AvStop Magazine Online
The Spitfire, one of the most famous aircraft of World War II, was designed in 1934-35. Deliveries to the Royal Air Force began in the summer of 1938 and by September 3, 1939, when England declared war on Germany, 400 Spitfires were in service. Production of the many and varied versions, or marks, of Spitfire lasted through and beyond the war years, with the final Spitfire coming off the production line in February 1948. Altogether, 20351 Spitfires were built, plus and additional 2,408 Seafires modified to operate from aircraft carriers.
The Spitfire saw extensive action over Europe, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Near and Far East and Australia. In addition to being flown by New Zealanders in the RAF and with 485 (New Zealand) Squadron in England and Europe, the Spitfire was operated by Canadians and Australians, as well as several USAAF fighter and reconnaissance groups operating from England and North Africa in 1942-1945. The Mk XVI Spitfire is virtually identical to the Mk IX, except it is fitted with a Rolls Royce engine built under license by Packard.
This Supermarine Mk XVI Spitfire is an ex-wartime example, built at Vickers Armstrong's Castle Bromwich "shadow factory", near Birmingham, in late 1944. TB863 was one of the last built with the standard fuselage, the new look/cut down rear fuselage with a bubble canopy (like the Mk 14) being introduced in February 1945. The aircraft was test flown from Castle Bromwich and subsequently delivered to No. 19 Maintenance Unit at RAF St Athan on 27 February 1945. It was issued to No. 453 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force (one of a number of empire units serving with the RAF) based at Matlask, Norfolk on 22 March as a replacement for a Spitfire vhich forced landed in Holland. The aircraft's first action as on 24 March (wearing squadron code FU-P) when, laden with two 2501b bombs and a long range belly tank, the aircraft headed a flight of four Spitfires for an armed reconnaissance; briefed to bomb rail targets in the Utrecht/Hague/Leiden area.
Crossing the Dutch coast at 10,000 feet, the four Spitfires positioned for dive bombing the railway lines, pilots observing only two clusters as near misses.TB863's cannons were fired in anger for the first time during a strafing attack on a large railway coach by the four, claimed as probably destroyed, before returning to altitude. By 9:45am the aircraft was back on RAF Matlask. The aircraft continued with these sorties, including a mission flown on 30 March when Flight Lieutenant Leith placed his bomb, under a rail bridge before strafing a road convoy suspected of including V2 transporters on the Harlem/Lieden road. The last offensive operational sortie flown by TB863 was on 25 April when the squadron provided target over for Lancasters and Halifaxes bombing the seaplane base at Wangerooge Island. TB863 had flown twelve missions, mostly on rail interdiction, during its six weeks on operations; 23 hours 55 minutes in total.
After the end of hostilities TB863 escorted Queen Wilhelmina on her return to Holland before being posted to various squadrons be tasked to provide anti aircraft units vith both an appreciation of the techniques of air attack and Ground Control Interception. In July 1950 TB863 outwardly joined the ranks of the enemy in order to participate in Event 23 of that years Farnborough Display. It's squadron at that time (No. 17) were to provide the Luftwaffe's fighter defense in a re-enactment of the famous wartime precision bombing raid on Amiens prison when Mosquitos of No. 487 (RNZAF) Squadron breached the prison walls, enabling a number of French resistance fighters to escape. The aircraft sported Luftwaffe markings and put up a realistic defense against the attacking Mosquitos.
On 17 July 1951 TB863 suffered a take off mishap, possibly due to bad engine handling, and was struck off charge as scrap. The aircraft was subsequently purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a stage prop for their film on wartime pilot Douglas Bader, filmed in 1955 as "Reach for the Sky". It is thought that the aircraft was used for cockpit shots at MGM's Pine Nood studios where, on completion of the filming, the Spitfire was placed, minus an engine, in the props room for possible future use.
Twelve years later TB863 emerged to be dusted down for a further film role in the "Battle of Britain". The aircraft was utilized as a spares supplier for those aircraft actually flying in the film. The aircraft was then transferred to a new owner and moved in December 1968 to Southend. Another move followed in July 1974 - pending restoration - in the Imperial War Museum's facilities on Duxford Airfield. This, however, did not occur and the aircraft returned to its owner. In October 1982 the aircraft was moved to Booker and work on the restoration was began. with the aircraft receiving the civil registration of G-CDAN. The project was subsequently sold to Mr Stephen Grey of The Fighter Collection and restoration was begun in earnest on 19 February 1986.
All internal fittings were stripped from TB863's fuselage, all panels and rivets being systematically replaced. Crack testing and corrosion treatment was applied before the new skins were fitted to the fuselage. The electrical system was rewired to the original wartime specifications, the only concession being a conversion to a 24 volt system from the original 12 volts. Final fitting out and assembly of the rebuilt Supermarine Spitfire began on 5 July 1987, moving towards the installation of a Rolls Royce Packard Merlin 266 and a zero-timed propeller in January 1988 in preparation for test flying.
TB863 was test flown in the United Kingdom before being shipped in a container to New Zealand for reassembly. The aircraft was test flown from Wanaka on 25 January 1989 as ZK-XVI, in the hands of Stephen Grey. Since then, the aircraft has appeared at many airshows throughout New Zealand, wearing the exact colors and markings of No. 453 Squadron R.A.A.F. - the uniform it wore on its first operational sortie across the English Channel in 1945. Armament: Two 20mm canon, four .303 calibre machine guns External bombload: 454 kg (1,000 lb) or rockets.