Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VIIIc
Operator: Maxi Gainza - Aircraft Restorations Co Ltd
Year of Manufacture: 1944
Powered by: Rolls Royce Merlin 61
Spitfire VIII ‘MT928’ (G-BKMI) is a rare surviving mark of Spitfire, with just two single seat MkVIIIs remaining in airworthy condition anywhere in the world. This was an important variant of the Spitfire as it was one of the first to be fitted with the two-speed supercharged Merlin 61 which significantly improved high altitude performance. Being a larger engine, the fuselage required strengthening and the fuel capacity was increased. There were also additional visual changes to the VIII which were incorporated on many later Spitfire marks such as a retractable tailwheel and a larger broad chord rudder. Some 1657 MkVIIIs were eventually produced, however the speed of development of the type meant the improved MkIX soon came along and ended up being produced in far greater numbers. The first squadrons were equipped with the MkVIII in June 1943 once the decision was made to employ the MkVIII in the Far East and Mediterranean theatres.
This Spitfire, built as MV154, rolled off the Southampton production line in 1944 and was delivered to 6 Maintenance Unit for acceptance and completion. The pilot for that delivery flight was Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) member Mary Wilkins. In September 1944 MV154 was shipped to Australia, arriving 2 months later. Many MkVIIIs served with the Royal Australian Air Force and this was due to be one of them. The aircraft never left its shipping crate with the end of hostilities, and the airframe ended up being stored until 1949 when it was moved to the Sydney Technical College for instructional purposes. 13 years later the fighter passed into the hands of Anthony ‘Titus’ Oates who planned to restore the Spitfire to flight. Sadly, this fell through and MV154 moved to Sid Marshall’s museum in Bankstown, New South Wales for many years. In 1979, the airframe was acquired by British warbird pilot and racing driver Robs Lamplough and returned to the UK. A full rebuild to airworthiness followed and on 28th May 1994 the MkVIII took to the skies again from Filton Airfield, by now painted in the markings of MT928 with its distinctive red code letters.
G-BKMI appeared at numerous air shows over the following years, also seeing activity on the big screen with temporary colours applied for appearances in the productions Pearl Harbor and Dark Blue World. The aircraft was also reunited with Mary Wilkins, now Ellis (who had delivered what was MV154 all those years earlier) on several occasions. This was made even more special by the fact Mary’s original signature from wartime remained in the cockpit – the only signature she had applied to an aircraft in her entire flying career. For this to be on a remaining airworthy Spitfire and still visible was fantastic and testament to the aircraft being delivered virtually straight into storage. Mary was invited to re-sign the Spitfire upon its return to flight. This relationship between MT928 and Mary Ellis continued for many years – in 2010 the aircraft was purchased by Maxi Gainza. Maxi based and flew the aircraft in Germany however he still dropped into Mary’s local airfield on the Isle of Wight whenever an opportunity presented itself so she could be reunited with her steed of all those years earlier. Sadly, Mary passed away in 2018 and so the Spitfire now flies as a tribute to her and all those who flew for the ATA – they were flying in any weather in often unfamiliar types with no armament – a necessary part of the war effort whose story needs preserving. In recent years, this MkVIII was one of the main examples featured in the Spitfire feature documentary which drew much acclaim. Maxi Gainza was invited to Duxford air shows with the airframe on several occasions and gladly presented the aircraft to British audiences. In 2019, Maxi opted to keep the Spitfire in the UK, where it was returned to the UK civil register and maintained by the Aircraft Restoration Company who operate it today on his behalf.