Lot 390
Sold for £1,739,500 (US$ 2,884,512) inc. premium
Lot Details
Registration no. UK Reg No: ‘G-ILDA’
Chassis no. Original Serial No: ‘SM520’


  • Bonhams is delighted to be able to offer here this fully restored two-seater Vickers-Supermarine Mk IX Spitfire aircraft. It is in fact the second of these iconic World War Two Spitfires which we have been privileged to offer for sale by auction within just seven months. Last September Bonhams sold a non-airworthy 1945 `Bubble Canopy’ Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI for the record price of over $3 million NZ (£1.1 million Sterling). That aircraft – given its condition at the time of sale - was considered by collectors to have been less desirable than the example we are now offering here at Hendon.

    This is the first two-seater Mk IX Spitfire to be offered at public auction for over twenty years. Painstakingly restored to airworthiness over a five-year period, Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire TR Mark IX is British civilian-registered ‘G-ILDA’.

    The aircraft is being sold “as is, where is” but with a Permit to Fly issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority that is valid until 1st February 2010. It is being offered as a freshly-completed ‘zero-hours’ ground-up restoration to two-seat TR Mark IX specification; in effect an historic warbird absolutely ready-to-fly and in truly sparkling flight-line condition. Originally it was a single-seat Mark IX but it now offers a new owner the flexibility of the two-seat trainer variant to enable others to experience the thrill of being able to fly in this remarkable aircraft type.

    This Supermarine-designed aircraft was built originally by the British Vickers-Armstrong company at its Castle Bromwich factory as one of 103 Spitfire Mark IXs constructed to Government contract ‘B981687/39’. This batch comprised individual airframe serial numbers ‘SM517’ to ‘548’, ‘SM563’ to ‘597’ and ‘SM610’ to ‘645’. Amongst these aircraft, ‘SM520’ now offered here – constructors’ number ‘CBAF 10164’ - was signed-off as complete, new, on November 23, 1944, and was delivered to the Royal Air Force’s No 33 Maintenance Unit at Lyneham in Wiltshire where it was to be prepared to operational standard for service delivery.

    It was equipped as new with a Rolls-Royce Merlin 70 V12 engine, and was subsequently sold on June 21, 1948, to the South African Air Force. It was one of a batch-purchase of 136 Spitfires for delivery to the Union between 1947 and 1949. Eighty of these aircraft were to F. Mark IXE specification with Merlin 63 power units, and 86 of them HF Mark IXEs with the Merlin 70. Fifty of the aircraft were flown out to South Africa and the balance shipped surface to the ports of either Cape Town or Durban.

    Old ‘SM520’ now offered here as ‘G-ILDA’ was one of the latter group of aircraft. It was shipped on the MS Halesius which sailed from the UK on May 27, 1948. ‘SM520’ was accompanied on board by seven sister Spitfires, serials ‘BS408’ (SAAF ‘5564’), ‘MA477’, ‘PL215’, ‘TE307’, ‘TE329’ and ‘TE333’. The Halesius subsequently docked in Durban, where the aircraft were unloaded to join South African Air Force service.

    At the present state of historical research, ‘SM520’s service record with the SAAF remains relatively obscure. We understand that inconclusive surviving evidence indicates that ‘SM520’ may have become SAAF Spitfire Mk IX serial ‘5563’. That aircraft was equipped with Rolls-Royce Merlin 70 engine serial no ‘184901’. A very much abbreviated service record has been located for ‘5563’, and the aircraft is understood to have sustained Category 1 damage following a propeller strike on September 6, 1951, followed by Cat 2 damage due to collision with a North American Harvard (serial ‘7284’) on October 23 that same year.

    The aircraft is recorded as having been held at Ysterplaat “for disposal” on January 31, 1952. It appears to have remained there for almost
    two years before being formally struck off charge and sold to the South African Metal & Machinery Company for scrap on January 22, 1954. Its substantial remains somehow survived at the company’s Salt River yard until November 16/17, 1979, when its forward fuselage, fire wall and numerous other related components from this and sister Spitfires were recovered by the South African Air Force Museum and returned to AFB Ysterplaat for detailed examination, assessment and potential preservation.

    By 1981 most of these major components had been removed from Ysterplaat to AFS Snake River, and we understand that the remains attributed to ‘SM520’ were then sold to Mr Steve Atkins. They were then acquired by British building magnate, aviation enthusiast and avid collector Charles Church, and returned to the UK, where he initiated the inevitably long process of restoration.
    The partially-restored ‘SM 520’ was then sold in 1989 to Alan Dunkerley, who in 1997 had it British civilian registered ‘ G-BXHZ’ before eventually reselling it to the late Mr Paul Portelli – the founder and creator of London’s well-known World’s End Tiles business - in June 2002.

    Mr Portelli then commissioned Classic Aero Engineering of Thruxton Aerodrome, Hampshire, to restore the machine to as-original TR Mark IX two-seat trainer specification. We understand that all wing ribs were renewed as necessary while new main spars were adopted, together with new inter-spar webs. As the work progressed the British Civil Aviation Authority changed its historic aircraft technical requirements, and all ‘SM520’s new spars were then downgraded. In consequence, a replacement set of spars was obtained and these fresh components were then heat-treated to the latest CAA standards, earning official approval from them for full original limitations including aerobatics, as per the CAA Notec LTO 1362 dated July 29, 1994.

    The undercarriage struts and stub axles were checked and cleared as serviceable by Hawker Restorations of Suffolk. New original-equipment pneumatic brake shoes have been fitted, the wheels themselves being sourced from Melton Aviation and new tyres from Watts Aviation Services. New pintles were installed and hydraulic jacks were overhauled.

    The fuselage, from frame 5 (firewall) to frame 19 (tail unit) has been completely jigged and rebuilt with new frames where necessary, and has been reskinned with the entire structure finally being checked for accuracy against datum lines. The canopies, cockpit frame and bullet-proof windscreen panel are all original, the only non-original part is the cockpit’s rear sliding canopy. Interior fittings include rudder pedals and related equipment, plus original control column; seats etc by Airframe Assemblies of the Isle of Wight with throttle quadrants, controls and layshafts, CO2 and compressed air bottles from Melton Aviation. New fuel tanks, new tank bay struts and new rear spar brackets were sourced and assembled, and all instruments checked and passed serviceable by Pandec of High Wycombe. The aircraft is now complete with as-original undercarriage selector, gunsight, etc.

    Where the tail empennage is concerned, the fin and both tail-planes have been completely rebuilt, including new elevator and rudder transfer levers from Supermarine Aero of Coventry.

    The engine bearer frame has been rebuilt, X-rayed and cleared as Airworthy by Classic Aero Engineering, and it uses new tapered engine bearer bolts by Supermarine Aero of Coventry. The engine glycol tank has been made new by Wessex Metal Works and the installation includes an original re-built oil tank, various original fittings and new coolant pipes. The engine layshaft is by Melton Aviation.
    As the aircraft’s most recent period of active restoration approached completion at Classic Aero Engineering’s Thruxton facility, the supercharged V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin 266 engine was overhauled and returned to airworthy standard by the specialist Retro Track & Air concern at Dursley, Gloucestershire. It has been fitted with a four-blade Hoffman propeller.

    Reginald J. Mitchell and his gifted design team at Supermarine in Southampton, Hampshire, first addressed project specification ‘improved F.7/30’, to become the Spitfire, in 1934 and an advanced copy of the covering specification F.37/34 was received by Supermarine on December 28 that year. As the company name suggests, Supermarine had concentrated for years upon flying boats but from the mid-1920s the team had pioneered advanced technology in a series of racing seaplanes which achieved the outright win of the International Schneider Trophy race in 1931. Lessons learned in mating the lightest, sleekest airframe to the massive horsepower of the latest Rolls-Royce V12 ‘Race rated’ engines passed on tremendous know-how and pedigree to what became the Spitfire.

    Mitchell adopted stressed-skin monocoque construction for rigidity and strength combined with minimal weight, while his famous elliptical planform wing was more significant for its thinness, which at the time of its inception was well in advance of existing practice. When the prototype Spitfire single-seat, eight-gun fighter ‘K5054’ made its first flight at Eastleigh Aerodrome on March 5, 1936, chief test pilot ‘Mutt’ Summers’ main observation was simply “Don’t touch anything”.

    R.J. Mitchell was suffering from cancer at the time of that maiden flight and died on June 11, 1937, before his masterpiece entered RAF service. He was just 42 years old. Over the following decade Spitfire production would approach 23,000. Joe Smith became chief designer in succession to Mitchell, and he presided over the basic concept’s continuous development and improvement. The capability of the basic design, suitably developed, to accommodate ever more powerful engines and carrying ever more armament to greater heights, over increased ranges, amplified the Spitfire’s very special – and still enduring – stature.

    The Martlesham Heath acceptance unit’s report on the first Spitfire handling trials declared that: “The aeroplane is simple and easy to fly with no vices. All controls are entirely satisfactory for this type and no modification to them is required… In general the handling of this aeroplane is such that it can be flown without risk by the average fully trained fighter pilot”.

    While the Spitfire Mark I entered RAF service powered by a 27-litre Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engine of just over 1,000-horsepower, driving a fixed-pitch two-blade propeller, its ultimate variant – the 1946 Seafire Mark 47 – joined the Royal Navy with a 36.7-litre Rolls-Royce Griffon engine of 2,350-horsepower, driving six-blade variable-pitch contra-rotating propellers. And even the Mark 47 saw active service, in Malaya and the Korean War.

    Pilots simply loved the Spitfire. It was a thoroughbred from nose to tail tip. Its harmonious controls, light weight and high power made it an absolute joy to fly. As its wing loadings grew due to additional fuel and ordnance, and increasing engine torque demanded harnessing, some of its original flying refinement was perhaps lost – but this was considered a small price to pay.
    Spitfires served in every major theatre of World War 2. From the limpid skies of Kent and Sussex to the oven-like deserts of North Africa, the steamy jungles of Burma to the icy cold of Archangel, Russia, the Spitfire fought there. It became one of the very few Allied aircraft to have been kept in continuous production throughout the World War, and with the return of peace after 1945 more than twenty nations re-equipped their air arms with surplus Spitfires as the RAF became jet-propelled with its latest Gloster Meteors and De Havilland Vampires.

    It can be argued that ‘The Battle of Britain’ movie made in 1968 proved to be the watershed episode in private Spitfire ownership. It has been said that it did for Spitfires what the early James Bond films did for silver-painted Aston Martin DB4s. An entire industry of specialist restoration services grew up to support the current 40-plus airworthy examples of the 200-odd Spitfires and related projects now extant. ‘G-ILDA’ now offered here is a superb example of that multi-capable specialist industry’s supreme capabilities.

    When what had become the Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire family of single-seat fighter aircraft initially entered RAF service in 1938, the Mark I model was an extremely sophisticated, blindingly fast and supremely powerful weapon of war. Training pilots were expected to make the transition from humble training aircraft to this new thoroughbred, and the gulf between the two proved huge.

    A two-seat training version of the Battle of Britain Spitfire was first considered in 1941, but barely a handful of local service conversions were made before 1946. A post-war batch of 20 Mark IX airframes were then converted into two-seat form as the Type 509 model, for supply most notably to the Indian and Irish air forces, while three TR Mk IXs were also acquired by the Royal Dutch Air Force, in whose livery ‘G-ILDA’ is finished today.

    Most significantly, these TR Mk IX aircraft featured a raised rear cockpit with bubble canopy to improve forward vision. Twin-cockpit Spitfire ‘trainers’ which have emerged in modern times quite commonly have a non-original style rear cockpit confined to the same level as that ahead of it. This is incorrect and the restorers of ‘G-ILDA’ have gone to extreme lengths to complete painstaking research into the original TR Mk IX factory specification and detailed design, which they have now reproduced in exquisitely-crafted detail. In-period the price of the rarefied Spitfire TR Mk IX aircraft (complete and ready to fly) was quoted as £5,200 Sterling!

    The immortal R.J. Mitchell-designed Supermarine Spitfire fighter evolved from the World Air Speed Record-setting, Schneider Trophy race-winning, Supermarine seaplanes of the 1920s and early 1930s. The prototype Spitfire eight-gun fighter emerged in 1936. It proved itself a real pilot’s aeroplane – a delight to fly and famously forgiving, a high-performance thoroughbred fighter almost without equal.

    The 1940 Battle of Britain Spitfire Mark II was powered by a 1,240hp Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, providing a top speed of some 354mph at 17,550 ft plus the ability to climb at a “homesick angel” rate of 3,025ft per minute. The Spitfire has since become woven into the fabric of world history as an icon of the age, an emblem of the defence of democracy itself.
Auction information

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