Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Spitfire makes anniversary flight

A Second World War Spitfire flies over Southampton, flown by the world's only female Spitfire pilot, Carolyn Grace

A re-enactment of the moment 75 years ago when a Spitfire took to the air for the first time has taken place.

The iconic fighter, piloted by Carolyn Grace, made a lap of Southampton International Airport with its undercarriage down, just like the 1936 test flight that paved the way for the aircraft to become a mainstay of the RAF during the Second World War. She then treated the crowd to a display of aerobatics over the airport.

The aircraft, built in 1944 and credited with shooting down the first German plane on D-Day, had earlier been seen by thousands who came out in chilly conditions to see it fly over its birthplace, Southampton.

It was designed by the famous RJ Mitchell at Supermarine's factory in the south coast port and first flew from the then Eastleigh airfield - now Southampton International Airport.

RJ Mitchell never lived to see the Spitfire become one of the most famous aircraft in the world as he died in 1937 of cancer, aged just 42.

Mrs Grace, from Sydney, Australia, said: "To be in Southampton for the 75th anniversary of the first flight, to be standing on the ground at the very spot that RJ Mitchell was standing looking at his achievement, it makes my knees go weak. His aircraft represents Britain at its best at a time it was on its knees."

Mrs Grace owns the aircraft that flew in the war with 485 Squadron and she took over flying it after her husband Nick, who had restored it, died in a car accident in 1988. It is based in Bentwaters, Suffolk.

The Rolls-Royce Merlin powered Spitfire is now a two-seater aircraft, and carried the architect of a new Spitfire tribute, Nick Hancock, on the flight over Southampton.

Fundraising is under way to help raise the £2 million needed for Mr Hancock's design for a national landmark to commemorate the Spitfire.

The monument will sit two miles from the Supermarine Aviation site where RJ Mitchell developed the aircraft.

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