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 ARF 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 In January 1962, having been replaced by a Meteor in its target towing role, the Spitfires were up for sale and in March 1964 OO-ARB was sold to Film Aviation Services Ltd, and after overhaul at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 films.
Later that summer G-ASSD ventured to France for film work, 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 seriously damaged in crash at Palacois Texas 15 May, 1981, but after extensive repairs it continued to be flown at displays across the USA and Canada, until the end of the first day of the Hamilton International Air Show in Canada in 1990.[N 2]
Whilst taxying in (after its display?) the Aircraft's propeller was hit. This obviously did not just cause damage to the propeller because the Aircraft remained at Hamilton and did not fly again. Whilst decisions, or at least plans for a restoration were being considered, the Aircraft was fitted with the propeller from a Seafire MK XV, which although fine for Static Display, could not be used on an Airworthy Aircraft.
The Aircraft remained a static exhibit for over two years, but an Agreement was reached between the Confederate Air Force and Canadian Warplane Heritage (CWH) that the Spitfire would be refurbished and painted in its actual wartime RAF livery, and operate from CWH on behalf of the CAF, flying jointly with the CWH Lancaster and Hurricane as the Canadian Memorial Flight.
The Engine was removed and sent away for overhaul and the Airframe stripped down to bare metal and the future of MK927 as a joint CAF/CWH project looked assured, but on the early morning of the 15th February 1993 fire broke out in Canadian Warplane Heritage's Hangar 3 and spread quickly through the north side of the building, reaching temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees, requiring atttendance from four fire departments and fifty-five fire-fighters. Despite the best efforts off all involved, MK297, along with a Hawker Hurricane, Grumman TBM Avenger, an Auster and a Stinson were destroyed.
- ↑ There are rumours that the remains have been purchased, and may eventually lead to a restoration.
- ↑ It was during this period that the aircraft briefly had it's cannon restored, to match Ray Hanna's Spitfire, for it's brief appearance in Piece of Cake, when it was shown 'attacking' the CAF Heinkel bomber.