
GRR wanted a preview, so for our Top Five we sought the help of the nearby Tangmere Military Aviation Museum and one of the volunteers, Simon Godfrey, who helps run the place (highly recommended for a visit by the way). Tangmere’s own contribution to the Spitfire display is the (non airworthy) replica of the prototype built in 1992 from original drawings – and even by some of the original workers. The original prototype was destroyed in a crash at Farnborough in 1939.
Simon’s best Spitfire factoid? ‘They recently wind-tunnel tested a Spitfire’s wings and to their great surprise found they were good for supersonic speeds – the Spitfire was such a clever design as well as beautiful.’
Here’s his Top Five (in no particular order)…
1. 1940 HAWKER HURRICANE R4118
This is the most historic aircraft to have survived the war. It flew 49 sorties from Croydon and shot down five enemy aircraft. It was damaged and repaired four times after being on patrol over the North Sea and then sent to India as a training aircraft.
2. 1944 WESTLAND SEAFIRE MKIII
The Navy’s version of the Spitfire with its handy fold-up wings was called the Seafire. This one, one of 250 ordered from Westland in 1944, was supplied to the Fleet Air Arm and based on HMS Stalker and then HMS Attacker in the Far East. Landing on a carrier must be difficult enough but with the Spitfire’s legendary poor view out finding that deck in a heaving sea must have been a test of nerves.
3. 1939 SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE MK1A
Flying with 19 Squadron this aircraft, built at the Supermarine works in Woolston, Southampton, provided cover for the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. It was hit by enemy fire and had to make a wheels-up crash landing on the beach near Sangatte – where it stayed, buried by sand, until 1986 when it was retrieved. Following an extensive restoration at Duxford it first flew again last year.
4. 1942 SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE MKV
It’s a welcome home for this Spitfire: its first operational base was RAF Westhampnett, now better known as Goodwood Aerodrome. It has been a long journey back to West Sussex, via a Canadian Squadron, use as a static display Spitfire at various RAF stations and also in the film Battle of Britain. After that it became the ‘gate guard’ at RAF Wattisham – not perhaps the correct fate for a distinguished warbird which when serving with 501 Squadron had six confirmed ‘kills’.
5. 1945 SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE MK IXE
Prize for the Spitfire that has travelled the farthest to Revival this year must go to this aircraft – it normally lives in Seattle. Which begs the question how do you get a Spit from the US to Sussex? In a container, apparently… The aircraft served with the RAF in 1945 and then went to Czech and Israeli air forces, followed by a spell in Burma where it stayed until 2009. After a full restoration at Duxford in 2002 it headed stateside. But it’s nice to see it back here!