Spitfire MK297
9th August 1983

New tyres for Confederate Air Force Spitfire MK297. (Aircraft Preservation)

By David King.

Spitfire IX MK297 in the skies over Harlingen, Texas.

Back in the early 1980’s I was researching a number U.S.A.A.F. aircraft losses that I had investigated and recovered, in the hope of locating details and photos for possible use in forth coming displays at the Booker Aircraft Museum, then under construction. Of course back then results were determined on how many letters you posted! Of great interest to us all at this time was the growth of The Confederate Air Force in Texas, both TV and the aviation press were full of details of this ever growing collection of war birds, supported by thousands of veterans.

As I slipped my letter addressed to the C.A.F. into the post box along with of number of others, little did I know that with the help of the C.A.F. many useful links and friendships would be established, from within the ranks of their many helpful veterans and fellow
researchers, as well as important links to other bodies like The 8
th Air Force Historical Society. Working with them in sharing material and helping each other in many projects of aircraft preservation, and in remembrance of fallen comrades, has been a most moving and rewarding 37 years.

Tyres for MK297.

In March 1983 I was asked by the C.A.F. if I knew of anywhere in England where they could purchase Tyres for their Spitfire MK297. This aircraft was of course well known to all interested in aviation at this time, a WWII veteran and star in films such as “The Longest Day” “The Battle of Britain” and many others, and a number of CAF “Colonels” had also been contracted as pilots for the “Battle of Britain” films Spitfires and Messerschmitt’s

C.A.F. Pilot Connie Edwards with one of the Spitfires during the making of Battle of Britain.

Three Spitfire IXs from the movie “The Longest Day”. These Spitfires had been operating as civil-registered target tugs in Belgium until the early 1960s. MK297 is furthest from camera coded GW-O, G-ASSD, which was OO-ARB as a Belgian target tug.

MK297 during the filming of “The Longest Day”.

Of course I wanted to help get this aircraft back in the air if I could, for many years I had been connected with Booker Airfield and had come to know many people connected with the airfield including Tony Bianchi and his company Personal Plane Services, I spoke to Tony and he advised me that these were hard to get hold of and the company that supplied them only produced a small batch at a time depending on supply and demand, but that he would find out for me. A few days later he informed that I was in luck and that a new batch would be produced in the next few weeks, and also informed me of the price. I contacted C.A.F. that day and they agreed the price of tyres and subsequent air freight cost, and agreed to forward a cheque for the purchase and delivery.

Confederate Air Force personalised cheque for the purchase of Spitfire tyres.

The cheque arrived at the end of April, some seven weeks later on the 17
th June 1983 P.P.S. phoned me to say Tyres were now available and once payment was made the would be delivered in the next couple of weeks, so I purchased them that day. Just over two weeks later they arrived and I took them to Marlow to be shipped by Marlow Airfreight from London Gatwick, to Corpus Christi via Dallas, then on to their final destination, the Confederate Air Force Headquarters, Harlingen, Texas.

This year of 1983 was The Confederate Air Forces silver jubilee 25
th anniversary year of its foundation and they were well pleased sending me my C.A.F. Colonel’s Wings which I am proud to have.

MK297 in all her glory at the Confederate Air Force, Harlingen, Texas.

Sadly on February 15th, 1993 while on loan to the Canadian Warplane Heritage MK297 was lost when a large part of Hangar 3 was destroyed in a devastating fire. Included in the destruction of the hangar were five museum aircraft, the administrative offices, engineering records and all ground and maintenance equipment. The aircraft lost were the Hawker Hurricane, Grumman Avenger, Auster, Stinson 105 and Supermarine Spitfire MK297. The fire spread quickly, reaching temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees, through the north side of the building requiring the assistance of four fire departments and fifty-five fire fighters. Volunteers who arrived to lend assistance could only watch helplessly as the fire was fought only a few feet away from the Avro Lancaster. At the time, the Lancaster was sitting on aircraft jacks. With fear that the roof might collapse, it was hours before the decision was made to allow the wheels to be installed and the aircraft removed. Also saved that day were two restoration projects, the Fleet Finch and Bristol Bolingbroke.
Spitfire IX MK297 Full History:

Spitfire MK297 was built at Castle Bromwich in late 1943 and delivered to No.6 MU at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on 30Th January 1944.

February 1944 saw the aircraft with No.411 RCAF only to be passed, later that month, to No.66 (East India) squadron, the unit being based at Hornchurch and Llanbedr in North Wales at the time.

In August 1944, MK297 is recorded as being damaged Cat.Ac and on charge of 420 R & S U of No.84 Group, but it was back with 66 squadron by early September, passing to No.84 GSU on 21st of that month.

MK297 was issued to No.132 (City of Bombay) squadron in October 1944, the unit being at Hawkinge in Kent and it stayed with this unit until a major inspection was due and it was dispatched to AST Ltd at Hamble.

April 1945 saw MK297 with No.33 MU at Lyneham, where it was stored until sold to the Dutch government in July 1946.

It was then dispatched to No.47 MU Sealand, via No.76 MU RAF Wroughton, for packing and in May 1947 was shipped on the SS Rotti from Tilbury Docks. The Dutch had purchased a number of Spitfires for use in anti-terrorist action in the East Indies and MK297 served with No.322 squadron, initially as H-116 and later as H-55.

In 1950 MK297 was shipped to Holland and stored at Rotterdam Docks for some time, and by 1951 it had been sold to the Belgian Air Force. The Belgians contracted Fokker NV of Schiphol to overhaul the aircraft and MK297 was test flown with the serial B-15. 1952 saw the aircraft with the Belgian Air Force as SM-43, and it served that air arm for just three years before being sold in May 1956 to COGEA and registered OO-ARB.

COGEA had a target towing contract with the Belgian and other NATO Forces and OO-ARB was soon fitted with the necessary towing gear at the company base of Middlekerke Airport, Ostend.

In 1961 the aircraft was used in the film The Longest Day, which was filmed on location in France, and for this it was coded “GW-O” in 340 (Ile de France) squadron colours.

In January 1962 this Spitfire was back at Ostend with COGEA. Having been replaced by a Meteor in its target towing role, the Spitfires were up for sale and in March 1964 OO-ARB was sold to Film Aviation Services Ltd, and after overhaul at Ostend was delivered in May 1964 to Biggin Hill, being registered G-ASSD. The aircraft was soon flown to RAF Swanton Morley, where it was stored, soon, however, to be advertised in Flight International for £4000.

In April 1965 MK297 was registered to R A Wale, but the following month had been bought by the Confederate Air Force of Mercedes, Texas. The aircraft stayed in the UK, being restored on the register to Film Aviation Services in May 1966 for use in the films Von Ryan’s Express and The Night of the Generals.

Later that summer G-ASSD ventured to France for the film The Trip Across, returning to Swanton Morley for storage in the autumn, and in 1967 the Battle of Britain film was in the planning stages and the CAF concluded a contract with Spitfire Productions Ltd for the use of MK297 in that film.

A number of CAF “Colonels” had also been contracted as pilots for the films Spitfires and Messerschmitts, and the aircraft was soon delivered from Norfolk to Henlow for overhaul and repainting.

This clipped-wing aircraft had wing tips from RAF Gate Guardian TE476 fitted at Henlow and during November 1967 was given a C of A overhaul by Simpsons Aeroservices Ltd. Test flown at Henlow by T A Davies it was repainted and soon delivered to the film unit at RAF Debden in April 1968, where, in April and May 1968, the aircraft was used for pilot training and then location work with serial N3317/AI-H. On 17th May 1968, MK297, landing at North Weald, hit a fence causing damage to propeller, flaps, elevator, fuselage and rudder. Repairs were carried out at North Weald, with propeller from Spitfire Tr.9 G-AWGB (TE308) and starboard flap from Mk.XVI TE356 being fitted.

The aircraft flew with the film unit on location at Debden, Duxford, North Weald, Panshangar, Hawkinge and Montpelier in the South of France during 1968. It was to carry many film markings, which included N3310/AI-A, N3313/EI-A, N3311/AI-B, N3310/CD-A, N3314/CD-E and DO-N.

The filming over MK297 could at last start the trek to its owner’s base in the USA Simpsons Aeroservices Ltd dismantled the aircraft at Bovingdon and it was shipped to Houston in November 1968.

By December 1968 MK297 was at Harlingen and it was soon registered N1882, which was changed to NX9BL and more recently N11RS. MK297 was flown for a number of years with the Douglas Bader code D-B.

MK297 was loaned to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Ontario , being destroyed in the hangar fire 15
th February 1993:
Destroyed by fire in hangar at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Ontario. February 1993.

(Remains may have been purchased by Airframe Assemblies Isle of White)

Source(s): David King, Aircrew Remembrance Society (Booker Aircraft Museum)

Chapman, John & Goodall, Geoff, Edited by Paul Coggan - Warbirds Directory,Warbirds Worldwide Ltd., Mansfield, England, 1989.

Goodall, Geoff - Warbirds Directory-4th Edition, 2003.

Photo Source(s): Steve Tournay. David King. Unknown.