A PERMANENT tribute to an aviation legend which helped save the country and went on to become probably the world's best known fighter plane is to be unveiled 68 years to the day after it made its maiden flight from Eastleigh.

Next Friday a near-size replica of the prototype Spitfire, de-signed by Reginald Mitchell, will be ceremonially launched by his son, Dr Gordon Mitchell, only a few metres from where the fighter first flew.

The sculpture, created by Southampton artist Alan Mann-ing, is to take pride of place on a roundabout in Wide Lane next to the airport - and to mark the event a flypast by a solitary Spitfire is planned for noon.

It was at Eastleigh Aerodrome, now known as Southampton International Airport, that the Spitfire first took to the skies on March 5, 1936 with test pilot Joseph "Mutt" Summers at the controls.

While invited guests will be at Friday's launch of the memorial, the fact that the site is on a major road junction means it will not be possible to open the event to the public.

Eastleigh Council's public art officer Gerry Wall said: "For safety reasons we cannot encourage the public to come along to this inaugural event, however we hope local people will look out for this important new landmark."

She added; "This has been an exciting and challenging project to manage and the finished work will be a stunning tribute for the borough."

Constructed from steel and aluminium, the sculpture has been modelled from original plans and drawings.

Work started in 2002 and since January this year the fuselage and wings have been at Moody's boatyard in Swanwick where the finishing process and several coats of paint have been applied to achieve the correct shade of blue.

The sculpture will be transported in sections - in much the same way as the first Spitfires were brought to the airport from the Supermarine Factory in Woolston - and installed a few days before the official launch.

The £70,000 project has been funded by Pentagon Mercedes and Premier Lodge Hotels through developers' contributions towards local arts projects. The borough council's Eastleigh Local Area Committee also contributed £40,000.