The Making of the film:
Spitfire Mk.LFIX (T9) MJ772
Type: VS509 (T9)
Engine: Merlin 76
Serial No. /Reg. MJ772 (G-AVAV), (D-FKMN)
Sqdn - code: 341-GW-A, 340-NL-R, IAC-159
Role in film: Flew, Currently: Restoration to flight
Spitfire MJ772 was built at Castle Bromwich under Contract No. B981687/39, this aircraft being delivered to RAF Lyneham on 20th December 1943. On 20th January 1944 MJ772 had been delivered to a French unit, No.341 (Alsace) squadron based at Perranporth in Cornwall, where it carried out 50 operational sorties before being damaged Cat.Ac FB while on a sortie flown by Sgt Dabos. MJ772 was repaired and then delivered to No.340 (Ile de France) squadron on 22nd June 1944. On arrival at Funtingdon in Hampshire and was coded “GW-A” and flew on a number of sorties over the Normandy beachhead area.
By 19th August 1944 it was with No.84 GSU at Thruxton. Only to pass a few days later to No.33 MU Lyneham. 27th September 1944 saw allocation to No.83 GSU at Thorney Island, but little use was made of the aircraft, it being damaged on 20th January 1945 Cat.Ac. Repairs were carried out on site by No.49 MU, and by 16th February it was back on No.83 GSU charge. On 19th July 1945 No.49 MU were charged to move the aircraft to Heston Aircraft, where it had a major inspection, awaiting collection in December 1945. A move to No.29 MU High Ercall, Shropshire, followed in January 1946, where it stayed until sold to Vickers Armstrongs Ltd in July 1950. As Vickers had a contract from the Irish Air Corps for two-seat Spitfire trainers, MJ772 was one of those converted. This Spitfire flew with the Vickers test serial G-15-172 and was Serialled 159 on delivery to the IAC at Baldonnel in 1951. 159 served with “A” Flight Fighter Squadron of the IAC for a number of years, until withdrawn from use in January 1960 with 1402 flying hours.
In 1963 the aircraft was offered for sale by tender and was bought by Film Aviation Services Ltd and it arrived at the FAS Biggin Hill base by November of that year.
In March 1964 MJ772 had been sold to COGEA of Ostend, Belgium, as part payment for Mk.IX single-seater OO-ARB/G-ASSD. Film Aviation Services Ltd had bought another Spitfire, MJ627/158, at the Irish sale and it was while at Biggin Hill that the wings of these two aircraft were swapped over.
On 1st April 1964, MJ772 was air freighted from Southend to Ostend by British United Air Ferries and stored.
In 1965 the aircraft was bought by N A W Samuelson and shipped to Elstree for a rebuild by Simpsons Aeroservices Ltd, and in November 1966 the aircraft was registered G-AVAV to Mr Samuelson and was test flown by T A Davies from Elstree in July 1967.
Tony Samuelson leased the aircraft to Spitfire Productions Ltd for use in the film The Battle of Britain and by early 1968 it had been flown from Elstree to Henlow by Flt/ Lt J A Armstrong, where it was repainted in film colours and soon in use at Debden for training the RAF pilots who were to fly the film aircraft throughout 1968. By May the aircraft was on location at North Weald and on the 14th of that month was at Manston to guide in and welcome the gaggle of Messerschmitts that the film company had brought up from Spain.
Location work at Henlow, Duxford and Debden continued, and on 9th July, on a sortie piloted by “Connie” Edwards, the Merlin 76 threw a connecting rod and forced landed at Little Staughton airfield. The aircraft was badly damaged, the engine propeller and cowlings etc. taking much of the landing force. It had been flying with a metal propeller from a Bf109 and on the landing slide much of one blade was grounded off on the Little Staughton runway. This propeller had only been fitted at Duxford three days earlier to replace one damaged in a previous landing accident.
MJ772 was moved back to Duxford by road, it filming duties over, and a replacement Merlin, a Mk.502 was fitted, although this was soon removed and replaced with a Merlin 76. This did not stay long either, for in September the engineless aircraft was delivered to Bovingdon where Simpsons Aeroservices Ltd rebuilt the aircraft, for a second time. By early 1969 MJ772 had been returned to its owner at Elstree.
Tony Samuelson had decided to enter the Daily Mail London to New York Air Race using a number of aircraft, including his Spitfire and Hurricane G-AWLW, and on 5th May the aircraft left Elstree with Tony Samuelson for Shannon. A refuelling stop was needed at Lyneham, but fuel troubles forced a landing at RNAS Brawdy in West Wales. The entrant continued in another aircraft.
MJ772 was soon back at Elstree and later that year was offered for sale, together with other Spitfires and ha Hurricane. Purchased by Sir William Roberts, MJ772 was soon ferried to Shoreham, where the new owner had the aircraft overhauled and repainted in 341 squadron’s markings as “NL-R”. MJ772 was based at Shoreham and later at the Roberts Scottish base at Strathallan. The aircraft was bought in late 1974 by Doug Champlin for addition to his Champlin Fighter Museum in Oklahoma and registered N8R, a number first used by Bill Ross on SL721 in 1967. However the Museum was later transferred to Mesa, and on the ferry flight MJ772 ended with a forced landing, causing damage to the undercarriage, wings and fuselage. It was rebuilt at Mesa and flew again in October 1985 after a long period in the workshops and is now active with the rear cockpit blanked off and with 341 squadron markings as “NL-R”.
The aircraft was registered in Germany as D-FMKN but suffered a wheels up landing in a field near Woodchurch, Kent on the 7th September 2015. The aircraft has been recovered to the Heritage Hangar at Biggin Hill and is being restored to flight as a sister aircraft to MJ627.
Current location – Heritage Hangar, Bigin Hill, Kent - restoration to flight.