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Southampton flypast to celebrate 75th anniversary of the Spitfire's first flight
IT was a flight destined to change the fate of the country in its darkest hour.
On March 5, 1936, the peace of the normally tranquil Southampton Municipal Airport was shattered by the noise of a Merlin engine as a new prototype fighter plane took off on its maiden flight.
Within ten years 22,000 Spitfires had been built, including 8,000 in Southampton, and the iconic aircraft had played a pivotal role in defeating the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.
Next month, 75 years to the day after the Spitfire’s first flight, one of these distinctive planes will once again take to the skies above Southampton.
A commemorative flypast has been organised to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the plane, which was designed by Portswood engineer R J Mitchell, although he never lived to see its finest hour.
Carolyn Grace, the world’s only female Spitfire pilot, will take off from Southampton Airport in a two-seater plane at about 11.30am.
At 11.30am on March 5, she will fly down the River Itchen to Mayflower Park, where she will do a couple of circuits before heading out along Southampton Water towards Weston Shore and Hamble, before returning to Eastleigh.
Renowned Australian architect Nick Hancock, who won a competition to design a landmark lasting tribute to the Spitfire in Southampton, will be a passenger.
A separate re-enactment of the maiden flight, which took place after 3.30pm in the afternoon, will be held later for 150 city dignities and aircraft industry chiefs. That display will be limited around the airport.
The day is being organised by Southampton City Council and The Spitfire Tribute Foundation, which is behind the proposed memorial, in association with Solent Sky Museum and Southampton Airport.
Councillor John Hannides, chairman of the Spitfire Tribute Foundation, said: “It is a true honour to be a part of such an historical occasion.
“R J Mitchell designed the aircraft while working in Southampton and we as a city should be incredibly proud of the role the Spitfire has played in our country’s history.”
Southampton Airport’s managing director Dave Lees said: “Southampton Airport has a long and proud history of being at the forefront of aviation innovation over the last 101 years. The airport is especially proud to be the site of the very first ever flight of such an iconic and important aircraft in British history.
“The famous Grace Spitfire re-enacting the first flight is a fitting tribute to this remarkable aircraft and all who were involved with its design, manufacture and flight.”
A national competition to design a lasting tribute to the Spitfire, organised last year by the Spitfire Tribute Foundation, attracted 315 entries.
A fundraising campaign to help raise the £2m needed to transform Mr Hancock’s design into a national landmark will be launched as part of the anniversary celebrations.
The monument will sit on land beside the Trafalgar dry dock alongside the state-of-the-art £19m Ocean Terminal, two miles from the Supermarine Aviation site where R J Mitchell developed the aircraft. The project received the backing of former PM Gordon Brown, current premier David Cameron and Defence Secretary Liam Fox.
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