In a month’s time we will see the eightieth anniversary of the start of the Second World War when Germany invaded Poland. Last month was the 75th anniversary of D Day, the invasion of Europe underway to rid the continent of the Nazis.
The invasion had massive air cover to help the troops on the ground, not only the bombing of German positions but vital air cover provided by allied fighters such as the iconic Spitfire and the pilots who flew them and did battle with the Luftwaffe over the bridgehead that was Normandy.
Now, 75 years later, a particular Spitfire, probably the most iconic fighter plane in the world, will take to the air again to undertake yet another perilous flight. The Silver Spitfire IX is set to embark on one more great challenge, one which has never been done before, to fly around the world.
Pilots Matt Jones and Steve Brooks aim to leave Southern England at the beginning of August this year and will spend four months stopping over 150 times in more than 30 counties on their epic flight. Their historic journey will commence by flying to Iceland and Greenland via the Faroe Isles.
Matt and Steve bought the Spitfire that last flew in 1956, after flying 51 combat missions during the Second World War, from a museum in Holland. Matt told me: “The plane is an original, most Spitfires have had a lot of replacement parts, but this is virtually as it was when it was built in 1943. Most Spitfires could only take 85 gallons of fuel but after the war many were converted to fly longer reconnaissance missions so the fuel tanks were increased to take 200 gallons of fuel which is about 900 miles.”
I met Matt at his beautiful home, which he is currently renovating, just outside Honiton and he shares with his partner and her two children. Matt went to Exeter School before going to Newcastle University to study civil engineering before joining city bankers J P Morgan in London.
In a career change Matt then moved to the United States for 18 months to train as a pilot. Matt then joined forces with Steve Brooks to set up Boultbee Flying Academy – the world’s only training school for Spitfire pilots.
“I suppose it came about nine years ago when Matt and I bought an old two-seater Spitfire at auction and decided to do something special,” said Steve Brooks. The pair used the plane to set up the Spitfire training academy, keen to do something extraordinary to celebrate an aircraft they both adore.
Brooks thought about taking one to Africa, but Matt Jones had a bigger idea, to fly a Spitfire around the world. So the pair hatched the plan, but they needed some to help organise it, Lachlan Monro became the project director.
Steve Brooks a property developer and adventurer was the first man to fly a helicopter from Pole to Pole said: “It’s very different from a helicopter, I think of the difference like that of driving a car and a motorbike. In a car you can think about other things and maintain control but on a bike or a Spitfire you have to be totally concentrating on every little detail at all times. It’s an ambitious adventure, but we are on track and we’ll be ready.
‘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.”
Matt Jones is the more experienced pilot on all types of aircraft and knows the Spitfire inside out although Brooks and Jones will share the flying during the circumnavigation. “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 exposed, and unlike modern fighters, you know exactly how fast you are going. It feels that quick,” said Matt.
There were at total of 5,656 Spitfires built and the Silver Spitfire is one of only a few hundred left in the world, so to make sure everything is working the aircraft has been entirely taken apart with the engine having a few modifications that will make it more suited to longer distances, such as extra fuel tanks, no weaponry, improved avionics and some modern safety gear.
Gerry Jones the teams aeronautical engineer said: “A Spitfire isn’t meant for this. I can tell you that. They can do a maximum of around 400 nautical miles in one go and once the engine is started they can’t sit on a runway. It will not be easy.” Brooks and Jones will not be alone a support team including engineer Gerry Jones and project Director Lachlan Monro will be flying with the pilots in a PC-12 support plane. After Greenland the Silver Spitfire will fly to Northern Canada down to New York, across the USA up to Alaska before crossing the Bering Straits into Russia. From there on to Japan and China, where they will attend the Chengdu Air Show, Burma, onto the Middle East, North Africa and finally Europe and back to Blighty in November if all goes to plan.
The Silver Spitfire is like no other. Avoiding the militaristic connotations of traditional camouflage the livery will be laid bare – just sleek polished silver with the logo of the sponsor and a small union flag on the side.
Pilots Matt Jones and Steve Brooks will be keeping a log of this historic flight around the world for The Moorlander so we will be updating you of their amazing journey in the Silver Spitfire IX.