Robb’s Spitfire for Belgium

In a newly applied all-blue scheme, Spitfire SL721 flies over California on 11 October 1998 with Woodson Woods at the controls.
PHILLIP WALLICK VIA CHRIS WOODS

One of the most famous surviving Spitfires, the ex-Air Chief Marshal Sir James Robb MkXVI SL721, will soon leave the Vintage Wings of Canada hangar at Gatineau, Ottawa, heading for a new home with a currently undisclosed new owner in Belgium. The light bluepainted, low-back fighter was flown by Robb as his personal aircraft from early 1947 until his last official flight in the machine on 21 September 1951.

Robb — who had flown DH2s and SE5as in the First World War, shooting down seven enemy aircraft — became deputy chief of combined operations under Lord Mountbatten in 1942. When Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower became Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during January 1944, he selected Robb as his deputy chief of staff (air). In May 1945 Robb was appointed head of Fighter Command, and became Vice-Chief of the Air Staff in 1947. During October 1946, SL721 had been delivered to Vickers- Armstrongs at South Marston for modifications appropriate to its usage by very senior RAF officers, and on 17 December 1946 another pilot who now has legendary status, the world air speed record-breaker Mike Lithgow, delivered SL721 to Bovingdon.

The Spitfire was then painted overall gloss blue with Robb’s personal ‘J-MR’ codes on the fuselage. Among the other very senior officers who got to fly SL721 was the 1932 Schneider Trophy-winning Supermarine S6B pilot, ACM Sir John Boothman, the aircraft suffering a wheels-up landing at Manston on 9 July 1948 while he was at the controls.

Struck off charge in December 1954 and seemingly destined for the scrapyard, SL721 was reprieved when a Mr F. M. Wilcox, the owner of the Swandean Garage on the Arundel Road in Worthing, acquired it from the Air Ministry for £150. Wilcox maintained the aircraft adjacent to the garage, running up the Merlin engine every Battle of Britain Day. In September 1958 the Spitfire went on display at the Montagu Motor Museum at Beaulieu, but in 1965 was sold to Chicago-based Bill Ross. It was flown at many shows in the USA in the late 1960s and early ’70s, until future Warbirds of Great Britain proprietor Doug Arnold acquired it as his first of many Spitfires in early 1973. Now registered G-BAUP, SL721 flew again from Leavesden in the hands of Rothmans Aerobatic team founder ‘Manx’ Kelly on 8 June 1973, and after Arnold moved his operation to Blackbushe SL721 was often flown by the great aerobatic and display pilot Neil Williams.

It went back to the USA for owner Woodson K. Woods of Scottsdale, Arizona in 1976, Woods repainting it into the light blue Robb colours during the summer of 1998 (see Aeroplane January 1999). The aircraft was sold on to the founder of Vintage Wings of Canada, Mike Potter, in late 2001, and painted in the late-war markings of No 421 (Canadian) Squadron with the codes AU-J.

On display at Swandean Garage, Worthing in 1957.
PETER R. ARNOLD COLLECTION
SL721 in its current No 421 Squadron scheme, with Vintage Wings of Canada.
PETER HANDLEY

NEWS IN BRIEF

RAF COLOURS FOR AVRO XIX

The BAE Systems-owned Avro XIX, G-AHKX, which is operated by the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden, will soon lose its overall blue civilian scheme for an RAF livery, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the service during 2018.

EP122 TO USA

Comanche Warbirds’ Supermarine Spitfire Vb EP122/G-CISV was flown from its previous home at Biggin Hill to Duxford on 22 January for dismantling by The Fighter Collection prior to shipping to the Comanche base, 100 miles south-west of San Antonio, Texas. The fighter appeared in the film Dunkirk wearing a Spitfire I scheme and the serial ‘R9649’.

RICHARD HALL

LYNX RETIRED

The Westland Lynx bowed out of active service in the UK during early January, when 657 Squadron, Army Air Corps retired its last AH9As. A farewell tour by the last four examples departed from RAF Odiham on 16 January, making flypasts at several locations associated with the type including Middle Wallop, Upavon, Yeovil, Shawbury and Wattisham. Lynx ZG917 was painted for the occasion with artwork commemorating 75 years of 657 Squadron. The Lynx has been replaced by the Leonardo Wildcat.

RAF 100 CHANGE

Since the item published in our January issue, there has been a change to the dates for the Newcastle, Northern Ireland stop on the RAF 100 National Aircraft Tour. It is now scheduled for 10-12 August 2018, not 4-5 August as stated in the article. Next month’s RAF centenary special issue of Aeroplane will contain an update on plans for major celebrations of the event in the UK this coming year. BEN DUNNELL