The latest Spitfire restoration to emerge from the Aircraft Restoration Company’s (ARCo) hangar at IWM Duxford made its first post-restoration flight on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 when Mk.Ia N3200 (G-CFGJ) took to the skies. Elliott Marsh writes for GAR.
Spitfire Mk.Ia N3200 was manufactured for the RAF at Woolston, prior to assembly at Eastleigh in 1939. The aircraft was delivered to the RAF at some point between 8 September 1939 and 20 January 1940, after which it was flown by Sqn Ldr Geoffrey Dalton Stephenson, Commanding Officer of 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford. Stephenson was shot down in combat on 26 May 1940 whilst flying Spitfire N3200, during the Operation DYNAMO Dunkirk evacuation.
The Spitfire crash landed onto the beaches of Sangatte, near Dunkirk, and Stephenson was captured by the Germans – he survived the war after years of imprisonment, including a period spent at Colditz Castle, and post-war, he flew as King George VI’s personal pilot. Sadly, he was killed on 8 November 1954 during a test flight of a US Air Force F-100A-10-NA Super Sabre, at Eglin Air Force base. Stephenson lost control of the aircraft and was unable to recover or eject before the Super Sabre crashed.
Following its recovery in the mid-1980s, N3200 was registered to Mark One Partners LLC and from 2007 a lengthy restoration was carried out by Historic Flying Ltd, amongst other experienced parties including Airframe Assemblies Ltd on the Isle of Wight and Retro Track & Air (UK) Ltd. Having garnered much experience in their precedent setting restoration of Mk.I P9374, ARCo/Historic Fying Ltd have kept a lot more of the work in house with N3200, such as the difficult blowing of the perspex canopy. The aircraft emerged in public for the first time in late March 2014 and first flew on the 26th, with ARCo boss John Romain at the controls.
It is particularly special that Duxford now has a veteran 19 Squadron Spitfire resident once again but this Spitfire is also the fourth airworthy Mk.I variant flying in the world, the others being serial numbers AR213, P9374 and X4650, the latter being based at Biggin Hill airport in Kent under the care and maintenance of Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, whilst the other three are all currently IWM Duxford-based machines.
The Spitfire has since been moved into hangar 3, where it is visible to the public on the ground for the first time post-restoration. Lovely it looks, too – a Duxford veteran Spitfire, parked inside the vintage Belfast Truss hangars. Wonderful!
Whilst the future of the aircraft as a public display aircraft is currently uncertain, we look forward to hopefully seeing this machine in the air over the Spring and Summer months.
With thanks to David Whitworth.