Airworthy Spitfires of North America: Part 1

Following on from the UK Spitfires series, I felt I really should post a round up of the other Spitfires flying in the world, for completions sake. Once again I underestimated the figures somewhat and I am now faced with the prospect of another 27 to profile. As a result this series will also be split into three for ease of reading.

Where possible I have included photographs, though in many cases it will be a challenge unless the aircraft has spent some time in the UK at one point or another.

One last side note before I begin, in some cases there seems to be doubts over whether some of these airframes are still in an airworthy condition, for the sake of this posting I will probably take the stance of if an aircraft has flown within the last 10 years it will be included. I’ll likely put a short round up on the end of the posts of those that are “Missing in action” status wise.

Mk Vs

“Baby” Spitfires are generally thought of around the world as a rare commodity, but, as outlined in the UK posts the world has seen a notable increase in the airworthy population, this is especially true in the states. Before 2002 the continent had no airworthy Spitfires with the short nose configuration, since then things have improved, with there now being three Mk Vs.

MK Vc – AR614 / N614VC

The first baby Spit to make the trip across the Atlantic was AR614, joining Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection in 2002.

Built in August 1942, ‘614 was allocated to 312 Czech squadron on the 11th September. Given the codes DU-Y, she sustained battle damage in May of 1943 and was sent away for repair. Following a return to fighting condition, ‘614 saw further service with 610, 130 and 222 squadrons before being placed into a training role with 53 OTU.

The aircraft was grounded in July of 1945 and allocated as an instructional airframe at St Athan, after a number of years being used for training and gate guard duties ‘614 was placed up for tender in 1963, soon acquired by the Air Museum of Calgary.

By 1970 the airframe had found its way to Don Campbell in Ontario, who began the work to put the Spitfire back in the air, this work progressed slowly until the aircraft returned to the UK and the Old Flying Machine Company in 1992, finally being purchased by Tim Wallis in New Zealand in 1994.

It was under Wallis’ ownership that the restoration was finalised, being allocated to Historic Flying Limited at Audley End. The restoration was completed on the 5th October 1996 when ‘614 took to the skies again.

This was followed by a few years operating with Historic Flying in the UK, before ultimately being sold to Paul Allen and the Flying Heritage Collection, where the aircraft can still be seen flying to this day.

Mk Vb – BL628 / N628BL

Built at Castle Bromwich, the second Mk V to arrive in the states first flew with 401 Squadron of the Canadian Air Force, based at Gravesend in February 1942. ‘628s pilot at this time was G.B Murray who named the aircraft Marion after his girlfriend, this name was applied on the left hand side of the fuselage.

While flown by Murray ‘628 claimed two FW190s damaged and on destroyed. This was followed by periods with 308 USAAF as well as 167 and 601 RAF Squadrons. In June 1943 a transfer to the Royal Navy took place, where an arrestor hook was added. In 1944 ‘628 was damaged during an undercarriage collapse while operating at St Merryn. After this there were short stints with 719 and 794 Squadrons before ultimately being abandoned and struck off charge.

In 1977 the fuselage and cockpit were found in poor condition on a farm near St Merryn, these parts were acquired by Peter Croser and Michael Aitchison and soon had them shipped out to Australia.

Over the next 10 years, ‘628 was slowly pieced together using other parts found in scrapyards before being shipped back to the UK in 1988, where she was eventually further restored by Aerofab Restorations at Thruxton. In 1991, however the long journey back down to Australia was carried out yet again, back to the original owners in Melbourne Australia.

After 30 years of work, BL628 finally took to the skies again on the 29th September 2007 at Ardmore Airfield in New Zealand. ‘628 was soon handed over to Provenence Fighter Sales, based in Southern California. So not long after the flight she was once again on a ship bound for pastures new.

She is now based with Lewis Air Legends in Texas, owned by well known collector Rod Lewis. Finished in the original markings of Murray’s “Marion”, the aircraft won best fighter at the 2008 Oshkosh show. A testament to the hard work put in by the various restoration shops over the years.

Mk Vc – JG891 / N5TF

The most recent Mk V to join the US register is JG891, which was initally delivered to the Royal Australian Air Foce as A58-178 and was brought on charge in April 1943.

The war ended for ‘891 in 1945 when she crashed while landing.

The next owner of the airframe following the accident was N.Monty, who aquired the aircraft in 1974 as little more than a hulk, soon ‘891 was sold on again to Don J. Subritsky later in ’74.

In 1980 restoration work began, using a few pars from Spitfire EF545. In 1999 the project was moved to Europe, more specifically Belgium. The new owners sent the aircraft to Audley End for restoration work to be completed.

During the restoration Historic Flying moved over to Duxford, this is where ‘891 made her first flight. The initial restoration featured the distinctive tropical filter underneath the engine. This was used during desert operations in order to stop dust and sand getting into the engine.

By the time of the aircrafts first flight in 2006, she had changed hands once again, moving to Florida based collector, Tom Blair’s collection, which for a few years was spilt between Kissimmi in Florida and Duxford. However in 2008 she was finally shipped over to Florida, before being sold on to Commanche fighters, where she is now based.

It was wonderful to have, albeit very briefly a Tropical Spitfire flying in the UK, a rare sight, not having been seen since the late 40s or early 50s. A sight that still remains rare to this day, as the new owners removed the filter and repainted in the codes RS-T of Bob Standford-Tuck. The Spitfire is now displayed in the standard Mk V configuration.

Mk IXs

Much like the UK, the bulk of the American Merlin engined Spitfires are Mk XIs, with five examples of the variant flying.

Mk IXe MJ730 / N730MJ

Two of the other British Birds Tom refers to, the collections Spitfire and Hurricane.

MJ730 can be seen in this photograph behind the Hurricane.

Built like many at Castle Bromwich, ‘730 was delivered to 33 Maintenance unit on the 12th December 1943. Soon after she was shipped to Cassablanca, arriving on the 17th of February 1944. While there ‘730 served with 249 Squadron and, in May 1945, was allocated to the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces.

In June 1946 she was sold to the Italian airforce who later sold the airframe on to the Israeli air force in 1950.

Little details of the aircrafts Israeli service exist, so all that is next known about the airframe is its discovery in 1976 by Robs Lamplough. In 1979 she was brought to the UK and sold to Guy Black. Following restoration by Steve Atkins ‘730 returned to the air on the 12th November 1988 at East Midlands Airport and sold to David Pennell in August of 1989.

In 1998 ‘730 was sold once again, this time to its current owner Gerald Yagen, owner of the Military Aviation Museum, where the aircraft is now on display.

Mk IXc – MK959 / N959RT

MK959 is the first Spitfire in this list to have been restored entirley in the United States.

Joining the Royal Air Force in September 1946, the Spitfire was later sent to the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1954, where it was used as an airfield decoy at Vokel Air Base.

In 1955 ‘959 was displayed on a pole at Eindhoven, displayed as MJ289. It was on display until 1987, when the Dutch Spitfire Flight took over ownership, placing the airframe into storage.

In 1993 the airframe was sold to Raybourne Thompson based in Houston, Texas. Shipped over from Holland, restoration work began in 1995. In April 2002 the Spitfire joined the american register, finally returning to the skies on the 19th February 2004. The aircraft wears the codes 5A-K along with D-Day stripes.

In December 2007 ‘959 moved to its current owner, Tom Duffy based in Millville, New Jersey.

Mk IXc – ML417 / N2TF

Built in early 1944 ‘417 was allocated to 443 squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, receiving the codes 21-T. ‘417 saw action during D-Day and was based at St Croiz-Sur-Mer in Normandy following the invasion. During the remainder of the war ‘417 racked up a number of claims, including two 109s destroyed.

After passing through Maintenence units ‘417 was sold back to Vickers-Armstrong in 1946. By 1948 a conversion to two seat configuration had been carried out, followed by a move to the Indian Air Force. In 1967 the airframe was placed on display at the Indian Air Force Museum.

In april 1971, US Senator Norman E. Garr purchased ‘417 and had it shipped over to Charleston, before placing it in storage in New Orleans. Restoration was planned but nothing had happened by the time it was bought by Stephen Grey and shipped over to PPS at Booker.

Following restoration ML417 flew again on the 10th February 1984, after which it remained based at Duxford with the Fighter Collection until it was sold to Tom Friedkin in 2001.

Mk IXe PL344 / N644TB 

PL944 at Shoreham in 2009.

PL344 at Shoreham in 2009.

Built in 1944, this aircrafts first posting was 602 squadron on the 24th August. In April of 1945, she moved to 442 Canadian Squadron before later moving to 401 squadron. ‘344s final RAF service was carried out with 129 squadron at Church Fenton in 1946.

Following service life, ‘344 was used as a training aircraft at the Anthony Fokker Technical School in Holland, before being sold to Charles Church in 1985.

Church rebuilt the aircraft at Micheldever, eventually flying again on the 11th March 1991. Shortly after this flight the Spitfire was sold to Kermit weeks based in Miami. A second restoration was carried out at Booker between 1995 and 2000, with another first flight taking place on the 17th October 2000.

Best shot I have of PL944 in the air...Duxford 2009.

Best shot I have of PL344 in the air…Duxford 2009.

In 2001 the airframe changed hands again, moving to Tom Blairs collection in Florida.

Following a number of years in the US, PL344 returned to the UK again in 2007, to have further work carried out as well as a repaint. A third post-restoration flight was successfully carried out on the 24th October 2007.

PL944 on the ground at Duxford in 2009.

PL344 on the ground at Duxford in 2009.

Painted in an authentic colour scheme, taken from period photos, the airframe wheres post D-day colours, including half stripes on the underside of the aircraft. The codes applied – TL-B are in fact Tom Blairs initials.

After a short flying career at Duxford, ‘344 returned to Florida, the process of shipping the Spitfire back can be seen as part of the “Monster Moves” television series.

Mk IXe SL633 / N633VS 

Spitfire SL633 at Duxford on a visit during 2015.

Spitfire SL633 at Duxford on a visit during 2015.

SL633 was handed over to the RAF on the 25th June 1945 and joined 312 Squadron in August. Later that month the aircraft was delivered to Czechoslovakia later that month. Allocated to No 2 LD Fighter Wing and given the identification codes DU-K.

In May 1948, while serving with the Military Air Academy ‘633 crashed at Ceske Budejovice. By October repairs were complete and the airframe was sold to Israel.

SL633 displaying at Headcorn in July.

SL633 displaying at Headcorn in July.

The airframe spent a number of years being moved around the middle and far east until being sold to the USA in 1999. Restoration work was carried out by Historic Flying at Duxford with the aircraft making its post restoration flight in 2010.

SL633 in a wonderful formation with the Blenheim.

SL633 in a wonderful formation with the Blenheim.

The Spitfire did not make a flying appearance in the UK before being shipped to the states, though it was on Static display at the Battle Of Britain show at Duxford that year.

The aircraft is now based at Paine Field in Washington state as part of the Historic Flight at Kilo 7 collection.

Mk XVI

Mk XVI – SL721 / C-GVZB

The final Merlin engine powered Spitfire in North America is a Mk XVI with the late style bubble canopy design, based with Vintage Wings Of Canada in Ottawa.

Like many Mk XVIs ‘721 was built too late to see service during the Second World War, rolling off the production line on the 27th August 1945. After a brief stint with Fighter Command Communications squadron ‘721 was sent back to Vickers on the 29th October 1946. On the 17th of July 1948, whilst flying as part of the Metropolitan Communications Flight ‘721 had a Category A accident.

This was followed by another return visit to Vickers, before being delivered to RAF Bovingdon to be used by James M Robb, whose initials the aircraft wore.

In February 1949 the aircraft went back to Vickers yet again, before going to Central gunnery school in August 1951. She was finally declared as Non-Effective on the 13th December 1954 and was sold to F. Wilcox in February 1955. In 1966 the Spitfire was sold to the USA, it was during this period that the initial restoration to flying condition took place, with the first flight happening on the 11th May 1967.

In 1973 ‘721 returned to Britain under the ownership of Doug Arnold and flew for three years in the UK. In 1976 she was shipped back across the Atlantic to Woodson K. Woods in Arizona.

Between 1982 and 2000 she was part of the Carefree Flying Museum’s collection, based at Scottsdale Arizona.

Finally ‘721 was sold to Mike Potter of Vintage Wings Of Canada in 2000. Since moving to the collection she has been seen at a number of events across Canada and the United States including numerous flights in formation with the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster.

Under Rebuild / rarely flown: 

The above Spitfires are those that I can be fairly confident of their airworthy state. I have found pictures/references to most of these aircraft having flown in the last 5-10 years. However there are a few other aircraft that are maintained in airworthy condition, though may not have flown for ten years plus. For the sake of completion I shall list them below:

Mk TIX TE308 / N308WK

One of the more famous US Spitfires is Bill Greenwood’s two seater, having been a constant presence all across the States since 1983. Sadly in 2008 the aircraft was involved with a landing accident with a Hurricane at Galveston. Repairs are well underway and hopefully the Spitfire will soon return to the skies.

Mk XVIe – TE356 / N356TE

Currently on display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum, though kept in airworthy condition the aircraft doesn’t appear to have flown since the 1990s.

Mk XVIe – TE476 / N476TE

Owned and flown for many years by Kermit Weeks this airframe has sat on display at this Fantasy of Flight museum for 17 years since its last flight. Modification work needed for the undercarriage initially grounded the aircraft and then it had slipped down the list of priorities for the extensive collection. Work has finally recommenced with the aircraft and in January 2015 the engine was run once again. Hopefully it won’t be too long before this aircraft can be added to the airworthy list.

Mk VIIIc – MT719 / N719MT

This Mk VIII aircraft is now part of the Cavanaugh Flight Museum based in Dallas Texas, having been shipped from the UK in 1993. Though the aircraft is cited as airworthy I can’t find any record of the aircraft having flown in the last 10 years and it doesn’t appear on the museum’s list of available aircraft for airshows, therefore I assume it is not currently in airworthy condition.

MkXVI – TE392 / N97RW

After passing through a number of owners both in Europe and the States, ‘392 ended up with the Lone Star Flight Museum. The museum carried out the restoration on the aircraft and the first flight took place on Christmas eve 1999 and the aircraft has flew with the collection until Hurricane Ike damaged the Spitfire in 2008.The airframe is currently in storage pending repairs.

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