As the worldwide population of airworthy Spitfires has continued to grow at an impressive rate over the past few years, there has been a certain familiarity about the schemes the aircraft are finished in. Unsurprisingly these schemes focus on either the early war camouflage of the more “classic” Mk IX scheme of grey/green camouflage.
One of the advantages of multiple examples of the same type being airworthy is that gradually a greater variety of paint schemes and identities start to emerge. The past two years have seen that really come to the forefront. Not only have we seen some unique schemes but we have also seen in the UK alone, Spitfires flying in non-RAF schemes, something that has not been seen regularly since the 1990s when the Old Flying Machine Company’s Spitfire XI wore USAAF markings or more recently when PV202/SM520 wore Dutch and Irish schemes for a short period.
The first new look to emerge took to the air in January 2020 with the wonderful sight of the Greek Spitfire MJ755 taking to the skies following an impressive restoration at Biggin Hill across a relatively short time. This machine looks fantastic in Greek Air Force markings and offers a different shape in the sky, with a clipped wing Mk IX, again a sight not seen regularly for some time (Mk XVI TE184 did fly with clipped wings back in 2018).
MJ755 flew it’s test flight programme throughout 2020 before departing for Greece in May 2021 in the hands of Pete Kynsey. The aircraft was then able to make it’s airshow debut in Athens over the summer with Dan Griffith at the controls. A wonderful restoration and certainly a welcome change to see such a different scheme in the air.
This was followed in quick time with the latest (at the time) two seat Spitfire to emerge at Biggin Hill. TE308 is almost legendary in warbird folklore, having been operated in the United States by Bill Greenwood for many years until a landing accident in 2006. The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar acquired the airframe in late 2019 and following a short rebuild the aircraft flew again shortly after lockdown in the summer of 2020. Noting the repetition in paintschemes amongst the two seater airframes, the Biggin Hill team decided to honour the Royal Australian Air Force, with a distinctive Sharksmouth scheme.
TE308 is now very much active again as one of the main airframes for Spitfire flight experiences out of Biggin Hill (and occasionally Goodwood). It is wonderful to see such a distinctive machine getting flown so regularly.
Around the same time as TE308’s return to the skies, long time Biggin Hill resident Mk XVI RW382 emerged in a new look as well. The Spitfire emerged in the middle of 2020 in a wonderful USAAF scheme.
Once again this offered a real different look with the distinctive “Porky II” nose art and striking red bands across the wing. 2021 has seen this airframe change owners, now owned by the “Suffolk Spitfire” company and dividing time between Duxford and Biggin Hill. 2021 also saw the machine make it’s first display appearances at Duxford and Little Gransden.
The final non-RAF Military scheme to take to the air was Peter Teichman’s beautiful Russian Spitfire PT879. The aircraft flew again late in 2020 from Biggin Hill and the attention to detail is extraordinary. Not only is the scheme striking in itself, showing the way in which Russian markings were quickly applied over the factory RAF roundels but also including unique features such as bomb racks (and even dummy bombs, a first for a UK fighter in some time).
It is quite incredible looking back that this selection of schemes that would certainly not be considered “typical” were all applied to Mk IX/XVI airframes within the same 12 month period and in fact, all these airframes were at Biggin Hill together for a prolonged period, a truly unique selection.
An honorary mention here should also go to the wonderful Silver Spitfire based out of Goodwood (and now living in Denmark). Though 2019 was very much this airframe’s year, 2021 did see it debut at airshows with appearances at Headcorn and the Coningsby families day in summer. Though deliberately not finished in military markings, due to the world tour it undertook in 2019, it represents another strikingly unique Spitfire scheme and most certainly forms part of this story.
Another machine that should be included here – though firmly remaining in RAF markings, is Spitfire XI PL983. This historic machine took a new significance across 2020 as part of the NHS Spitfire campaign. The airframe flew much of the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the message “THANK U NHS” written across the underside of the wing and acquired handprinted names of those who contributed to the fundraising campaign and mission markings for each part of the UK the airframe toured throughout the summer of 2020.