A team led by a British aviation enthusiast has arrived in Burma to begin the first of several digs it hopes will unearth dozens of rare Spitfires said to have been buried in the south-east Asian country at the end of the Second World War.
The 21-member team led by farmer and businessman David Cundall will soon start excavations to find several stashes of the fighter planes believed to be under the ground near the airport in the main city, Rangoon.
The Spitfire remains Britain's most famous combat aircraft. Its reputation was cemented during the Battle of Britain when the fast-moving single-seater aircraft helped beat back waves of German bombers.
Mr Cundall said the initial project would take about four to six weeks to complete, adding that the aircraft were buried in wooden crates around 30ft under the ground.
"We are expecting them to be in first-class condition," he said, shortly after arriving at the international airport in Rangoon.
Britain built a total of about 20,000 Spitfires, although the dawn of the jet age at the end of the war meant the propeller-driven planes quickly became obsolete.
The planes believed to be in Burma were buried by American engineers as the war drew to a close. Searchers hope they are in pristine condition, but Andy Brockman, a freelance archaeologist who is part of the search team, said it was possible all they might find was a mass of corroded metal and rusty aircraft parts.
Nevertheless, he said: "I'm very confident that we'll have answers to the story of what happened ... in 1945."
The venture is being backed by the Belarusian videogame company Wargaming.net, which is best known for its multi-player titles including World of Warplanes and World of Tanks.
The search team says 36 Spitfires are believed to be buried near the airport, while another 18 are in Myitkyina in northern Kachin state and six more are buried in Meikthila in central Burma.