Found it! a new training school for Spitfire pilots

Spitfires in formation

The Vickers Supermarine Spitfire was developed just in time to challenge the German forces which had rolled right up to the short stretch of water dividing continental Europe from Britain. The Americans remained “neutral” and so the United Kingdom seemed doomed. But heroic young men, whose lifespan as fighter pilots was measured in weeks, used the Spitfire to great effect to stem the German tide. Picture copyright: US Air Force Historical Research Agency.

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By Paul Jansen

It was until now an impossible dream: the opportunity to fly the aircraft which almost never was, which slowed down a German army which seemed unstoppable, and which is burned in my mind as a symbol of how a few can do so much for so many.

The Supermarine Spitfire was designed by R.J. Mitchell as a short-range interceptor. It did not impress the British Air Ministry at first, and production was planned to stop after 310 were built. But the Government was persuaded to go beyond that. Eventually, way beyond that. But Mitchell did not see the impact his high performance streamlined fighter would make on the world. Piloted by eager young pilots, often with less than 30 hours of experience in the type, their sparse numbers met the German aerial armada head on and prevented the Axis forces from gaining air supremacy as a prelude to a cross-Channel seaborne invasion. The rest, as they say, is history. Mitchell died of cancer in 1937.

Although more than 20,000 Spitfires were rolled out the factory door, less than 40 remain in airworthy condition. And as far as I could determine, there were only two two-seater trainers still flying. Both operators did not respond to my queries. Understandable, given the restrictions on the owners by regulators and insurers, and so on.

But I kept searching. Forums on Spitfires were not encouraging. One even sneered that even if a two-seater was available for flights, there would firstly, be a waiting list of years, and secondly, a bill of six figures. There was evidence of the truth in this. The charge for a flight in a McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom is over US$12,000, and a MiG 29 trip to the edge of space will set you back US$25,000.

Friends chipped in with sightings of Spitfire flight ads. But these turned out to be nothing closer than a flight “near” a Spit, with you in a helicopter chasing a Spitfire. So tantalisingly close, but you may as well be watching a movie, so disconnected is the dream and the reality.

Then, in October last year, my unrelenting prowl of websites, forums and magazines, paid off.

I read of an aviation fan who bought a 1944 single-seat Spitfire, and then started painstakingly restoring and converting it into a TR9 two-seater trainer. He died before completing the job. But this was taken up by its new owner, property investor Steven Boultbee Brooks, who also offered to allow licensed pilots to fly it.

The purchase and maintenance of a Spitfire is a weighty undertaking. Although they were initially produced at a cost of about 9,000 Pounds Sterling, today they would set you back more than 2 million Pounds Sterling.

The new owner invited pilots to join a queue on payment of a deposit of 1,000 Pounds Sterling. Many did, even though the actual price of the experience had not yet been set, dates of flights not yet scheduled, and the price for pulling out for any reason was the loss of half of the 1,000 Pounds Sterling deposit.

The call of the iconic Spitfire was too strong. I accepted the conditions and wired the deposit.

I have been given a July date for my turn, which includes flights which follow the pattern of training for the novice fighter pilot during the dark days of World War II and shortly after: from Tiger Moth or Chipmunk, to Harvard, to the Spitfire.

I will keep you posted.

Copyright: Paul Jansen 2012. All rights reserved.

NEXTWhat price the privilege of flying the legendary Supermarine Spitfire?

9 Responses to Found it! a new training school for Spitfire pilots

  1. Harsh says:

    Incredible really! Perhaps we might see a couple more of these awesome creatures added to the existing arsenal of airworthy Spitfires from the find in Burma. I doubt the kit-built Spitfires can compare to flying an original like the one you would be. Still remember the scene from Memphis Belle where the bomber’s co-pilot looks over at his Spitfire fighter escorts and remarks how he would love to be in one of them.

    Not very different in my case too! Best of luck Paul.

    • The Editor says:

      Thanks, Harsh. Regarding the latest find, it is almost too good to be true. Like many other aviation buffs, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the buried Spitfires area real and will soon be unearthed. Keep checking Merawan out for updates on my flight, as well as news about the Myanmar recovery.

    • Ethan says:

      The clipped wings were to improve low level flight. The added wing area was just not needed at denser air levels. More area is needed in higher (less dense) air. You cannot compare the Spitfires with the P51s. The Spitfire was designed to be a home defence air superiority interceptor, so it had a short range and rapid climb rate. The P51 was designed to be a long range escort. Two entirely different needs resulting in 2 entirely different aircraft, and designed years apart.

  2. Anthony Cheong says:

    Cheers Capt, go hunt some Krauts ME109 or FW 190 over the English country side. Imagine you are in WWII.

    • The Editor says:

      When the victors shut down the German military aviation industry, they put an end to production of ME 109s or FW 190s, hence the near impossibility of finding an airworthy one today. In any case, I don’t feel the same pull with those aircraft as I do with the Spitfire. As for imagining I am in WWII, I don’t think I want to – the nightmares will drive me crazy. I’m content to putter around the skies of England in a Spitfire looking out for nothing more than a cloud to challenge or an eagle to appreciate.

    • GinaIsabel says:

      What frequently confusedthe pilots of the later Spits (Mk14 onwards) was that the Griffon engine prop turned the opposite direction to the Merlin due to standardisation of propeller rotation that came in after the Merlin. As the Merlin required full right rudder on take off to stop it ground looping (swerving violently to the left due to engine torque and prop walk), the occasional forgetful pilot would apply the same to the Griffon (rather than full left rudder )with predictable results.

  3. Dawson says:

    That’s amazing! To fly a WWII aeroplane at this present day is like finding water in a desert.. WW I and II fighter planes made real fighter pilots!

    • The Editor says:

      You’re absolutely right, Dawson. There were many “hits” and “misses” during the development of aircraft in those days. To locate the good ones – like the Supermarine Spitfire – that survived the years since then takes a lot of patience, and luck. Pilots who lived long enough to write books of their experience flying Spitfires all talk about the things that could kill you if you were not careful after taking off. One pilot/writer said his first lesson in flying the Spitfire was through an experienced pilot standing on the wing and telling him which buttons to push and levers to pull before stepping off and leaving him alone to take off. He was then posted to Scotland for the next few months. He was upset at first as he wanted to go straight into battle in the south of Britain. But the 80 hours he chalked up before he finally got a chance to fight the Germans coming over from France saved his life. Other pilots who went into battle with 20 hours or less of Spitfire time never made it past a few weeks of combat. You had to learn the capabilities of the Spitfire very fast or die.

    • Brenda says:

      You are right. I stand corrected! According to Wikipedia (so it must be right!): ..some Spitfires had their rounded wingtips replaced by shorter, squared-off fairings to improve low-altitude performance and enhance the roll rate. This designation referred to the low-altitude version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and while many L.F Spitfires had the clipped wings, a number did not.

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