Dutch combat vet Spitfire flies

Dan Griffith flying the newly completed Spitfire XVI, TB885, at Biggin Hill on 18 August. PAUL JOHNSON

Supermarine Spitfire XVIe TB885/G-CKUE flew on 4 August from Biggin Hill with Dan Griffith at the controls, three years after arriving for a ground-up rebuild with The Spitfire Company (Biggin Hill).

The combat veteran fighter, which is owned by Dutch supermarket magnate Frits van Eerd, has been finished in the markings it wore while flying with No 322 (Dutch) Squadron during 1945. It made its show debut at the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight on 18-19 August.

The Castle Bromwich-built machine was originally delivered to No 322 Squadron at Schijndel on 29 March 1945, moving with the unit to Twenthe on 18 April, then to Varrelsbusch on 30 April, and on to Wunstorf, Germany on 2 July, where the unit was disbanded in October 1945.

After flying back to the UK, TB885 spent several years in storage before being reactivated in April 1951 for use at No 102 Flying Refresher School (FRS) at North Luffenham, moving the following month to No 103 FRS at Full Sutton, Yorkshire before retirement to No 9 MU at Cosford in June 1952. During June 1955 it was roaded to RAF Kenley for firefighting…evaluation work, but had a brief reprieve as set dressing during the making of the film Reach For the Sky, painted as a MkI with the serial R1247 and codes QV-V.

By the end of 1958 it had deteriorated badly, and the following year TB885 was cut into sections and buried under tons of earth and rubbish. A team from the Shoreham Aircraft Preservation Society of Kent, led by Geoff Nutkins, salvaged the remains during 1982, the substantial fuselage and wing sections being moved to Sevenoaks for storage. The front fuselage was on show at the Shoreham Aircraft Museum for several years, until the restoration project was acquired by Biggin Hill-based Peter Monk in August 2008.

The Festival of Flight also saw the first display appearance from the prototype Spitfire two-seater, MkVIII Trainer MT818/G-AIDN, since it was re-imported from the USA by Paul Andrews in the spring of 2008. The doyen of two-seaters was given a sympathetic restoration by Personal Plane Services at Booker, making its maiden flight on 31 March 2016 with Pete Kynsey at the controls and arriving at Biggin later that day. Since then it has been operated by the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar on passenger flights.

Don Sigournay getting the prototype Spitfire VIII Trainer, MT818/G-AIDN, into the air at Biggin Hill for its first public display appearance in the UK for more than 40 years. PAUL JOHNSON