MOJAVE - A historic aircraft in the midst of a run at the record books touched down at Mojave Air and Space Port Saturday. Silver Spitfire - The Longest Flight is project to fly a newly restored original Spitfire aircraft around the world.
“So we’re 7,000 miles into a 27,000 mile journey,” said Pilot Steve Brooks. “We set off four weeks ago and she’s running very nicely.”
Brooks and Matt Jones are alternating turns behind the controls of the single seat World War II era fighter.
“It’s brilliant to be here,” said Jones, who was the pilot for the Mojave leg of the flight. “Here we are in the middle of a very American desert with a few British flags around. It’s nice to sort of cement the special relationship between the countries.”
Two years of restoration work in the United Kingdom brought the aircraft back to life.
“It’s an original 1943 Spitfire and she flew 51 times (missions) in the war,” said Brooks. “We stripped her down and restored her. Everything’s original, everything’s exactly as it was in period.”
Brooks even pointed some period-correct graffiti, an area on one of the wings where someone had scratched their initials during the war.
“All those sort of details are still in the panel,” said Brooks.
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries before, during and after World War II, according to the Silver Spitfire web site. The Spitfire was built in many variants, using several wing configurations, and was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft. It was also the only British fighter to be in continuous production throughout the war. The Silver Spitfire is a “Mk IX” Spitfire finished in polished aluminum with the guns removed.
Indio resident and Manchester, England native Linda Joneli drove up with her husband Steve to greet the aviators on their arrival. Linda Joneli was waving a British flag as the Spitfire and chase plane flew by the tower and was visibly overcome with emotion.
A crowd of about 25 people had gathered at Voyager Restaurant to welcome the aircraft and crew. The Spitfire arrived shortly after 2:30 p.m. following an extended stopover in Van Nuys, but was unable to taxi up to the restaurant area due to an overheating problem.
“She doesn’t like the long taxi’s,” said Brooks. “They weren’t designed to taxi around.”
Crew and supporters had to push the plane down the runway to stop at Virgin Galactic’s Final Assembly Integration Test Hangar at MASP.
Mojave Transportation Museum President Cathy Hansen led a caravan of vehicles from Voyager to FAITH so they could get a closeup look at the iconic aircraft and meet the pilots and crew.
“This airplane was cutting edge a long time ago and what these guys are doing here is cutting edge now,” said Jones. “It’s nice to sort of bring the two of them together.”
Hansen enlisted the help of her husband Al when Jones mentioned they needed an extension on their tow bar.
“We’ve got a hand-held tow bar, maybe if we were to show you, we could find some way of connecting it to something longer,” said Jones.
“Absolutely,” said Hansen. “Let me call my husband, because if we don’t have it, we’ll just make it.”
Following the meet and greet, Jones and the Hansens headed down to their shop for fabrication work on the tow bar.
Silver Spitfire was scheduled to head to the San Francisco bay area, including some photo opportunities around the Golden Gate Bridge before heading to Seattle. The aircraft will have its first 50-hour flight time maintenance check there.
A series of stops in Canada were planned before a final few stops in the Alaska region. Silver Spitfire will then cross into Russia to begin the Far East leg of the trip on the way back to England.
More information on the effort can be found at silverspitfire.com or on their Facebook page, on Twitter and on Instagram.