Battle of Briatin Film

 
         
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The survivors

Spitfire Mk.HFIXe TE308

Squadron: no crest.

Type: VS361

Engine: Merlin 70

No RAF service

Serial/Reg. TE308, (G-AWGB), (G-ASSD), (C-FRAF), (N92477), (N308WK)

Sqdn - code: IAC163, RJ-M, RA-F, WK-C

Role in film: Flew, Currently: airworthy

History

TE308 was ordered on 19th April 1944, from Vickers Armstrongs Ltd against Contract No. B.981687/39. C.23 (c). Built at the Castle Bromwich factory as an HF.IXe it was fitted with a Merlin 70 as part of the batch TE292-315 emerging in the spring of 1945. It is interesting to note that at that time the works were producing Mk.IXs and Mk.XVIs on the same production line, the difference being determined simply by the installation of either the Rolls-Royce or Packard Merlin engine. As examples of this some of 308s surviving companions show variations of the mark numbers: TE311 (Mk.XVI), TE213 (Mk.IX) and TE214 (Mk.XVI); all were fitted with E-type wing and low back fuselages.

TE308 left Castle Bromwich on 9th June 1945, on delivery to No.39 MU at RAF Colerne, remaining in store there until January 1950, when it was transferred to No.29 MU High Ercall Shropshire. In July 1950 it was sold to Vickers Armstrongs Ltd and selected for conversion to a VS509 two-seat trainer configuration at Eastleigh against an order from the Irish Air Corps. During conversion the E-type wings were replaced with C-type to allow for installation of machine guns in the outer bays. TE308 was air tested at Southampton as G-15-176 prior to delivery via Speke (Liverpool) to the Irish Air Corps at Baldonnel as IAC 163 on 30th July 1951.

In IAC service 163 was used by A flight fighter squadron for training purposes, at times fitted with wing guns and bomb racks, the cannon bays being converted to accommodate additional fuel tanks. It suffered at least one forced landing and was finally retired from service in the autumn of 1961, being relegated to instructional use at Baldonnel and mainly used for ground running practice by trainee fitters.

On 4th March 1968, the IAC put three Spitfire Tr.9S up for sale by tender, these comprising 163, together with 161 and 162. The trio were bought by N A W Samuelson and 163 was registered as G-AWGB on 4th April that year. An overhaul was carried out at Baldonnel by Simpsons Aeroservices Ltd, the engine installed at that time being noted as Merlin 66 No.157821, and the Spitfire left Ireland on delivery to the UK on 8th May 1968. The crew on the delivery flight were Flt Lt J A Armstrong and Cpl P M Sargeant of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the route was Baldonnel-Speke-Elstree. The following day the aircraft was flown to Henlow, having been leased to Spitfire Productions Ltd for use in the film The Battle of Britain.

Further overhaul work was performed at Henlow by Simpsons Aeroservices Ltd and the aircraft was eventually delivered to the film unit on location at RAF Debden on 27th May, the pilot being Sqdn Ldr Spinks. The film unit had suffered an accident to HF.IXc G-ASSD at North Weald and as a result the wooden propeller from WGB was fitted to SSD, while a metal propeller from a Hispano Ha.1112M-1L was installed on WGB at Debden. This propeller was still fitted in 1986, although it was planned to replace it with a Hoffman unit.

WGB was used as a camera aircraft, flow from the rear seat with a camera occupying the front cockpit. In this configuration the aircraft was flown with film markings CD-F, CD-J, DO-L, AI-E, CD-K, EI-J, DO-K, DO-S and DO-H. Due to its second cockpit WGB featured in the far distance in all formation shots, where its presence is not so obvious. All through-the-windscreen shots used in the film were taken with WGB.

With the film schedule well behind due to the atrocious summer weather of 1968, the film unit moved to the South of France, and on 10th August WGB, along with nine other Spitfires and three Ha.1112M-1Ls, left the UK, routing Duxford-Cambridge-LeTouquet-Dinard-Bordeaux-Montpellier. Arriving on 12th August they remained until their return to Duxford on 22nd August.

With the filming over WGB was flown to Bovingdon for storage, being there in November 1968, but was then flown to Elstree via Leavesden, where Simpsons Aeroservices Ltd removed the Merlin 66 in favour of Merlin 76 No.V188797, the aircraft finally being placed in store in the Samuelson Film Services hangar at Elstree.

G-AWGB was advertised for sale by Tony Samuelson, along with Spitfire Tr.9s G-AVAV, IAC 161 and 162 and Hawker Hurricane IIB G-AWLW, the entire collection being purchased by Sir W J D Roberts in April 1970; WGB. VAV and WLW flew to Shoreham Sussex shortly afterwards.

Sir William did not intend keeping all of the collection and WGB was soon sold. On 16th July 1970 to Canadian businessman Don Plumb and shipped out on 11th September arriving in Toronto on 9th October. The aircraft was refurbished at Windsor, Ontario and re-registered CF-RAF to be flown by Plumb and his partner, Jerry Billings. Initially flown in two-seat configuration the aircraft was later modified at Field Aviation by the removal of the rear cockpit instruments, control column and canopy, the resulting hole being reskinned and the aircraft reverting to something like a conventional single-seater. The fact that the forward cockpit was some 13 inches further forward than normal, gave the aircraft a rather unusual appearance from certain angles. The aircraft was coded RA-F and flew as TE308, the registration being amended to C-FRAF, until Plumb was killed in the crash of his P51-D Mustang in 1975.

The Spitfire was sold by Plumbs widow to Thomas Watson Jnr of the Owls Head Transportation Museum, Owls Head, Maine and re-registered N92477. The engine was regularly ground-run, but was flown very little whilst in his ownership.

On 7th October 1979, Woodson K Woods of Scottsdale, Arizona bought TE308, re-registering it once again as N308WK. Woody Woods had the aircraft restored to two-seat configuration and repainted as WK-C and it was exhibited at the Carefree Aviation Museum near Phoenix, Arizona until 1983.

Bill Green wood purchased TE308 in 1983 and based it at Aspen, Colorado some 8000ft above sea level, where Earl Ketchen flew it at several air shows until he was killed whilst performing aerobatics in Don Daviss Mustang. Greenwood still displays the aircraft on the North American display circuit.

Current location Bill Greenwood, Aspen, Colorado airworthy.

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