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Mon, Oct 20, 2008

Historic Spitfire Returns To The Sky... And It's For Sale...

Painstaking Restoration Of Rare Two-Seater Completed

With its Rolls Royce Merlin engine and beautiful elliptical wings, the Supermarine Spitfire is both a design icon and a piece of British history. Last week, the number of airworthy Spitfires grew... as a rare two-seat variant took to the skies for its first time following a lengthy restoration.

At 1605 local time on Friday October 17, test pilot Jonathan Whaley strapped into the valuable classic and took it aloft for a 15-minute flight from Thruxton airfield in Hampshire, England.

The aircraft in question was built as a single-seat fighter for the Royal Air Force in 1944, and registered as SM520. After World War II, it was sold to the South African Air Force, though details of its service in that country remain unknown.

Discovered in a Cape Town scrap yard in the 1970s, it was acquired by the late Charles Church and brought home to the UK. Church began to restore SM520, but when he died in 1989 the aircraft was sold to Alan Dunkerley, who in turn resold it to Paul Portelli in June 2002.

The aircraft has been restored by Classic Aero Engineering at Thruxton. Gloucestershire-based Retro Track & Air has overhauled the mighty Merlin engine, and German company Hoffman provided the huge four-bladed propeller.

During restoration, the decision was made to convert the aircraft into a rare two-seat Tr.9 configuration. In the late 1940s, Vickers-Supermarine converted a number of Spitfires into two-seaters, and the type was exported to countries such as Ireland and the Netherlands.

The team of Bruce Ellis, Gavin Langford and Gareth Ellis, aided and abetted by Irene Sanders and Simon Netton, have used original blueprints to turn SM520 into the very latest Spitfire Tr.9.

Until now, just five two-seaters were in airworthy condition around the world, but SM520 -- which is now registered as G-ILDA with the UK Civil Aviation Authority -- today became the sixth. More than 20,000 Spitfires were built, but fewer than 50 remain airworthy today. The aircraft will now continue testing in the hands of Jonathan Whaley and Dave 'Rats' Ratcliffe.

Sadly, Portelli passed away before he could see his beloved Spitfire take to the skies... and SM520 is now being offered for sale. The aircraft will be sold with a full UK Civil Aviation Authority Permit to Fly. Offers in excess of £2.0 Million (about $3.5 Million US) are being sought.

FMI: www.classicaerothruxton.co.uk

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