A Trip Around The World in 2019

In the world of the Spitfire it was maybe the biggest surprise in years,... a single Spitfire would go on a trip around the world, something that had never done before. And the Spitfire picked for this was the former Dutch Spitfire Mk IXc, MJ271. After years of being on display in Holland, it was sold in 2006 and crated at Duxford, but it would be brought back to life. The restoration would be done by the Aircraft Restoration Company. The picture below shows MJ271 shortly after arriving at Duxford, still in the colours as she was displayed at the National Aviation Theme Park Aviodrome at Lelystad, Holland.

LF.Mk IXc, MJ271 in September 2006 at Duxford

Boultbee Flight Academy

In England a remarkable enterprise can be found, the Boultbee Flight Academy. If you ever had the urge to fly alongside a Spitfire, or want to go on fly training in a Spitfire, this could be the place for you. Their main base is at Goodwood, at the former RAF airfield. They have in their inventory four airworthy Spitfires, two of them are trainers, the SM520 and PV202 (both converted Mk IX's). The other two Spitfires are single seat Mk IX fighters, the RR232 and the MJ271. In 2019 they had for sale another restoration project of a Mk IX, the EN179, which could be yours for 400.000 pounds. They have not the facility to restore complete aircraft, but they do their own maintenance on their Spitfires.

Co-founder of Boultbee Flight Academy Steve Boultbee Brooks with MJ271

The manager of the Boultbee Flight Academy is Steve Boultbee Brooks, which started with his brother Clive the property development company BoultbeeLDN with a modest £7,000 starting money in 1987. Their success in the business gave Steve the opportunity to do some flying in helicopters, which eventually lead to fly from Pole to Pole in 2004! And this is just one example of Steve his flying ambitions. Around 2010 Steve bought with Matt Jones a two seat Spitfire and together they setup Boultbee Flight Academy. They would share their passion for aviation with others, and within 10 years they had had some 2000 'customers'. Meanwhile, in 2016, they bought the former Dutch Spitfire MJ271 and a new ambitious project loomed. The first plan was to turn it into a two-seater, but when they learned the history of MJ271, they decided to keep it in its original version. But they would return MJ271 to the sky once more, and not just as a new flying example of this fantastic machine, but to fly her around the world!

Left: Matt Jones the other Co-founder of Boultbee Flight Academy

The Spitfire MJ271 was taken apart at the Aircraft Restoration Company and after two and a half years of work MJ271 was ready to get airborne again. All of the 80,000 magnesium rivets were replaced, in case some were corroded. As a power plant, it was re-fitted with a Packard Merlin 266, which produced 1,670 hp (original built for the LF Mk XVI but was essentially a Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 engine). The smaller oil tank under the Merlin was replaced for a larger one, because of the long stretches the Spitfire would undertake. All of her guns were removed and replaced for fuel cells. There were also extra fuel tanks installed in the rear of the Spitfire. With the extra fuel tanks installed, the Spitfire could fly for a straight five hours, and cover a 1000nm (1.850km) with an average speed of 200kts (230 mph or 370km/h).

A very shiny MJ271 is nearing the end of the restoration
(notice in yellow the 'MJ271' serial on the firewall/bulkhead)
(Photo: Aircraft Restoration Company)

With the civil registration G-IRTY and without any military markings and completely demilitarized it could more easily enter foreign countries around the globe. The skin of the plane was polished to high standard 'to celebrate the design and beauty of the aircraft', and to save weight. The large roundel on the fuselage behind the cockpit showed the logo 'Silver Spitfire - The Longest Flight'.
According to Harry van der Meer, the Dutch curator of the former Aviodome Museum who started a first restoration in 1978, the restored MJ271 is about 70% original. On 27 June 2019 the 'Silver Spitfire' made the first flight with the registration G-IRTY.

The Longest Flight

MJ271, G-IRTY left Goodwood Aerodrome on 5 August 2019 for the first leg of 'the longest flight', to Lossiemouth in Scotland. Three days later the Spitfire was at Reykjavik, Iceland. There were constant updates through 'Facebook', to keep the followers posted.
On 11 August the Silver Spitfire made two landings in Greenland, for the flight to Canada on 12 August (a total of 11 stops were made in Canada (5 inbound, 6 outbound). After the landing at Hanscom Bedford, on 19 August, they had to check with customs of the United States of America. In the States it was more or less two or three days at one spot before the flight continued.

The Silver Spitfire flies over the Statue of Liberty, New York
(Photo: Stamp Productions/Benjamin Uttley)

23 August brought a small hiatus in the schedule when a temperature gauge failed at 8,000ft. The plane was grounded for two days at Comanche Ranch, Texas, where the faulty gauge was repaired.
But on 25 August The Longest Flight continued towards Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. A stop was made for refueling at El Paso, before they left for Las Vegas, where Nellis AFB is located. For a photo shoot, the Spitfire was placed in front of the F-16's of the USAF demo-team The Thunderbirds. The American team made the members of The Longest Flight more than welcome at their base. But in the United States the surprises kept on coming,...

The Silver Spitfire MJ271 in the hangar at Nellis AFB, Nevada
Matt Jones poses with some members of the demo-team The Thunderbirds
(Photo: Tracey Castle - Facebook - Silver Spitfire - The Longest Flight)

On 27 August, after landing at Santa Monica Municipal, there stood a nice surprise for Matt Jones when he ran into Chipmunk WP833, the very first plane he once flew in, the same Chipmunk that also flew around the world!
31 August was also a special day when G-IRTY landed for a short stop at Mojave Air & Space Port where Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space tourism project is based. After the stop for the night at Meadows Filed, Bakersfield, the following day the team left California for the state of Oregon and landed at Madras Municipal.
On 2 September the team landed at Everett Paine Field, near Seattle. Here they stayed a couple of days before they would depart again towards Canada. There were 18 stops in the USA (of which 2 were in Alaska).

Matt Jones (right) next to the Chipmunk WB833 at Sant Monica
(Photo: Facebook - Silver Spitfire - The Longest Flight)

On 5 September the team entered Canada again for the trip towards Alaska and Russia.
On 7 September, after more than four weeks of flying, they landed at Fairbanks International Airport, Alaska. In a week’s time, they would enter Russia, and land there at Anadyr Ugolny Airport on 14 September. The pictures that were posted when the team was in Russia showed a depressing scenery. A lot of derelict buildings with a very grey overcast. From Russia Matt Jones had to rush home when the birth of his son Arthur run into some complications. A total of six stops were made in Russia. The team spent just one or two days at an airport in Russia.
21 September the airspace of Japan was entered and the first stop in the Land of the Rising Sun was at Sapporo. A day later the Spitfire landed at Hanamaki. It would take some time before the long flight could be resumed for the next haul,... The Longest Flight was halfway and at Hanamaki the 50-hour check was made. Meanwhile here pilots could take a well earn rest.

(Photo: Facebook - Silver Spitfire - The Longest Flight)

Gerry Jones, Chief Engineer during the 50-hour maintenance
(notice the larger oil tank under the Merlin engine, as shown in the picture below
where Dutch Spitfires are overhauled, they lack the long range oil tanks)

Below a look into this 50-hour check as it was publiced on Facebook:

Engineering Update: G-IRTY has recently made it through her 50-hour check. Carried out by Silver Spitfire Chief Engineer Gerry Jones and Martin 'Mo' Overall from our friends the Aircraft Restoration Company, the routine check was the last major maintenance stop before we get home. Work completed included a tyre change, some small oil leaks sealed, and a change of magneto to improve how G-IRTY was running. 60 litres of oil was changed and 5 oil filters inspected along with an undercarriage inspection and lubrication. Finally engine tests were carried out to confirm that The #SilverSpitfire is still in mean health. #LongestFlight Excellent work guys!

10 October the flight was resumed when the Silver Spitfire landed at Nagoya Airfield. But further flying was difficult as Typhoon Hagibis was causing havoc in the region at that time.
15 October the Spitfire landed at Kagoshima, Japan, but was grounded for three days because of bad weather.
23 October the team left Japan, and landed later that day in Taiwan, for a one night stop. The next day the Spitfire could be spotted in Hong Kong.
26 October the Spitfire landed at Da Nang, Vietnam.
28 October 2019 the Longest Flight landed at Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand. During their stay in Pakistan the team paid their respect at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Karachi.
On 20 November an F/A-18 Hornet of the Kuwait Air Force joined the Silver Spitfire before it landed Kuwait International Airport.
21 November the longest stretch, without refueling, was flown when Matt steered the 'Silver G-IRTY' across the desert between Kuwait and Jordan, a distance of 720 NM (1333 KM).
24 November brought team back into Europian airspace. After leaving Egypt the landed for the night at Heraklion, on the Island of Crete. The next day they made a stop at Athens, the mainland of Greece.
On 26 November The Longest Flight landed in Italy, for refueling at Pescaro Abruzzo Airport, and for five nights at Gino Allegri Airport, near Padua.

G-IRTY is greeted by the Italian Air Force
(Photo: Facebook - Silver Spitfire - The Longest Flight)

In the initial flight plan France was included but that was canceled during the progress of the flight. Instead the team landed on 30 November at Friedrichshafen, Germany. The next day the team would head for Berlin with a stop at Leipzig Altenburg Airport.
On 1 December Robin Perrie from the British newspaper The Sun visited Leipzig, Germany, and reported the following;
As Matt climbed out of the cockpit, he said: 'The trip has been very tiring but we have had a fantastic time. It has been an experience that we will remember for the rest of our lives.' Matt, from Exeter, continued: 'The highlight for me was the flight from Jordan to Egypt. The colour of the sea and the desert were amazing. We had been told we wouldn’t be allowed to fly over the pyramids but at the last minute a friendly air traffic controller allowed us to do so.'
Steve got the same question; 'For me it was flying from Rangoon to Mandalay. There is so much romance about that location and the Spitfire has a special place in the history of Burma.'

Aviodrome, Lelystad Airport

G-IRTY at the Aviodrome at Lelystad Airport

Was it announced beforehand that the Silver Spitfire would land at Schiphol, Holland, those plans were also changed, and they would now make an appearance at Lelystad on 2 December. This was excellent news, the same place where MJ271 had once been on display, there she would return for a three day visit. Your reporter drove on Wednesday 4 December to Lelystad Airport to pay my respect to the MJ271 and her crew. When I wandered towards the flight line where the Silver Spitfire was standing in front of a hangar of the Aviodrome Museum, I expected a large crowd,... but only a handful had made the trip to the airport. At the reconstructed station building that once stood at 'Old Schiphol' was a gathering of sponsors of the flight. Among them a popular TV host, Umberto Tan, who was the master of ceremonies at this event.

Steve Brooks in MJ271, G-IRTY starts the Merlin engine

Pilot Steve Brooks was shaking hands left and right and his big smile never went from his face. It was a fantastic day, it was very cold, but the sun was out and we felt the warmth of it on our backs when we all were staring at the shining Spitfire a 50 yards from us. Around 10.30 hours we were asked to take up a good position, because the Merlin engine would be started. Steve Brooks took its place in the cockpit once more. We could hear the whining of the main tanks booster pump doing its job. And then the four bladed prop started to turn, and with a bang and a growl the Merlin came to life. A short time later the wheels were rolling and G-IRTY was coming towards us, standing behind the barrier. Camera's snapping away as she passed us,... A moment later she was in front of the station building and the engine was shut. The sponsors went around the plane with glasses champagne which they raised to celebrate this marvelous achievement.

From every angle it is a beauty,...

We, the common people, the Spitfire nuts, were happily embraced by the 'suits', because we were just a small crowd. There were lots of opportunities to take pictures and speak to the pilots, Steve and Matt. Dozens of pictures were taken, and selfies, with those brave flyers. Umberto Tan even was allowed to take a seat in the cockpit of the Spitfire. Under supervision of Matt Jones the Dutchman dropped in to the small office space of MJ271. I don't know if Mister Tan had ever heard of a Spitfire or that he even had a weakness for aircraft, but his smile told us jealous onlookers that he had the best of times!

Partypooper Matt Jones tells TV celebrity Umberto Tan;
'No,... you may not take her out for a short spin,...!'

The impression was that everyone had a great time when the Spitfire landed at airports on route, on social media a lot of enthusiastic reactions and respect was written. But reading through the pages on Facebook, where the long flight could be followed, some negative reaction were also written. This was mainly caused by the changes of airfields as the flight progressed, or that G-IRTY was not to be seen after landing as it was parked at spots where the general public had no excess. How fortuned we were at Lelystad! There were no boundaries what so ever, and after the sponsors left, you could have the Spitfire all to yourself. But everyone had respect for the 75 year old lady and treated her as such, if she was touched, it was with great care,...

The cramped office of the Silver Spitfire,... (click for a larger picture)

After a couple of hours at Lelystad it was time for me to say goodbye to the MJ271,... tomorrow 5 December she would depart on her final leg to Goodwood. On my way out I ran into Harry van der Meer. He had a smile from ear to ear and looked healthy. Harry had in the months before serious heart problems, but this 81 year old man showed noting of bad health. It was good to see him happy and the reason was this Silver Spitfire, a Spitfire he was very connected with over the years. As conservator he had restored MJ271 during the seventies of the last century. After the sale of the Spitfire and its departure for Duxford, Harry was fed up with the whole politics behind this sale. But his love for the Spitfire never went. He started writing the final chapter on the Dutch Spitfires, his Magnus Opus, everything that was know on the subject was published in an impressive 300 pages; 'Nederlandse Spitfires - in cijfers en letters' (Dutch Spitfires - in numbers & figures (it is yet to be translated)).

Harry van der Meer in the cockpit of MJ271 congratulates Matt Jones
(photo: Aviodrome)

Harry was a little reluctant the day before when he went to Lelystad to look at his old love, the MJ271. But not to worry, he got a hero’s welcome by the team of The Longest Flight. Harry was given a royalty treat and was asked all about the history of MJ271. Harry pointed at a dent that was still visible when the Spitfire had made a ‘belly landing’ on 9 May 1944 (the pilot forgot to lower the landing gear). Harry told me he was asked if he would fly in the back of the Pilatus PC-12 when the Spitfire was flown for a photo shoot,... stupid question. Harry had a ringside seat as 'his' Spitfire flew alongside the follow plane,... And today, 4 December, the day before MJ271 would depart, Harry returned the favors and would treat the team. He carried two large bags full of documents on the MJ271.

Your reporter in front of MJ271, G-IRTY

Thursday 5 December 2019,... After the fog lifted at Lelystad airport, Matt Jones took the Spitfire into the air for the last stretch, a 57 minute flight to the home turf of Goodwood Aerodrome. He knew that Harry van der Meer was watching from the roof of the station, zo Matt flew a circuit and greeted with the wings of MJ271 as a salute in Harry's honour. The adventures flight was winding down and in this last hour the team must have reflected in their thoughts what they had accomplished,... They had a Spitfire restored, they had worked out a flight plan to circle the world, everything had to be as safe as possible, and the pilots had to be fit as a fiddle to undertake it all. And now, with the white cliffs of Dover in view, two small red jets were approaching,...

After the sponsors had left, the Spitfire could be photographed from every angle

During the trip around the world, G-IRTY was often welcomed by other aircraft. For instance, when the Silver Spitfire departed Goodwood Aerodrome for The Longest Flight three two-seat Spitfires flew a while along with her. Still over England an Eurofighter Typhoon appeared alongside the Spitfire. In the United States she was in Texas once in a company of two P-51 Mustangs and later even a P-47 Thunderbolt said hello. The Royal Jordanian Airforce demonstration team 'Red Devils' in their Falcons also flew alongside G-IRTY. In Italy the team were greeted by the AMX A-11 Ghibli ground-attack fighter,... but the two Hawks from the RAF Red Arrows that came along when the Silver Spitfire entered the British airspace, must have been an emotional moment for the whole team.

Two Hawks of the Red Arrows accompany the Silver one,...
(Photo: Facebook - STAMP Productions - Silver Spitfire - The Longest Flight)

When Matt Jones reached the Goodwood Aerodrome he made a couple of flypasts and did a victory roll. And finally, after four months of intense flying across four continents, landing in twenty two foreign countries, in 74 legs, 27,000 nautical miles, The Longest Flight came to a successful end when Matt Jones in the Silver Spitfire Mk IX, MJ271 G-IRTY shut off the Merlin. First to greet Matt was his wife with the seven weeks old Arthur. Near the hangar at Goodwood a large gathering of family and friends, among them former Formula One driver David Coulthard, watched the scene with great emotion, there was not a dry eye in the crowd. And at last, Steve Brooks and Matt Jones fell in each others arms for a big hug,... A JOB WELL DONE!

Matt Jones makes a 'victory-roll' before he
sets G-IRTY down at Goodwood Aerodrome

Steve Brook and Matt Jones were of course not the only two who made this all happen. The project manager Lachlan Monro was responsible of managing the operational and commercial aspects of the whole expedition. Gerallt 'Gerry' Jones, Chief Engineer of Boultbee Flight Academy provided the technical support. The flight is documented by film producer, director and cinematographer Benjamin Uttley. In due time there can be a great film expected? Beside the moviemaking, there was also the world leading air photographer John Dibbs in the team. The operational team was flown in a Pilatus PC-12, piloted by Ian Smith, also a Spitfire and Hurricane pilot. The Boultbee Spitfire Mk IX, RR232 'City of Exeter' was temporarily painted silver and was a back-up, but was not used.

Matt Jones and Steve Brooks,... A JOB WELL DONE!
(Photo: Facebook - STAMP Productions - Silver Spitfire - The Longest Flight)

Because of my fascination with the Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire, I had to write this page on MJ271, the Silver Spitfire and her long flight across the world. Not only because it was a Spitfire, but it was a former Dutch Spitfire, that had a 50 year legacy with my country. First as a Spitfire, one of 58, that built a new Dutch air force after the Second World War, and later as a preserved example that even was displayed on a rooftop! But she was lowered from that rooftop and saved and lovingly restored to be preserved for a static future in a museum. She was sold in 2006 with an unknown future,... but thanks to Boultbee Flight Academy she was restored to flying conditions once more! I had seen MJ271 many times as a static display at the Aviodome, Amsterdam and at the Aviodrome at Lelystad,... her former nest where she returned in December 2019 as a wonderful silver winged bird flying on Merlin power,...

Pieter Jutte (Januari 2020)

At the Aviodrome Museum, Lelystad, the Silver Spitfire stood in front of the
reconstructed station building from the 'Old Schiphol' airport Amsterdam

While both pilots can look back at a fantastic adventure,
the Silver Spitfire looks ahead into a bright future

For a short film when MJ271 visited Lelystad Airport:

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