Following on from the celebrations last week for the 80th anniversary of the first flight, I wanted to offer some more memories of the Spitfire from over the years, building on a similar post I put together last year.
First of all I think its worthy of note just how far the Spitfire population has come even in the last 12 months. The number of Spitfires that have changed hands, come out of restoration or are very serious prospects for 2016 is astounding and a testament to the seemingly never ending pull of the Spitfire.
Last year saw plenty of stand out displays as the Battle of Britain anniversary carried on and I’ve no doubt we will see even more of the same this year as well. Watching countless Spitfires orbit Biggin Hill last August is a sight I won’t forget in a hurry.
The hardest day flypast and Biggin Hill was completely different to any other event of its kind and likely any event since. Watching these fighters behave as squadrons, as they would have during the battle was incredible. It was the first time I had seen the classic Spitfire roll and dive break as made iconic in so many films over the years, performed as part of an airshow, wonderful!
Steve Jones and Paul Bonhomne provided another superb Spitfire moment at Biggin Hill earlier in the year. The pair, famous for their antics as the Red Bull Matadors put on a breathtaking pairs display as a finale to a great days flying. The closing slot of the Biggin Hill shows has a real prestige about it and is synonymous with the Spitfire with memories of Ray Hanna’s iconic displays of old. 2015’s finale was equally memorable with flowing pairs aerobatics and sweeping low passes that made the hairs on your neck stand up. The flying would have been enough but hearing the Merlins ring out over the classic notes of Jerusalem lifted this to another level.
A bittersweet moment came in August of last year at Dunsfold. The first show since Shoreham was always going to be a challenge for many but it was left to MH434, as it has so many times before, to prove what airshows are all about. After Brian Smith and Steve Jones had made their way through the gloom to start their display Brian Smith flew the Spitfire through a seemingly endless display of graceful loops, rolls and very low passes. It will remain one of my fondest Spitfire memories, of that I have no doubt. There was something about that display, the light rain and the emotion of the week prior that made it another memorable personal chapter with an aircraft that has formed such a large part of mine and many other enthusiasts memories and folklore.
That was just last year!
I haven’t even gotten round to mention the unforgettable mass Spitfire display at Duxford last September, the tail chase at Legends or any of the other spectacular events that Spitfires took part in last year. What the above proves to me writing this is that there is something so special about the Spitfire, it has this unbreakable bond with this nation and aviation history in general. There is little debate that the Spitfire is one of the most graceful and elegant designs of all time and in the right hands there is truly no greater sight than a lyrical Spitfire display. It can turn from a ferocious war machine, capable of winning battles and wars, to being a thing of simple beauty and grace flowing around the sky.
The strength and longevity of this design makes it even harder to accept that the Spitfire has turned 80. I can remember with ease waiting at Duxford on the evening of the 6th March 2006 for the Spitfire’s to return from Southampton. They returned with a stunning run and break in the evening light before each aircraft returned to earth and taxied back past the small crowd gathered. T.IX PV202 led the formation and had a very important guest in the back seat, Alex Henshaw. I can think of no greater man to have taken that flight in memory of all the work he did in developing and testing the Spitfire, from its graceful early days, to the aggressive powerhouses of the later, Griffon powered Marques.
It goes without saying that we look back over the 80 years and remember R.J Mitchell, without him there would have been no Spitfire, certainly not as we know it. His work in developing the fighter took him right to his final days and it is a great shame that he never lived to see the remarkable impact his work had on Britain and the world.
The men that flew the Spitfire in combat must never be forgotten either of course, without them the Spitfire would have been nothing more than metal and fuel. Their bravery and skill captured the minds and hearts of nations and helped lift spirits and get the job done in the darkest hours of the war.
An Icon, Never Forgotten
I think, what I’m trying to say in amongst yet another Spitfire ramble, is that the Spitfire is a design so timeless and so iconic, that it will never be forgotten. The airworthy population seems to rise day by day and with the recent boom in experience flights means that people are now even able to experience what flying in this classic fighter is like.
I’m sure this years celebrations will set new standards again, much like the next restorations to join the airshow circuit.
The bottom line, for me at least, is that I’ll always stop whenever a Spitfire flies past. Every time I do, I’m remembering everything I’ve written here and a whole lot more. That, more than anything, is the mark of a truly special machine!