Aircraft museum celebrates 85 years since the Spitfire's maiden flight

A photo-reconnaissance blue Spitfire PL983 ‘L’, which toured the country last year in tribute to the NHS.

A photo-reconnaissance blue Spitfire PL983 ‘L’, which toured the country last year in tribute to the NHS. - Credit: Aircraft Restoration Company, George Romain

On March 5, 1936, the Supermarine Spitfire took to the skies for the first time.

IWM Duxford will celebrate 85 years since that maiden flight with a close-up virtual tour.

The World War Two aeroplane's first flight was from Eastleigh airfield in Hampshire.

When it became operational two years later, it was No.19 Squadron at RAF Duxford who were the first to be equipped with the aircraft, flying them to provide cover for the Dunkirk evacuations and in dogfights over London during the Battle of Britain. 

Supermarine Spitfire Mk Ia P9368 'QV-K' of No. 19 Squadron being rearmed between sorties at Fowlmere, September 1940.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk Ia P9368 'QV-K' of No.19 Squadron being rearmed between sorties at Fowlmere, September 1940. - Credit: © IWM CH 1367A

Eighty-five years after it first took to the skies, IWM Duxford, still boasting the largest range of Spitfire types anywhere in the world, invites visitors to find out more about the aircraft's design, development and use through a new virtual tour.  

IWM curator Adrian Kerrison said: "The Spitfire really stole the limelight in aviation during the Second World War and became synonymous with hope and protection as the threat of German invasion loomed heavy over Britain.

"The aircraft captured the hearts of the home front to such an extent that members of the public from across Britain and the Commonwealth would dig deep into their own pockets to fund their production.


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"Of course, it should not be forgotten that for all the power and glamour associated with these aircraft they did also become tombs for many who flew them.

"Brian Lane, who took charge of 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford during the Battle of Britain, was one such pilot who met this unfortunate fate whilst flying a Spitfire over the Dutch coast in 1942.

"His story is told in IWM Duxford’s newly opened Ops Block and Battle of Britain exhibition.”

Nine medals awarded to Wing Commander George Unwin, court-mounted. These are now on display at IWM’s Historic Duxford...

Nine medals awarded to Wing Commander George Unwin, court-mounted. These are now on display at IWM’s Historic Duxford exhibition. - Credit: Imperial War Museum © IWM OMD 6933

Europe’s largest air museum is home to medals, uniforms, log books and personal items from the pilots who flew this iconic British aircraft.

A World War Two airfield, the south Cambridgeshire site also has a number of the aircraft themselves, including the still airworthy Mk.1 Spitfire N3200, recovered from France after it crash landed during the Dunkirk evacuation.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1 at IWM Duxford. This Spitfire crash-landed on a beach near Calais in 1940, where it was...

Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1 at IWM Duxford. This Spitfire crash-landed on a beach near Calais in 1940, where it was submerged beneath the sand and remained lost for nearly 50 years. It was restored to airworthy condition and can be seen at IWM Duxford today. - Credit: IWM

IWM’s archives are rich in oral testimony of those who flew the Spitfire, including that of 19 Squadron's George ‘Grumpy’ Unwin.

He was a Spitfire ace who was one of the first to fly the aircraft when they arrived at RAF Duxford.

The pilot said: "She really was the perfect flying machine. I’ve never flown anything sweeter… And when you see her flying now, you don’t have to see her, you can hear her.”

Flight Sergeant George 'Grumpy' Unwin of No.19 Squadron climbs out of his Spitfire at Fowlmere after a sortie, September...

Flight Sergeant George 'Grumpy' Unwin of No.19 Squadron climbs out of his Spitfire at Fowlmere after a sortie, September 1940. - Credit: © IWM CH 1355

Today, it is not uncommon to still hear the soaring sound of the Spitfire's engines over Duxford’s historic airfield, including that of the Aircraft Restoration Company’s NHS Spitfire.

This flew across the UK last year paying tribute to key workers and raising money for NHS charities during the coronavirus pandemic.

New for 2021, Imperial War Museums is launching the Spitfire: Virtual Tour, which will take place live on Saturday, March 6, led by an IWM expert.

Flight Sergeant George 'Grumpy' Unwin DFM with 'Flash', his pet Alsatian dog, and a puppy at Fowlmere, 1940.

Flight Sergeant George 'Grumpy' Unwin DFM with 'Flash', his pet Alsatian dog, and a puppy at Fowlmere, 1940. - Credit: © IWM HU 58946

From the Spitfire prototype to its integral role in the Battle of Britain, this digital guided tour will use imagery from IWM’s extensive archives to bring the history of this legend of British aviation to life, followed by an informal Q&A session.

Tickets are available to book now via the website at www.iwm.org.uk/events/the-spitfire-a-virtual-tour

Squadron Leader Brian 'Sandy' Lane of 19 Squadron (centre) confers with Flight Lieutenant Walter 'Farmer' Lawson and...

Squadron Leader Brian 'Sandy' Lane of 19 Squadron (centre) confers with Flight Lieutenant Walter 'Farmer' Lawson and Flight Sergeant George 'Grumpy Unwin at Fowlmere near Duxford, September 1940. - Credit: © IWM CH 1366

The IWM shop also offers an array of Spitfire themed items including Spitfire print accessories, such as facemasks, socks, scarves and pocket squares, Spitfire construction models, plus a range of books.

Looking ahead, IWM Duxford is working hard to ensure that it can deliver an exciting array of events once the flying season commences this spring, all of which will be adaptable and scalable in accordance with latest government guidelines.

The season will include 10 themed flying days from April to October, as well as two air shows featuring Duxford's signature aerial displays.

Step-in one-piece flying overalls of black heavy-duty fabric, worn by Gordon Sinclair. Contained in the left breast pocket...

Step-in one-piece flying overalls of black heavy-duty fabric, worn by Gordon Sinclair. Contained in the left breast pocket is the cloth embroidered patch of XIX squadron, once obviously once sewn to that pocket. It is now on display at IWM Duxford’s Operations Block. - Credit: © IWM EQU 4588

Following recent government announcements, all IWM sites are currently closed to the public.

For more on IWM Duxford, visit www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-duxford


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