#1169. The Spitfires gather

By Paul Perton | Travel Photography

Feb 07

For the first time in preservation history, the Imperial War Museum at Duxford is hosting twelve Spitfires in an open hangar setting. The twelve are by no means the only Spitfires left in existence, but these represent all of the significant marques, developed during World War 2.

They are all highlights in their own right, but one stands out; PL983 a blue, photo reconnaissance mark XI Spitfire that flew across occupied Europe during the War, taking photographs of enemy positions, factories and reporting back on bomb damage. Stripped of its guns to reduce weight and increase speed, PL983 was an information gathering camera platform.

Today, its sleek fuselage, wings and tailplane are adorned with thousands of hand written names in white ink; donors to the NHS’ “Just Giving” campaign. By the end of September, it is estimated that some 80,000 names will fill every available space on the Spitfire.

Other Spitfires on display are in desert camouflage, have twin seats as a training aircraft and one late model is fitted with a Rolls Royce Griffon engine, a massive power plant that produces fifty percent more power than the original Merlin and made that Spitfire marque one of the fastest aircraft of it kind, ever.

Additional information is available here.


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  • Philberphoto says:

    Wonderful, Paul, truly wonderful. You capture the mood, the smell, the roar of these great and elegant birds. I particularly love how your pics depict how small the pilot was, sitting on top of these mountains of force, to destroy of be destroyed. Kudos!

    • Paul Perton says:

      Thanks Philippe – there’s a second post waiting to be issued – you’ll find some of the US fighters there. They were demonstrably bigger.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I was born in the middle of World War 2. All of my earliest memories date from the last two years of that war. I cannot look at any thing like this, that brings the reality of that war back into focus as your images do Paul, without tears forming and blurring my vision.

    The photos are magnificent – thanks for sharing them – these machines and the brave young men who flew them saved so many lives. And changed the course of history.

    Now I’m afraid I must excuse myself, before I drop this tablet on the floor

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Absolutely fabulous, so envious of the quality museums and history you have over there in old Blighty,
    particularly enjoyed the finer detail in your images

  • Pascal O. says:

    Dear Paul, I am overawed.
    Your series of pictures concentrates on the smaller details for most of them, yet lets one understand how mighty these beasts are. All this in immaculate style. Congratulations, I am very impressed. Much to be learned from this both on form and substance.

  • peter Krusell says:

    Thank you so much. You have captured the seriousness, and the frailty of the situation. My Dad would tell me “You had to go out, but you did not have to come back”. Thank you.

  • Frank Field says:

    Wonderful images, Paul. You have really shown us just how advanced the Spitfire truly was. Most stories attribute its capabilities to the Merlin engine; you show us just how wonderfully aerodynamic the aircraft is. We have to remember that the air frame was developed in the 1930s and design was strictly with slide rules and mechanical computing machines (fancy adding machines). Every detail you show is wonderfully sculpted to direct the flow of air with as little resistance as possible! Had it not been for this aircraft and the skill and courage of the men and women of the R.A.F., the Battle of Britain likely would have gone the other way and the outcome of the war so very different. Thanks for sharing these images.

    • Paul Perton says:

      Thanks Frank. When I trained as an Illuminating Engineer in early 1970, we used slide rules and mechanical tools to plan major installations. My first major project was to witness the planning and re-lighting of the Arsenal’s ground. It took almost three months. By the early ’80s, mainframe time had reduced that to around 45 minutes. Today, I’d guess you could achieve better results on a PC is just moments.

      There’s no doubt in my mind that the Brits remain some of the smartest people on the planet – and hopefully, freed of the EU, might one day regain the leadership position the nation deserves.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        LMAO – in the early ’80s I was one of the senior partners in a major law firm. I realised it was wasting my time, sending draft documents to the typing pool for correction so I asked the managing partner if I could have a computer terminal on my desk.
        His reply stunned me!
        “We can’t possibly let you do that! All of our clients would think you are a homosexual !!”
        How times changed! By the end of that decade, everyone had them and I had one of the first 5 portable computers in this state by 1987 – used to take it with when I went to London on business!

    • Pascal O. says:

      Frank, I cannot recommend the book The splendid and the vile by Erik Larson about Churchill’s first year at number 10 in 1940 highly enough. Most interesting on how the Brits created manufacturing capacity in little time for these planes and then fought with them with no holds barred. Amazing reading.

      • Frank Field says:

        I spoke of the aircrews of the R.A.F. and the designers. Much credit should also go to the skilled workers who fabricated these airplanes. There were no computer-driven milling machines to sculpt those wonderfully smooth aerodynamic surfaces – these were truly skilled crafts people with anvils and an array of hammers who did this work.

  • Dallas Thom says:

    Paul great images it take me back to a visit a few years ago to The Temora Aviation Museum (Australia) and being about 30 metres away when the Merlin exploded into life. To see it fly and listen was something that is unforgotable , Thanks for taking the time to share these great images.

  • Ron Teffs says:

    I’m pleased the comments all reflect what a superb job you did. I was fortunate enough to have friends in the Warbird community and was able to fly several and take 1000s of pix over a ten year period. Runaway access at “Gathering of the Warbirds” in Madera, CA and hanger access during many of the restorations. Your posting brought back many good memories. Thanx for that and again an excellent job of photography.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Wonderful job of abstracting the iconic WWII Spitfires, Paul! You’ve captured all the salient details in a creative and most interesting way. Looking forward to your next post.

  • Sean says:

    Hi Paul,
    Your whole article – words and images – conveys your respect for this most important subject and it’s place in history.

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