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Spitfire around the world

HighLifeChannel September 15, 2018
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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 1930s, it became perhaps the most famous combat aircraft in history, and was produced in greater numbers than any other during World War Two, with more than 20,000 churned out in less than a decade.

During the Battle of Britain (which marks its 78th anniversary 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 continues to exist, faithfully maintained by enthusiasts around the globe. Yet there remains one challenge the aircraft has never quite managed: a complete circumnavigation of the globe.

But that may be about to change.

At the tail end of 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, and return to Blighty by Christmas having pushed the aircraft to new limits.

When they touch back down, they will have made more than 150 stops in over 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.

“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.”

Named Silver Spitfire – The Longest Flight, the concept is the brainchild of not only Jones and Brooks but 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 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 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 Straits from America 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.

“It’s very, very different from a helicopter,” he says. “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.”

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