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X4650 in the painting ‘Stick to me like glue’ by Alex Hamilton WWW.ALEXHAMILTON.NET
The painstaking reconstruction of aircraft X4650 coincides with a public competition to design a permanent memorial to the aircraft’s designers.
It also shines a spotlight on the extraordinary story of young pilot Howard Squire who was flying the plane on a training mission led by RAF legend ‘Al’ Deere when the pair collided over North Yorkshire.
Sgt Squire, now 89, has visited the restoration project and hopes to see the finished aircraft fly over the south coast of England later this year.
Those involved in the project believe X4650 will be the most accurately-rebuilt Mark I Spitfire in the skies and will contain the highest number of original parts.
The wreckage was only discovered in the long, hot summer of 1976 when low river levels exposed the metal embedded in a clay riverbank on farmland near Kirklevington, Cleveland.
It had been there since December 28 1940, after Sgt Squire, then 20, bailed out after colliding with X4276 flown by Al Deere, Flight Commander of 54 Squadron at RAF Catterick.
New Zealand-born Deere, a Battle of Britain legend who went on to become an Air Commodore, was giving his junior a lesson in how to keep doggedly close to an enemy aircraft.
“Stick to me like glue,” he told Sgt Squire – a line that inspired a pilot training scene in the 1969 film, Battle of Britain.
However, the young man stuck too close and his plane – then only a few months old – hit Deere’s tail with his propeller at 12,000ft, forcing them both to ditch.
“I thought I was for the chop,” said Sgt Squire, who now lives near Birmingham. “There aren’t many pilots who knock their Flight Commander out of the sky. He was very good about it.”
Sgt Squire was shot down over France on February 26, 1941, and became a prisoner of war. He said: “The Spitfire was a beautiful aircraft, like a Tiger Moth but with real power. A doddle to fly. We used to throw them about all over the place, as unfortunately I demonstrated.”
The nature of the crash-landing later proved essential to the Spitfire’s revival.
In order to provide himself with the safest escape in his parachute, Sgt Squires had ‘trimmed’ the aircraft for stable flight that led to a slow, almost level descent into the riverbank rather than a high-speed impact that might have destroyed many more of the parts.
The aircraft has cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to restore but is now thought to be worth more than £2m and is expected to enter private ownership.
It is currently registered to Peter Monk, the Spitfire enthusiast overseeing the complex project in which the engine has been refurbished by specialists in Gloucestershire and the airframe restored by craftsmen on the Isle of Wight.
There are about 50 Spitfires flying – a higher number than in the early 1950s. Britain was littered with wrecks in the years after the Second World War until enthusiasts began to recover them for sale or for museums.
The fighter plane was designed in 1936 by R J Mitchell at Southampton’s Supermarine seaplane factory following urgent requests from the Ministry of Aviation because of the looming conflict with Germany.
So many RAF orders were placed that production was spread to additional sites including Castle Bromwich near Birmingham, where X4650 was built.
Air Commodore Deere was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in a ceremony conducted by King George VI on June 28th 1940 at RAF Hornchurch. He retired in 1977, died in 1995 and his ashes were scattered over the Thames estuary from a Spitfire of the Battle of Britain Memorial flight.