Two British pilots will fly a Spitfire 27,000 miles around the world in the first trip of its kind after restoring the WW2-era aircraft over ten years.
Steve Brooks, 58, and Matt Jones, 45, will stop off at 100 locations in 30 countries during their five-month worldwide trip, starting on August 5.
Having bought the old silver Mark IX plane at auction ten years ago, Mr Brooks, from Burford, Oxfordshire, and Mr Jones, from from Exeter, set about restoring it to its former glory, using the same equipment used in 1936 when it was designed.
And now to celebrate the restoration, their new project, named Silver Spitfire – The Longest Flight, will see the World War Two era plane set off from Goodwood-based Boultbee Flight Academy in Sussex, the first-ever school for Spitfire pilots.
The pair will first head to Scotland, then westbound to places including the US, Canada, Japan, Russia and India before they make the trip back to Britain in a single-seated Mk IX Spitfire, followed by a chase plane for safety.
Steve Brooks, left, and Matt Jones are planning to stop off at 100 locations in 30 countries during their five-month worldwide trip
Pictured: A newly restored MK IX Spitfire named ‘Silver Spitfire’ which will be flown by pilots Steve Boultbee Brooks and Matt Jones
The pair will first head to Scotland, then westbound to places including the US, Canada, Japan, Russia and India before they make the trip back to Britain in a single-seated Mk IX Spitfire
Mr Brooks, who co-founded the school in 2010, said: ‘We want to take the Spitfire to the people. Ten years ago we bought a Spitfire and weren’t sure what to do with it, but we wanted to inspire people in life through aviation.
‘From that we came up with the idea of the school. Up until then, Spitfires sat in museums behind red ropes and no-one was allowed near them.
‘During World War Two, RJ Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire, realised we needed something to defend our freedom. From the moment it was built, the Spitfire was about freedom.
‘When you say Spitfire to a British person, an Indian person, all around the world, there is this sense of freedom.
The pair are attempting to fly around the world in the first circumnavigation by a spitfire
‘When you say Spitfire to a British person, an Indian person, all around the world, there is this sense of freedom,’ said Mr Brooks (left)
The single-seated Spitfire was rehabilitated at IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire, with the same technology that was used in 1936 when it was designed (pictured: The ‘Silver Spitfire’)
‘This (project) is about taking back and sharing it with people all over the world.’
Mr Jones said: ‘It stands for a time where there was world conflict at that time, a nation that pushed through the whole of Europe and our little island stood firm.
THE SILVER SPITFIRE
The Silver Spitfire is a Mk IX version of the aircraft with its guns removed.
Its crew say that by ‘de-militarising’ it this way they ‘aim to highlight the timeless beauty of its design’.
Powered by a 27-litre V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine that puts out around 1,350 BHP, the Silver Spitfire features six exhaust stacks on each side of the aircraft, each one worth roughly £1,000.
The Silver Spitfire is finished with polished aluminium as part of a design meant to be ‘less provocative’ than one with the traditional camouflage paint.
This new look is meant to ‘broaden the appeal and reach of the project, and gain easier access to nations en route’.
The ‘bare metal’ is intended to ‘highlight the beauty of the Spitfire’s timeless design’ by drawing attention to the unique shape of the airframe.
Its unique registration mark is ‘G-IRTY’, which is said to compliment her sister aircraft ‘G-ILDA’, the two-seat TR9.
Spitfire propeller blades are made from layers of wood sandwiched together – a stark contrast from the metal or composite materials found on more modern aircraft.
While newer planes typically sit on a nose wheel for increased visibility and steering when manoeuvring on the ground, older aircraft such as the Spitfire sit on a tail wheel, meaning a pilot has to employ a ‘zig-zag technique’ when taxiing.
‘The aeroplane enabled for the first time the Nazi war machine to be stopped and purely because people gave up their lives for themselves and their family.
‘The world would have been very different without the Spitfire and people recognise this.’
The single-seated Spitfire was rehabilitated at IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire, with the same technology that was used in 1936 when it was designed.
‘This won’t be like flying a regular plane,’ said Mr Brooks.
‘To get round the world you’ve got to nurture it and understand it. There are dangers.’
Mr Jones said: ‘We’ll have to be careful of a few things. The way we can fly, only going where we can see where we can go, we can’t fly at night, or through clouds.
‘We’re not greatly pressured into having to be anywhere, so we have to respect its limits.
‘It’s also important to note that no-one will be shooting at us, like they were back in the day.’
‘In the Spitfire you’re doing three miles a minute,’ said Mr Brooks.
‘You’ve never been lost until you’ve been lost at three miles a minute. It’s a terrifying feeling.
‘So we have to be careful.’
The pair said they will be taking regular breaks and switch at different stops.
A chase plane, which will have a full-time captain, an engineer, as well as a film and camera crew to video the journey for a documentary, will follow the Spitfire.
Either Mr Jones or Mr Brooks will also be in the plane whenever they are not flying the Spitfire.
Mr Jones (left) said: ‘We’ll have to be careful of a few things. The way we can fly, only going where we can see where we can go, we can’t fly at night, or through clouds’
The two pilots bought the silver Mark IX Spitfire at an auction and restored it to its former glory. Pictured: One of two silver Spitfires run by the pilots
Mr Brooks, who is a property developer by trade, and Mr Jones said that their families have been comforted by knowing enough preparation had been done to keep them safe.
As part of the journey, the aviation enthusiasts will travel to Scotland, then spend a couple of nights in Iceland, head through Greenland into Canada, before heading across the US into Russia and then Asia.
Designed by RJ Mitchell in the 1930s, the Spitfire was produced in greater numbers than any other during the Second World War, with more than 20,000 made in less than a decade.
During the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire – aided by the bulkier Hurricane – helped bring down 1,887 German planes in little more than three months.
A plane cherished by its pilots and adored by the public: How the Spitfire became a symbol of national defiance
At the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, as the Germans sustained increasing losses in the face of the heroic RAF, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring summoned the top Luftwaffe fighter ace Adolf Galland to his headquarters.
Frustrated by the Reich’s failure to gain aerial supremacy over southern England, a vital precursor to Hitler’s planned invasion, Göring asked Galland what he needed. ‘Give me a squadron of Spitfires,’ came the reply.
Those words perfectly encapsulate the unequalled reputation that the fighter plane had earned in combat. Its power, speed and manoeuvrability were a source of terror to the Germans and reassurance to the British.
A revolutionary aircraft that transformed the capability of the RAF, the Spitfire rightly became a symbol of national defiance, turning what could have been Britain’s darkest hour into our finest.
When it first entered service in 1938, the Spitfire was not only the first all-metal monoplane but also by far the fastest aircraft in the RAF, able to reach 350mph. In later marks, the Spitfire’s maximum speed was increased by 35 per cent and on one occasion in April 1944, a photo reconnaissance variant flown by Squadron Leader ‘Marty’ Martindale flew at an incredible 606mph in a dive from 40,000ft, close to the speed of sound.
In addition to its unparalleled speed, it was also well-armed compared to previous British fighters. Early versions carried eight .303 Browning guns, each with 300 rounds, though later types also had cannon that packed an even deadlier punch.
A German bomber airman, shot down over Malta, said the ‘most terrifying thing’ that he experienced in combat ‘was the sight of 12 Spitfires all firing cannon and machine guns and coming head-on at our formation. All the front gunners had frozen stiff with fear’.
But perhaps the Spitfire’s greatest asset was its manoeuvrability, due to its sleek, aerodynamic design, its thin, elliptical wings and the responsiveness of its controls. ‘There was no heaving or pushing or pulling or kicking. You breathed on it. I’ve never flown anything sweeter,’ said George Unwin of 19 Squadron.
Spitfire pilots often spoke of their almost physical attachment to the plane. ‘It was a bit like a love affair,’ said Nigel Rose, who joined the RAF in 1938. Another Battle of Britain veteran, Wilfred Duncan Smith (father of Tory politician Iain) remembered how he ‘felt part of the Spitfire, a oneness that was intimate’.
The Spitfire’s agility made her not only deadly in a dogfight, but also good at evasion. ‘The bastards make such infernally tight turns. There seems no way of nailing them,’ complained a German fighter pilot.
The Spitfire was in action from the start of World War II, shooting down its first enemy planes, two JU88 bombers, over the Firth of Forth on October, 16, 1939. ‘The general impression is that the Spitfires are wonderful machines and that the Huns hate them,’ stated an Air Ministry report at the time.
In the air, heroes included Adolph ‘Sailor’ Malan, of 74 squadron, a highly disciplined South African who was awarded the Distinguished Sevice Order in 1940 for his ‘brilliant leadership, skill and determination’ and Brian Lane, the leader of 19 Squadron, renowned for calmness under fire.
Spitfires were flown with equal courage by Czechs and Poles, as well as Commonwealth pilots such as New Zealander Al Deere. During the summer of 1940, in the process of destroying 17 German planes, he was shot down seven times, bailed out three times, collided with a Messerschmitt 109 and had one of his Spitfires blasted at 150 yards by a bomb. Another exploded just seconds after he had scrambled clear of the wreckage.
The climax of the battle came on September 15, when the Luftwaffe lost 56 planes, forcing Hitler to abandon his plans for the conquest of Britain. But the Spitfire fought on. As ever more powerful, faster versions were developed, it turned out to be crucial in a host of different theatres, including the successful campaign against General Rommel — the Desert Fox — in North Africa in 1942, the fight against Japan in Burma, the drive through western Europe after D-Day, and the destruction of German V-weapon sites in France.
The greatest Spitfire ace of them all, Johnnie Johnson, claimed his record-breaking 33rd kill during the summer of 1944, when he shot down a Messerschmitt 109 over northern France. ‘I hit his ugly yellow nose with a long, steady burst,’ said Johnson, who recorded 38 kills in all during the war.
Without the Spitfire, the course of European history might have been very different.
Pilot Neville Duke wrote that in the plane he felt ‘part of a fine machine, made by a genius’.
He added: ‘It is said that the Spitfire is too beautiful to be a fighting machine. I sometimes think that is true but then what better fighter could you want?’