Spitfire maiden flight re-enacted
Thousands of people are expected to watch a re-enactment of the very first test flight of the Spitfire - 70 years after it first took to the skies.
Five of the Southampton-built fighter planes will take off from the airport and fly in formation over the city.
Aboard one of them during Sunday's event will be 93-year-old Alex Henshaw, the chief test pilot during WWII.
Mr Henshaw, from Newmarket, Suffolk, said he flew his first "Spit" from Eastleigh on his birthday.
"For me this is really full circle as I first flew the Spitfire from Eastleigh on my birthday in November 1939 and this is the last time I will go up in one so it's very nostalgic," he said.
"I am feeling my age and it's not good having ideas in the mind that the body cannot carry out."
Mr Henshaw said he would be taking control of the aircraft while in the air and, although he said he would still be able to land it, there might be a few insurance problems.
More than 22,000 Spitfires were built during the war years
"I doubt the insurance will allow me to land it but if you can drive a car then you can fly a plane," he said.
Even though four pilots in his team were killed and Mr Henshaw himself escaped injury by bailing out twice, he is full of praise for the Spitfire.
"The Spitfire is the most outstanding low wing monoplane ever built," he said.
"The Hurricane was a fantastic aircraft and contributed as much as the Spitfire but although the Spitfire didn't win the war, it would have been lost without it."
Some of the veterans who built the first Spitfire at the Supermarine factory in Woolston, in 1936, and some of those who flew them will be watching the flypast from Mayflower Park.
Among them is expected to be Dr Gordon Mitchell, the son of Reginald Mitchell, who designed the aircraft.
Reginald Mitchell died just over a year after the first Spitfire took off
Mr Mitchell died from cancer in 1937, at the age of 42 and only a year after seeing the prototype of his design make its maiden flight.
More than 20,000 Spitfires - which played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain - were built at the Woolston site.
The factory was also the reason much of Southampton was destroyed by German bombing during the war.
Many of the planes were built at the Supermarine plant in Southampton
Weather permitting, the planes will take off at 1630 GMT and fly in salute over the factory site, up Southampton Water and back over Eastleigh to the airport at an altitude of 700ft (213m).
The eight minute flight will re-create the plane's first ever flight which took off from Eastleigh airfield - now Southampton International Airport - on 5 March, 1936, at 1630 GMT.
The flypast, which is being supported by Southampton City Council, and Southampton Airport, is being arranged by the Solent Sky museum.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/03/05 11:53:55 GMT
As soon as I saw the thread title I thought about posting the same video. Damn was that a low pass.
That was some seriously ballsey flying, looked like a helluva lot of fun.
Spitfires over the Solent roar their defiance 70 years on
By Ben Fenton
To the exact minute, the throb of the Merlin engine turned into a roar and swept arguably the most famous warplane of all time back into the air - precisely 70 years since its immortal silhouette first reached for the sky.
This time it was a twin-seater, a far-reaching development of the original Spitfire fighter, but the memory it evoked was of a cold March day at Eastleigh airport with a strong wind, as ever, blowing off the Solent.
Alex Henshaw, the chief test pilot for the Spitfire, is taken into the air again in a special two-seat version
Then the F.37/34 prototype, yet to receive its evocative name, was unpainted and bare of any sophistication and watched by a couple of dozen people, mostly employees of Supermarine, the manufacturer, and colleagues of the great R J Mitchell, the aircraft's designer.
Yesterday, hundreds watched at what is now called Southampton airport and thousands more at the city's Mayflower Park, as the twin-seater, a Mk IX in the livery of the Irish Air Corps, was gunned into the air by its pilot John Romain, with his very special passenger.
Alex Henshaw, 93, was the chief test pilot for the Spitfire through most of its many development marks and was revisiting the airport where, on his birthday in November 1939, he first flew the plane.
"It is very nostalgic for me returning to Eastleigh," he said. "This is the most wonderful aircraft, a true thoroughbred and, really, I have never flown another plane of its type that was anything like as good."
Although the Hawker Hurricane shot down more planes during the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire was the plane that won the affection of the grateful nation.
There is still something in its pointed, elliptical wings, its patrician nose cone and, in particular, the energetic chuntering noise of its Merlin engine ripping through the air in a way mimicked by schoolboys for half a century, that causes ripples of emotion.
Among the crowds was Gordon Mitchell, the designer's son. He has led a campaign for posthumous recognition for his father, who died aged 42 the year after the first test flight of his best-known creation.
"Inwardly he would have been very pleased and very proud of what he had done, if he had been here today," Mr Mitchell said.
"But outwardly I doubt he would have showed it at all."
As the Mk IX banked up and circled the field, it was joined by four other aircraft, all made airworthy by Mr Romain's Aircraft Restoration Company in partnership with the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, Cambs.
They circled the field before heading out down the Hamble and banking around over the Solent, returning just 500ft above the 4,000-strong crowd at Mayflower Park. Among those with necks craned back, eyes shielded against the glare glinting through a cloudy sky, were about 70 former employees of Supermarine, including many who had been working at the factory at the time of the first test flight on March 5, 1936.
"I am proud to say that I had hands on that first aircraft as it was made," said one elderly man, identified only as Ron. "And looking at them as they fly over now, I would say the Spitfire will go on for ever, wouldn't you?" There are now more Spitfires in airworthy condition than at any time for 30 years, with experts reckoning about 50 to be in full flight condition.
That number will grow, thanks to technology allowing more planes to be fully restored, but mostly because of the timeless simplicity and brilliance of the design.
The anniversary coincides with the publication of Gifts of War, a book listing every Spitfire bought for the war effort by private citizens, corporations, sports clubs and even foreign governments.
Everyone who wanted to "buy" a Spitfire, which even in the early days of the war had captured the public imagination like no other aircraft, had to raise £5,000 (about £200,000 today).
After the scheme was launched in June 1940, as the great defeat of Dunkirk was being turned into victory by Churchill's innovative spin doctors, money began to pour in from rich and small.
Money was raised in tins and boxes from fetes, garden parties and simple street collections. Companies not involved in aircraft manufacture organised collections and some wealthy individuals also donated.
Of course, the aircraft were appropriately named.
The Charrington Anchor Brewery, of Mile End Road, London donated a Spitfire called Toby. Mr J D Burrows, a Leicester businessman, gave the money for a plane named Brenda, after his wife.
In all, more than 1,750 Spitfires were "gifts of war", a mark of the love, born 70 years ago yesterday, for a special machine.
Gifts of War is available at bookshops and online from www.air-britain.co.uk
The Spitfire marks 70 years
Last Updated Sun, 05 Mar 2006 22:54:54 EST
The Supermarine Spitfire, a plane that became an emblem for the British and Canadian air forces in the Second World War, marked its 70th anniversary Sunday.
Five Spitfires flew in a V formation above Southampton in southern Britain, 70 years to the minute after the first flight.
Spitfires from No. 417 (City of Windsor) Squadron, RCAF, over North Africa. (courtesy: DND)
Decades after he was the chief test pilot for the plane, 93-year-old Alex Henshaw called the Spitfire a thoroughbred.
"Very, very accurate assessment because with a thoroughbred racehorse as you know, if it's got a tender mouth it'll respond or it will reject it or resent it. And a Spitfire was exactly like that. If you treated a Spitfire badly, it would tell you."
More than 20,000 Spitfires were built, and it fought as a fighter, fighter-bomber and reconnaissance plane for many Allied air forces.
Fourteen RCAF squadrons flew Spitfires, and many Canadian pilots – as well as flyers from Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Czechslovakia and other countries – flew the planes in British squadrons.
A Canadian also helped out with a critical part of the design.
Beverly Shenstone was an aerodynamics specialist who helped create the thin, elliptical wings that gave the plane both speed and elegance.
For historian David Watley, Sunday's ceremonies prove that the Spitfire holds a special place in military history.
"The Spitfire had that certain something, it had the edge. It was the airplane that the British pilots had great confidence in and the Germans were afraid of."
The Spitfire is associated with Britian's victory over the German air force in the Battle of Britain, although it went on flying all through the war and for many years after.
"Of the 103 Canadians who flew in the Battle of Britain between July and October, 1940, 23 lost their lives while 30 others paid the supreme sacrifice later in the war," the Department of National Defence website says.
My Grandfather was an engine fitter for the Spitfires. Here's a pic of his Squadron's aircrew.
My Grandfather lead a very colourful life in the RAF and there's many stories to tell, I have loads of pics and I'm in the process of putting together his exploits/memoires. You guys will obviously get the preview scoop He worked at the begining of his carrer on bi-planes and ended up working on the Vulcans after many journeys around the world.
Here's one of his funnier pics....
I've a great one of a vulcan trying to land/Crashing with only two greens......
A most beautiful bird.
the spitfire was cool as all hell, but it was NOT the plane that won the battle of Britian.
that honor goes to the Hawker Hurricane
That sounds very cool, Taffy. We're going to look forward to that.
A most beautiful bird indeed:
We had many different Nations pilots fly with us for the battle against the Common Enemy.
My/our generation owes a lot to all those men.
Or Gunnery drills
I was shown a hangar door by my Grandfather at RAF Wittering (then the home of the Harrier were my father was based) that still had bullet marks in the door when an over zealous cameraman was recovering film from the onboard camera in the spitfire that was parked in front of the hangar(40+years earlier).....weapons still "hot".
To my knowledge the bullet marks are still there......I'll have to get a photo one day
We all owe a lot to those men. If Britain had fallen, the war would have been immensely more difficult for the Allied forces to win.
I love seeing things like this. To me it honors all facets of people involved in the war... from the pilots to the aircrews, from the designers to the workers who riveted those old planes together. It was a great effort, and it was shared by many.
I hope these planes will still be flying when I have grandchildren to tell about this stuff!
Amazing pics! Thanks!
Sweet! It was a great plane!
Sadly, my Arcom moniker is not affiliated with this plane.