A Story of a Silver Machine Going for Gold

In the world of the Spitfire it was perhaps the biggest surprise in years,... a Spitfire went on a trip around the world, something that had never been done before. And the Spitfire that was selected for this challenge was the former Dutch Spitfire LF.Mk IXc, MJ271. After years of being exhibited, it was sold in 2006 and stored in crates at Duxford, England, but it would be brought back to life for the 39,000 km long trip around the world in 2019,...

LF.Mk IXc, MJ271

In the National Aviation Theme Park Aviodrome in Lelystad, which opened in November 2003, stood until 2006 on display Spitfire LF.Mk IXc, MJ271. The Spitfire entered service on 15 February, 1944 with the RAF No. 118 Squadron. It mainly flew escort flights until 8 March with this squadron before it was transferred to No. 132 Squadron. Here it flew as the FF-P from RAF Detling. She was given a shared victory on 26 April 1944 when a Ju-34 was destroyed. After 28 operational missions it went wrong on 9 May when MJ271 made a belly landing,... the landing gear was still neat in the wings! It marked the end of operational flying for the forgetful Pilot Captain T. Johnson. After repairs the Spitfire was delivered in November 1944 to the No. 401 Squadron. From Volkel, Holland, MJ271 flew ten missions before it remained grounded after 13 December when deformations were found in the sheet metal.

1946, LF.Mk IXc, MJ271 during a testflight for the Dutch air force

After an overhaul, Spitfire MJ271 went into storage. 11 November 1946 MJ271 is being flown by Lieutenant Vijzelaar and accepted as one of 58 Spitfires for the Dutch air force. She crosses the North Sea on 25 November and is stationed at Twente airbase as part of the JVS (Fighter plane school). In August 1947 she receives the Dutch marking H-8. The first overhaul is at Fokker where she arrives on 14 June 1949. A year later in October and November 1950 the first test flights were made at Schiphol, Amsterdam. After test flights on 13 and 19 February 1951, MJ271 was accepted by the air force and returned to Twente. The camouflage was gone and in the summer the markings 3W-8 appeared on the fuselage. As part of 322 Squadron it was stationed at Soesterberg on 31 August 1952.

LF.Mk IXc, MJ271, 3W-8 on a painting by Thijs Postma

On 29 September 1953, MJ271 made here final flight and was put in open storage. The Spitfire had no longer a future and nobody wanted them anymore now the jet was entering service. Spitfire MJ271 became a ‘decoy’ at the airbase of Volkel. In 1956 the aircraft was 'rescued' by 313 Squadron when it was placed near the crewroom with a TA-26 marking on the nose and the name "Opa" (Grandpa) on the fuselage below the cockpit.

MJ271 'Opa' (TA-26) is rescued from the rooftop in Delfzijl (1973)

On 6 January 1959, Spitfire MJ271 becomes a museum object when it departs for Delfzijl. But deprived of many parts and a play object for children were an omen for the decline of this Spitfire. After some repairs MJ271 was placed in 1962 onto the roof of a building that housed a war museum. By this time it was unclear what the original serial was from this Spitfire. Dutch Spitfire 'know it all' Harry van der Meer came with the solution. In 1971 when he found out that the Spitfire in Delfzijl was MJ271.

MJ271's Rolls-Royce Merlin during her stay at the Aviodome (Schiphol)

To prevent a further decay of MJ271, it was decided to transfer the Spitfire to The Hague for restoration at the Anthony Fokker School. And so it was lifted from the roof in Delfzijl on 4 April 1973 and brought indoors. Because the Delfzijl museum in 1976 closed its doors, it was decided that the museum at Schiphol would become the lucky owner of MJ271. In early 1978 the Aviodome started the restoration in its own restoration workshop, with Harry van der Meer at the helm, who was by now the curator of the Aviodome. On 12 January 1982, the restoration complete, MJ271 was revealed as ‘MH424’, H-53, as a tribute to the Dutch servicemen who flew Spitfires in Indonesia.

De MJ271 'dressed' as the H-53 'MH424'.

When the Aviodome closed its doors and the collection went to a new location, the National Aviation theme park Aviodrome at Lelystad Airport, MJ271 went along. Here she had her own hall, beautifully lit, to shine with pride. But the museum and theme park struggled to keep the ship afloat when the public failt to find its way to the museum. In 2006 it was decided to sell some of the collection to make some money, and unfortunately MJ271 was one of the victims. Despite protests from many, the Spitfire was sold and shipped to Duxford, England with the prospect to make it airworthy again. But it was crated and waited her turn,…
In 2014 the Spitfire was checked over and it was noted that the aircraft was affected by moisture, including the once airworthy propeller. A buyer was desperately needed, but it would take two years before in 2016 a buyer presented it self.

LF.Mk IXc, MJ271, ('MH424') H-53 inspired Thijs Postma for a seond painting

MJ271 was purchased by the Boultbee Flight Academy and was offered to the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARC) at Duxford for restoration and to make her airworthy again. One would expect the machine to be rolled out in a camouflage, as most restored Spitfires are, but Boultbee had other plans, this Spitfire would have no exterior paint on her, except for the black anti-glare in front of the cockpit, black propeller blades and the fabric covered rudder parts in aluminum paint. MJ271 would appear entirely in high-gloss aluminum. The aim was to send the Spitfire around the world, and without military markings on the fuselage it would show just the beauty of the aircraft without the legacy of aggression it once had. For that reason the guns were also removed.

LF.Mk IXc, MJ271, G-IRTY first flight after restoration
(Foto: https://www.flyer.co.uk/)

The 'Silver Spitfire' made its first flight after the restoration on 27 June 2019. With the registration G-IRTY the two pilots, Steve Brooks and Matt Jones would leave for the 27,000 nautical miles (almost 44,000 kilometers) undertaking on 5 August 2019. Place of departure for the undertaking was Goodwood Aerodrome, West Sussex, where the Boultbee Flight Academy is located. The aim was to return at Goodwood on 5 December (this turned out to be a day later). The longest stretch of flight during that trip was from Kuwait to Jordan; 679.2 miles (1000 km) on 9 November.

Lelystad, 4 December 2019; both pilots Matt Jones en Steve Brooks,
who flew the Spitfire around the world, pose with MJ271,

On 5 December 2019, the Spitfire was back at Goodwood Aerodrome after a very successful venture, covering more than 22138 NM (40,999 kilometers). The intended route was slightly modified during the undertaking, such as the landing in France was dropped from the flight plan. The last stop before the return to England was at the airport of Lelystad, the place where Spitfire MJ271 once was a part of the exhibition at the National Aviation Theme Park Aviodrome.

For a more detailed report on the adventures of
‘The Longest Flight’ with Spitfire MJ271, G-IRTY,
and here visit at Lelystad Airport,
click below on this beautiful silver machine, …