Around the world in a sil­ver Spit­fire

The Tele­graph fol­lows the first at­tempt to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the globe in this clas­sic plane

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page -

Over the course of its long and sto­ried mil­i­tary ser­vice, there isn’t a lot the Su­per­ma­rine Spit­fire hasn’t achieved. De­signed by RJ Mitchell in the Thir­ties, it be­came per­haps the most fa­mous com­bat air­craft in his­tory, and was pro­duced in greater num­bers than any other dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, with more than 20,000 churned out in less than a decade.

Dur­ing the Bat­tle of Bri­tain (which took place 78 years ago to­day) the Spit­fire, aided by the bulkier Hur­ri­cane, helped down 1,887 Ger­man planes in lit­tle more than three months. It be­came the envy of the en­emy and the pride of the na­tion, and was flown all over the world, both by Bri­tish and Al­lied forces, be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the war. To­day, a di­as­pora of air­wor­thy Spit­fires ex­ists, faith­fully main­tained by en­thu­si­asts around the world.

Yet there re­mains one chal­lenge the air­craft has never quite man­aged: a com­plete cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the globe. But that may be about to change. Next sum­mer, two Bri­tish avi­a­tion en­thu­si­asts, Matt Jones and Steve Brooks, in­tend to take off in a pol­ished sil­ver Spit­fire Mark IX from south­ern Eng­land, head north-east over the At­lantic… and be back home in Blighty by Christ­mas, hav­ing pushed the air­craft around the world, and to new lim­its.

When they touch back down, they will have made more than 150 stops in more than 30 coun­tries, soar­ing over many airspaces the Spit­fire has never be­fore en­tered, and fly­ing over ter­ri­to­ries, such as the Far East and North Africa, where it hasn’t been seen since the war ended.

And at ev­ery stage of the way, both in the build-up and in the air, The Daily Tele­graph will be re­port­ing on the aero­plane’s progress.

“It’s an am­bi­tious ad­ven­ture, but we’re on track and we’ll be ready,” says Brooks, 57. “The Spit­fire is a real icon. The shape of its wings, the sound of its en­gine. It means so many things to so many peo­ple around the world, and we want to take it to as many of them as pos­si­ble.”

The chal­lenge, called Sil­ver Spit­fire – The Long­est Flight, is the brain­child of not only Jones and Brooks but also a small and ded­i­cated team of en­thu­si­asts, among them Lach­lan Monro, the project di­rec­tor, and Gerry Jones, the group’s chief en­gi­neer – both of whom will be fol­low­ing the air­craft around the world in a small PC-12 sup­port plane. When we meet in a hangar on the site of the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum, Dux­ford, the four of them are as ex­cited as school­boys.

“I sup­pose it came about nine years ago, when Matt and I bought an old two-seater Spit­fire at auc­tion and de­cided we ought to do some­thing spe­cial,” Brooks says. The pair bought the aero­plane to set up Boult­bee Fly­ing Academy, the world’s only train­ing school for Spit­fire pi­lots, in 2010 and be­gan of­fer­ing flights and cour­ses for en­thu­si­asts. Keen to do some­thing ex­traor­di­nary to cel­e­brate an air­craft they both adore, Brooks thought about tak­ing one to Africa. Jones, how­ever, had big­ger ideas.

“I thought, well, OK then,” Brooks laughs. A prop­erty developer and ad­ven­turer, he was both the first per­son to drive across the ice of the Ber­ing Strait from the United States to Rus­sia, and the first to fly from pole to pole by he­li­copter. So he’s up for a chal­lenge, though he’s cur­rently still learn­ing how to fly a Spit­fire.

The 44-year-old Jones, on the other hand, is an ex­pe­ri­enced pi­lot of air­craft of all sizes and eras, and knows the Spit­fire inside out. The pair will share the fly­ing on the cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion. “There is no feel­ing like it,” Jones says. “Spit­fire pi­lots in the war used to talk about the aero­plane’s wings be­com­ing their own, and that’s what it’s like. You feel so ex­posed and, un­like a mod­ern fighter, you know ex­actly how fast you’re go­ing. It feels that quick.”

When the pair hatched the plan, they needed some­body to or­gan­ise it, and as luck would have it, Monro – whose fa­ther was a ca­reer pi­lot, and who spe­cialises in or­gan­is­ing things – was think­ing about ar­rang­ing a “Cool Bri­tan­nia-style” Spit­fire project him­self. The wheels, or rather the pro­pel­ler, was sud­denly in mo­tion.

“At this time in Bri­tain, with Brexit and a lot of peo­ple for­get­ting how great we are, what bet­ter way is there for us to show the world what we have done, and what we can do, than some­thing ex­traor­di­nary that show­cases our en­gi­neer­ing?” Munro, 42, says. “Re­ally, it’s not a case of ‘why’, it’s a case of ‘why not?’”

The Mark IX that will fly around the world was also bought at auc­tion, this time two years ago. It is one of only a few hun­dred Spit­fires left in the world, and an even smaller num­ber – fewer than 30 – are still air­wor­thy.

To make sure it is up to scratch, then, this air­craft is be­ing taken apart en­tirely and put back to­gether again in a painstak­ing re­fit at Dux­ford. A new en­gine and slight mod­i­fi­ca­tions such as ex­tra fuel tanks, im­proved avion­ics and some mod­ern safety gear will make it more suited to fly longer dis­tances.

And, of course, there’ll be no weaponry. “A Spit­fire isn’t meant for

‘It’s an am­bi­tious ad­ven­ture, but we’re on track and we’ll be ready’

this, I can tell you that,” says Gerry Jones, 39 (no re­la­tion), an aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neer of more than 20 years. “They can do a max­i­mum of around 400 nau­ti­cal miles in one go, and once the en­gine’s started, they can’t sit on a run­way. It won’t be easy.”

As­sum­ing a few tricky per­mis­sions are granted, the in­tended route will see Jones and Brooks fly the Sil­ver Spit­fire first in the di­rec­tion of Ice­land, then over Green­land, into Canada and the United States, be­fore cross­ing the Ber­ing Straits, over Ja­pan, China and Burma, into the Mid­dle East, North Africa and fi­nally Europe.

If you hap­pen to catch it in the skies dur­ing the trip (the pi­lots in­tend to fly low, to help vis­i­bil­ity from the ground) you will see a Spit­fire like no other. Avoid­ing the mil­i­taris­tic con­no­ta­tions of cam­ou­flage, the liv­ery will be bare: just sleek, pol­ished sil­ver, with a small Union flag on the side, and the logo of IWC, the Swiss watch man­u­fac­turer that is help­ing to spon­sor the trip.

There is back­ing from the top, too. The Govern­ment’s “…is Great” tourism cam­paign has come aboard to sup­port the group’s mis­sion to tell the story of a Bri­tish en­gi­neer­ing icon to peo­ple around the world in the 21st cen­tury.

“The Spit­fire is an iconic sym­bol of world-class aero­space en­gi­neer­ing, and I’m de­lighted to see this unique piece of Bri­tish his­tory brought to a global au­di­ence,” says Dr Liam Fox, the In­ter­na­tional Trade Sec­re­tary. “Ex­traor­di­nary projects such as this are what the ‘Great’ cam­paign is there to pro­mote – show­cas­ing the best of Bri­tain to the world.” If all goes to plan, the Sil­ver Spit­fire will be fin­ished early next year, ready for test flights.

Then, come Au­gust, it’ll be ready to take off for its long­est mis­sion yet. Eight decades on, the Spit­fire’s cap­ti­vat­ing story con­tin­ues.

The Tele­graph is the of­fi­cial me­dia part­ner of Sil­ver Spit­fire – The Long­est Flight. To find out more about the project, visit tele­graph.co.uk/sil­ver­spit­fire and sil­ver­spit­fire.com

Team­work: Steve Brooks, left, and Matt Jones will share the fly­ing du­ties dur­ing next sum­mer’s ad­ven­ture

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