IWM Duxford exhibition to display largest collection of Spitfires under one roof

A photo-reconnaissance blue Supermarine Spitfire PL983 ‘L’ on the airfield at IWM Duxford. 

A photo-reconnaissance blue Supermarine Spitfire PL983 ‘L’, which toured the country last year in tribute to the NHS, here pictured on the airfield at IWM Duxford. - Credit: IWM

A new exhibition celebrating the iconic Supermarine Spitfire opens at IWM Duxford later this month.

Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon will feature the largest collection of Spitfires under one roof.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk I at IWM Duxford. This Spitfire crash-landed on a beach near Calais in 1940.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk I 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

From December 27 until February 20, visitors to the museum will be able get up close to 12 Spitfires of varying marks, side by side on display for a limited time only.

Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon will celebrate how this aircraft captured the hearts of the home front and became synonymous with the hope and protection of the British Isles during World War Two.

Often referred to as "the home of the Spitfire", IWM Duxford’s historic airfield was the base from which the first RAF squadron received the aircraft in 1938.

Flight Sergeant George 'Grumpy' Unwin of No.19 Squadron climbs out of his Spitfire at Fowlmere after a sortie in1940.

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 the Cambridgeshire museum still boasts the largest range of different Spitfire marks anywhere in the world and Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon will present the largest exhibition of these historic aircraft.

IWM curator Adrian Kerrison said: “The Spitfire became synonymous with hope and protection as the threat of German invasion loomed heavy over Britain.

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"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, and the love for them has not subsided since they were first produced.

"It’s a great honour for us at IWM Duxford to know that we were not only the location from which the first operational Spitfire squadron flew, but that now we can bring together so many of them in one place for the first time and enable visitors to get up close and learn more about this icon of victory.”

Spitfire Mk VIII MT928, manufactured in 1944 and sent to Australia, where it was kept in storage for nearly 50 years.

Spitfire Mk VIII MT928, manufactured in 1944 and sent to Australia, where it was kept in storage for nearly 50 years. - Credit: IWM

Bringing together a dozen Spitfires in IWM Duxford's AirSpace hall, the exhibition – free with entry to the museum – will demonstrate how the iconic warbird evolved throughout the Second World War.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of tours, talks, events and family activities which will delve deeper into the Spitfire’s history.

Characterised by its graceful curves, elliptical wings and powerful Rolls-Royce engine, the Spitfire has remained a British icon since its heroic efforts in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

A formation of 11 Spitfires and four Hurricanes flies at Duxford’s most recent air show.

IWM A formation of 11 Spitfires and four Hurricanes flies at Duxford’s most recent Air Show. - Credit: IWM

A familiar site across the skies over Duxford, Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon will show how this aircraft underwent continual refinement in order to keep pace with German aircraft development.

Alongside IWM’s own iconic Mk Ia Spitfire – one of the few remaining airworthy Spitfires to have seen conflict in the Second World War – there will also be Mk V, Mk IX and Mk XIV among the most noteworthy.

Visitors will also find information about each aircraft and how the Spitfire cemented its place in history as one of the greatest fighter aircraft of all time.

An engineer from The Fighter Collection works on the engine of a Spitfire, preparing for it to go on display.

An engineer from The Fighter Collection works on the engine of a Spitfire, preparing for it to go on display. - Credit: IWM

This exhibition has been made possible thanks to a number of private owners who have loaned their Spitfire to IWM for the duration of the exhibit.

Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon will be open to general admission visitors to IWM Duxford from December 27,  2021 with associated events and activities taking place for the duration of the exhibition, enabling visitors to learn more about this legend of the skies.

New for winter 2021, Spitfire Engineers will give families the chance to complete activities and learn about the design of the Spitfire, its engineering principles, and the forces of flight.

Mark V Spitfire, under conservation, with the cowling removed. EP120 was active with the RAF from 1942.

Mark V Spitfire, under conservation, with the cowling removed. EP120 was active with the RAF from 1942. - Credit: IWM

Twice a week for the duration of the exhibition, expert guides will be running an Evolution of an Icon: The Spitfire Exhibition Tour.

Priced at £10, this 60-minute in-depth tour will offer the chance to discover more about the development of the Spitfire and look at examples highlighting the evolution of this historic machine while getting up close to displayed aircraft.

On Wednesday, December 29, there will also be the chance to delve into the Spitfire’s history from the comfort of your own home with the one-off Introduction to an Icon, which will use IWM’s extensive photo archive to introduce the history and development of the Spitfire and look at the tied history between Duxford and this famous aircraft.

Inside the cockpit: a view of what would face the pilot of a Spitfire inside the aircraft.

Inside the cockpit of a Spitfire. This is the view of what would face the pilot of a Spitfire inside the aircraft. - Credit: IWM

There's also In-the Cockpit Experiences where you can join an expert guide and sit inside the cockpit of the airworthy Mk 1 Spitfire N3200, which flew with 19 Squadron from Duxford.

Guests will first explore the history and restoration of the aircraft, followed by 15 minutes inside the cockpit, complete with photo opportunities, learning the controls and immersing yourself in the conditions experienced by those who flew them.

The Fighter Collection staff move a Spitfire into position for static display at IWM Duxford.

The Fighter Collection staff move a Spitfire into position for static display at IWM Duxford. - Credit: IWM

An all-day Airfix event on January 9 will explore the design process behind Airfix’s iconic modelling kits.

Night photography event Duxford in a Different Light returns in February 2022.

All 12 Spitfires gathered for the exhibition will be lit by white and coloured lights throughout the evening.

Three Supermarine Spitfires in front of a hangar at IWM Duxford.

Three Supermarine Spitfires in front of a hangar at IWM Duxford. - Credit: IWM

Two Spitfires display in formation, ascending vertically, in the skies above Duxford.

Two Spitfires display in formation, ascending vertically, in the skies above IWM Duxford. - Credit: IWM