A 1/48 scale model of two seat Supermarine Spitfire G-AIDN was just one of the rare – and rarely seen – exhibits from the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection on display at the then Brockworth Tithe Barn Arts and Crafts Centre over Easter 2010. As discussed in the article on C.B. Collett’s Air Force, the Supermarine Spitfire has a special place in the annals of British aviation and the model of an overall-yellow two seat Spitfire with the civilian registration G-AIDN provoked particular comment among visitors to the then home of Jet Age Museum. And, considering the story behind it, rightly so!
There were more Spitfires flying in 2010 than there had been since the early 1950’s. The current number in airworthy condition – and changing hands for around £ 2 000 000 apiece – was around the half century and a substantial industry has built up around restoring and maintaining the elliptical wing fighters.
Indeed is true to say that with the exception of parts of the engines, it is possible to build a new Spitfire from scratch. Consequently, the amount of viable aeroplane needed to allow a restoration has decreased to the point where the number of restoration projects is considerable. Whether, with the wide use of any available parts and owner customisation, many of these Spitfires can be truly labelled as being accurate to any one Mark is debatable, but given the rapid rate of Wartime progress, in-service upgrades, extensive repairs after damage, and sheer force of necessity it is probable that the same problem was also true of many service Spitfires! A significant number of Spitfires are also recorded as having flown in a number of different “Mark” configurations.
Similarly, although relatively rare in World War Two service, the two seat Spitfire is now much more commonplace among the ranks of flyable preserved Spitfires and the airframe that is represented as overall-yellow G-AIDN was the original official – and unique – Trainer Mark VIII development of the Spitfire built by Supermarine
In the absence of an official two-seater variant, a number of Spitfires had been crudely converted in the field. These included Mk VB ES217 owned by 4 Squadron South African Air Force in North Africa, where a second seat was fitted instead of the upper fuel tank in front of the cockpit by Catalina, Sicily, based 118 Maintenance Unit. However, this was not a dual control aircraft and is thought to have been used as the squadron “run-about.”
The only unofficial two seat conversions that were fitted with dual controls were a small number of Russian lend/lease Mk IX aircraft. These were referred to as Mk IX UTI and differed from the Supermarine proposals by using an in-line “greenhouse” style double canopy rather than the raised “bubble” type of the T Mk VIII.
After VE Day, the two seat trainer idea was revived by Supermarine and a number of two-seat Spitfires were built by converting old Mk IX airframes with a second “raised” cockpit featuring a bubble canopy. Ten Trainer IXs were ordered by the Indian Air Force, six by the Irish Air Corps (numbered 158 to 163 to fulfil Department of Defense specification 499/502 for an advanced flying training aircraft), three by the Dutch Air Force and one by the Egyptian Air Force.
I will return to the Trainer IX and subsequent two seat conversions later in this article but first to be told is the remarkable story of G-AIDN itself.
6S/729058, MT 818, G-AIDN, N58JE
Originally built as a Type 359 Spitfire F.Mk.VIII and allocated to the Controller of Research and Development at High Post in June 1944, the airframe carrying the Royal Air Force serial number MT818 and constructor’s number 6S/729058 was purchased by Vickers in February 1945 and was converted to the Type 502 Spitfire T.Mk.VIII two-seat demonstration trainer at Chilbolton, first flying in September 1946.
A full set of instruments was installed in the front cockpit for the student and four .303 Browning machine guns were retained for weapons training. Power came from a Rolls Royce Merlin Mark 66 turning a 4 bladed propeller and flight testing was undertaken by Supermarine test pilot Mike Lithgow.
At first 6S/729058 carried the civilian ‘Class B’ marking N32 but was later was registered as G-AIDN.
G-AIDN flew in its demonstration – and sometimes racing – role with Vickers from 1947 to 1952. During this period G-AIDN was sent to RAF Boscombe Down for handling trials and although found to have similar performance to a single seat fighter Spitfire the visibility from the rear cockpit was poor.
The Type 502 Spitfire T.Mk.VIII stored at Chilbolton from 1952 to 1956, again becoming active for a number of air races, before being moved to the Hampshire Aeroplane Club in August 1956 and owned by Vivian Bellamy at Eastleigh from September 1956 to 1963. During Viv Bellamy’s ownership, G-AIDN took part in several cross country air races – including the 1961 King’s Cup Air Race – in a light blue colour scheme with the racing number 99. In another competition – in which G-AIDN was sponsored by Sir Billy Butlin of holiday camp fame – the Spitfire became the fastest piston engined aircraft to travel between Marble Arch in London and the Arc D’Triomphe in Paris.
G-AIDN was also displayed outside a hangar at Upavon during the 50 Years of Military Flying display in June 1962. During this event a typed placard which said “This aircraft not to exceed 400 mph.” was noted in the rear cockpit.
In 1963 G-AIDN was sold to John Fairey – an instructor at Hampshire Aero Club and the son of Richard Fairey, founder of Fairey Aviation – for £ 2 000. The two seat Spitfire then became the first aircraft that John Fairey ever used for display flying in a career that was to last four decades.
On 19 September 1964 G-AIDN was noted at RAF Gaydon still in its light blue colour scheme with the number 99 emblazoned on its tail. A half share of John Fairey’s G-AIDN was sold to Tim Davies in 1967 , after which G-AIDN was based at Andover, and in 1976 the whole aircraft was sold to Mike S. Bayliss of Baginton, Coventry.
On 31 March 1968, G-AIDN took part in a Skyfame Air Display and flew in formation with the Skyfame Museum’s own Anson 1, N4877/G-AMDA, and Airspeed Oxford V3388/G-AHTW. This required John Fairey, a long time supporter of Peter Thomas’s Skyfame, to fly his Spitfire as slowly as possible while the Oxford – containing photographer Adrian M. Balch – tried to keep up. Both these Skyfame owned twin engined machines are now static exhibits at Duxford.
On 2 July 1969 G-AIDN was noted at Middle Wallop in a dark blue livery with a white horizontal line along the fuselage although by the air show at RNAS Yeovilton on 21 September 1974 the two-seater had been painted in the overall yellow depicted in the model.
From 1978 to 1983 G-AIDN was the property of George F. Miller of Baginton and later Dinas Powys and during his ownership the two seat Spitfire was damaged while landing at Baginton on 6 February 1978. The Supermarine trainer was then repainted at RAF St Athan in 1980, emerging as MT818/G-M as pictured below by R. Harrington.
A rebuild began under George Miller’s ownership in 1982 and the newly marked MT818/G-M was shipped to Houston Texas before transferring to Jack Ericson of Medford, Oregon. The two seat Spitfire left the British civilian register on 3 July 1986 and was registered N58JE on 13 August 1986. It was operated by Tillamook NAS Air Museum in Oregon from 1997 to 2002 and then passed into the hands of Provenance Fighter Sales in Murrieta, California. The Supermarine trainer was then sold to Paul Andrews for the G2 collection, dismantled at Tillamook and was subsequently shipped back to West Sussex in October 2007.
Restoration at Kemble, Gloucestershire – including the installation of a Mark 266 Merlin engine – has since been completed and MT818 appeared from 30 June to 5 July at the Masterpiece London 2011 event at the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.
OTHER TWO SEAT SPITFIRES
Of the 20 examples of the Supermarine Spitfire Type 509 Trainer IX produced seven now fly, although one ( MJ772 ) has returned to single seat status another more recent conversion ( PT462 ) from single seat Spitfire have been added to the list.
As was discussed when reviewing the life of G-AIDN, even the high bubble configuration of the instructor’s cockpit only offered a limited view of the student cockpit and the lower bubble mainly characterising the Trainer IX was even less suitable for the role. Nevertheless, the most recent restoration of PV202 to flying condition has included a high domed rear cockpit with the express intention of using the aircraft to train potential pilots of today’s precious and expensive Spitfires.
MH367 / N367MH
Originally delivered to 65 Squadron as an F Mk IX in August 1943, single seat MH367 also served with 229 and 312 Squadrons. After a period with the Empire Flying School, it was written off after a landing accident in July 1948. The airframe, as seen today, is largely a new build started by Dick Melton, into which some of the original structure (and thus identity) of MH367 has been incorporated. The final work was completed in Bartow, Florida, for Peter Godfrey.
MJ627 / G-BMSB
Built in December 1943 as a standard Mk IX and operated by 441 Squadron, MJ627 was sold back to Vickers-Armstrong and became the first production two seat trainer conversion Trainer IX. It remains in the original high dome rear cockpit configuration and after service with the Irish Air Corps it was purchased as a source of spares for MH434, but was returned to the air in its own right in November 1993. It is owned and operated by Maurice and Peter Bayliss, as part of their collection at Bruntingthorpe Airfield, Leicestershire, UK. In May 1998 G-BMSB suffered an undercarriage failure and sustained damage in the subsequent wheels-up landing. Restored to the air in 2002, G-BMSB has been moved to East Kirby, Lincolnshire.
MJ772 / G-AVAV / N8R
Delivered to RAF Lyneham as a single seat Mk IX in December 1943, MJ772 served with 340 and 341 Squadron RAF, and was converted for the Irish Air Corps to Trainer IX configuration in July 1950, numbered as IAC 159. The Irish Air Corps sold it to Film Aviation Services Ltd and then to COGEA as a target towing aircraft. It appeared in the 1969 Guy Hamilton film “The Battle of Britain”, for which it was extensively restored, and after a couple of sales, was acquired for the Champlin Fighter Museum, Mesa, Arizona, USA in 1974. It remains airworthy, but as a slightly odd-looking single seat Spitfire, as the rear cockpit has simply been blanked off.
ML407 / G-LFIX
Delivered to 33 Maintenance Unit in April 1944 as a single-seat Mk IX, ML407 flew 176 operational sorties and over 200 combat hours. Its first operational owner was 485 ( New Zealand ) Squadron based at Selsey airfield, West Sussex and was flown to join this unit by Air Transport Auxilliary (ATA) pilot Jackie Sorour. With Johnnie Houlton at the controls however it was the first Allied aircraft to shoot down an enemy machine on D-Day. Pilot Houlton who helped shoot down another Ju 88 over Normandy on 6 June 1944 – later recalled:
“The engine disintegrated, fire broke out, two crew members baled out and the aircraft dived steeply to crash on a roadway, blowing apart on impact.”
ML407 later flew with 341( Free French) , 349 (Belgian) , 308 (Polish) , 345( Free French) , and 332 (Norwegian) Squadrons.
332 Squadron was one of two Norwegian Squadrons based at North Weald, Essex, from 1942 and its ranks eventually included Lt Rolf Kolling, the son of a railway engineer who had joined his nation’s merchant marine as a teenager in 1939. Jumping ship in Melbourne in 1941, Rolf made his was to Canada to join other Norwegians learning to fly and by the war’s end was credited with destroying a Focke Wulf and half an Me 109 during 120 sorties as well as a German armoured patrol vehicle. This was attacked by Lt Kolling and his comrade Eigel Stigset – flying ML407 – on the afternoon of 21 April 1945 near Amsterdam. Pressing home their attack from 500′ at 400 mph “..there was no way”, as Rolf later commented “anyone was driving that vehicle again.”
In June 1951 Vickers delivered ML407 converted to Trainer IX standard to the Irish Air Corps.
Having made its last IAC flight on 8 July 1960, ML407 was retired to instructional airframe status and was stored disassembled at Baldonnel from 1962 to 1968 when it was sold on 4 March to NAW Samuelson for use in the film “The Battle of Britain” – although it did not appear. The still-crated aircraft was sold in 1970 to Sir William Roberts and moved to Shoreham, from where it moved several times before it became part of the Strathallan Collection near Auchterardar in Scotland from August 1971 to 1979. ML407 was acquired by Cornish based design engineer and pilot Nick Grace for restoration on 9 August 1979, and registered as G-LFIX on 1 February 1980.
After years of restoration, ML407 made its first flight in nearly a quarter of a century at St Merryn airfield, Cornwall, on 16 April 1985. Tragically Nick Grace died in a car accident in 1988 but since then his widow Carolyn has learned to fly, and now display, the Spitfire: becoming the first woman to train as a Spitfire pilot since the ATA women of World War II.
ML407 is based at Duxford Aerodrome, Cambridgeshire, and flies in its wartime colours as OU-V of 485 Squadron. It is pictured here, complete with D-Day invasion stripes, at the Walney Air Show near Barrow in Furness in 2005.
More recently, on 2 March 2011, Carolyn Grace marked the 75th anniversary of the first Spitfire flight at Southampton Airport, opening the throttle of ML407 at precisely 1529 and 50 seconds and taking off ten seconds later.
Further details can be found at www.ml407.co.uk
PT462 / G-CTIX
Delivered as a single-seat HF IX to 39 MU in July 1942, PT462 operated with 253 Squadron in the Mediterranean and, after the War, by both the Italian and Israeli Air Forces. It was discovered as a derelict shell and its restoration for Charles Church included conversion to Trainer IX standard, flying again in July 1987. After the death of Charles Church flying another Spitfire, PT462 moved to Florida, but has now returned to the UK. G-CTIX is owned and operated by North Wales based Anthony Hodgson. It was pictured here, complete with a Welsh flag on the fin, at the Walney Air Show near Barrow in Furness in 2005.
PV202 / G-CCCA
PV202 was built at Castle Bromwich as a single seat LF IX as part of contract No. B981687/39 and delivered to 33 MU at RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire, on 18 September 1944. Initially delivered to 84 Group Support Unit, it spent time with 33 Squadron – part of the 135th Wing of the 2nd Tactical Air Force based at Merville in France. 33 Squadron flew ground support and offensive operations as the Allies pushed further into Europe and PV202 logged 20 operational sorties with ten pilots from Britain, Denmark, Holland and South Africa, shooting down a Meserschmitt Bf109 and a Focke-Wulf 190.
PV202 then transferred back to 84 GSU, then 83 GSU, then 412 (RCAF) Squadron, where it had a busy service life before a final operational flight on 4 May 1945. Placed into storage in July 1945, it was sold to Vickers-Armstrongs for conversion into a Trainer IX configuration for the Irish Air Corps identified as IAC-161.
PV202 was downgraded to being an instructional airframe in 1960 and sold on in March 1968 to NAW Samuelson, but after four years in storage was acquired by Sir William Roberts for his Strathallan Collection.
PV202 was sold to Nick Grace along with ML407 in 1979, but was soon to pass to Steve Atkins, who had also tried to buy the aircraft from the Strathallan Collection. Following her restoration with a low domed rear cockpit, PV202 was returned to her 412 Squadron markings, and took to the air from Dunsfold on 23 February 1990, with Pete Kynsey at the controls.
Once airworthy PV202 was sold to Richard Parker as G-TRIX, who then sold her to Rick Roberts.
Sadly, PV202 was involved in a tragic accident at Goodwood on 8 April 2000 that left pilots Norman Lees (a former Falklands War Sea King pilot) and Greg McCurragh dead.
The second restoration of PV202 was undertaken by Historic Flying Limited in mid 2002, the first time they had restored a crash damaged airframe, as the impact of the crash had left the airframe badly twisted.
The aircraft was fitted with a Data Analogue Analysing System, the second to have such a system fitted, the first being Spitfire Mk XIV RN201. Engine and flight data are monitored by computer, providing the engineering team with information which can provide advance warning of potential problems. A cockpit carbon monoxide sensing system was also installed, to warn both pilot and engineers if the gas level goes beyond safe limits.
An original Rolls Royce Merlin 66 was sourced, overhauled and rebuilt to zero time condition by a team of engineers at Universal Airmotive, Chicago and the aircraft’s original IAC raised rear bubble canopy, which had been found, was restored. The aircraft returned to its former 1950s Irish Air Corps colours as IAC-161, and was re-registered as G-CCCA to give it a new identity in 2004. IAC-161 returned to the skies on 13 January 2005.
A new scheme was applied in April 2007 with the markings of ‘H-98’ of the Dutch Air Force, which operated 3 aircraft of the same type from 1946 until 1954. However PV202 suffered a landing gear collapse whilst taxying to the apron at Lelystad Airport, Netherlands in May 2008, but it was not serious and the two seat Spitfire was back flying again within two weeks. The Aircraft retained it Dutch livery until mid-2010 when it was painted in an RAF Duxford based 92 Squadron Battle of Britain scheme with the Squadron code QV-I.
SM520 / G-ILDA
SM520 was built in the Castle Bromwich factory in 1944 as single seat Mark H.F.IXe high level fighter, with firewall construction number CBAF 10164. It was delivered to the RAF on 23 November 1944 at 33 Maintenance Unit at RAF Lyneham but with the European conflict tapering off it was retained in storage until being either shipped or flown with 135 other Spitfires to the South African Air Force (SAAF) in 1948.
Of the 136 Spitfires exported to South Africa by the UK Government 80 were gifted and the remainder sold at £2000.00 apiece. Very little is known of its history after that but the SAAF Spitfires were used mostly for training, being issued to various Bombing, Gunnery and Air Navigation Schools and latterly to the Air Operations School to train pilots en route to Korea to operate with the SAAF P-51 Mustangs.
Clearly involved in a major flying accident, the aircraft was recovered to AFB Ysterplaat until its wreckage was disposed to the scrap yard of SA Metals in Cape Town. Here it languished for many years until recovered to the SAAF Museum store compound at Snake Valley and identified by Spitfire historian Peter Arnold as SM520 in 1981.
The battered Spitfire was subsequently bought by Charles Church, who began restoration work before he was killed when another Spitfire he was flying crashed in 1989.
SM520 then passed through various owners before being purchased by Paul Portelli, the founder of World’s End Tiles, in 2002. It was Paul who decided it should be restored and converted to a TR 9 two seater. He commissioned Airframe Assemblies to convert the fuselage and build the wings and Classic Aero to undertake the fitting out of the project.
The aircraft was subsequently registered as G-ILDA after Paul’s granddaughter but Paul’s untimely death in 2007 meant that on completion – and first flight in 60 years from Thruxton in October 2008 – the aircraft was put up for Auction at Bonhams where it was purchased by the current owner Steve Boultbee Brooks, Managing Director of Boultbee, in April 2009. It is now operated by Spitfire Display Limited and proudly sponsored by Boultbee.
On completion of its rebuild the aircraft was delivered in the colours of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, one of only three air forces to order and take delivery of the Spitfire TR 9 after the war. Steve however wanted to return the aircraft to a British wartime paint scheme and to create a provenance that best reflected its short known history. He enlisted the help of Peter Arnold who suggested a WWII South African scheme to reflect its South African origins, the SAAF Wing then operating in RAF livery and rotating its aircraft with RAF Spitfires within the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force and Desert Air Force.
The squadron code markings used for 4 SAAF were ‘KJ’ and the letter used for this specific aircraft was ‘I’. SM520 now wears those same code letters. No. 4 SAAF squadron had traded in its old Mk V’s for Mk IX’s at Sinello, Italy, in May 1944 having fought through Africa and up into Italy where it was engaged until the end of the war flying ground attack missions against enemy communications and giving air support to the Allied Armies in the battle area. Once in Italy the squadron was switched from a desert to the European Standard Day Fighter camouflage grey/green scheme as represented by the livery SM520 carries today.
If you have good health, a private pilot’s licence and £ 4 500 to spare then a flight in SM520 can be yours. Visit http://www.boultbeeflightacademy.co.uk/about/ for details.
TE308 / G-AWGB / N308WK
TE308 was built as a single seat “low back” Mk IXe on a production line assembling both Mk IX and XVI Spitfires – the Mk XVI being distinguished by a Packard- built Merlin engine – and delivered to 39 MU in 1945 where it spent the next 5 years in store. It was converted to Trainer IX standard by Vickers Armstrongs and sold to the Irish Air Corps (163) in July 1951 before being “demobbed” in 1968 and joining the mass of airframes at Elstree Airfield for “The Battle of Britain”.
Unlike many of its fellow “extras” in the Guy Hamilton epic, TE308 made a practical contribution to filming with a camera mounted in the front seat to take all the forward-looking aircraft shots. After a short period with the rear cockpit blanked off, it was reinstated to Trainer IX standard, complete with large rear bubble canopy and is currently owned and operated by Aspen, Colorado based Bill Greenwood
“TOP GEAR” TWO SEAT SPITFIRES