Archive for November, 2010

Czech Mate

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Many of you recently have visited the restoration hangar and enjoyed the company of engineers from Historic Flying Ltd., Duxford. These lads have assembled a special Spitfire, SL 633. The process began in October but was suspended after test flight two. The prop blades had more “play” than expected despite a snug master nut and no serious vibration in flight. The chaps concluded all was not well with the gear reduction box. Indeed, when it was removed (after the hub and prop) for inspection, master bearings needed to be replaced. An expensive correction to be sure as not only parts but personnel had to be returned from England for the final work and completion of the test flight profile. This was followed by first flights by yours truly, bringing to conclusion a three year partnership with Historic Flying Ltd. to return to the skies this magnificent, historic aircraft. Let me share some of its history.

Among the most famous squadrons of the Royal Air Force during World War II, the 312th Squadron consisted of Czech pilots who fled their homeland during the Blitzkreig. Karel Posta helped establish the squadron and rose to leadership. Flight Lt. Posta survived the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain and an operational career with the 312th for the entire war. This Spitfire, produced at the Castle Bromwich factory of Vickers Supermarine, flew in the 312th until the end of the war when it was conveyed with a total of 54 machines to the newly re-formed Czech Air Force and assigned to Karel Posta. Through the balance of 1945 and 46, Posta performed solo aerobatic demonstrations in this aircraft for hundreds of thousands of people at significant national holidays, such as National Day (October 28, 1945); this, in an effort to raise the self-esteem of a vanquished nation. Indeed, one might say this is the first “air show” Spitfire. The “K” on the nose is the unique identifier of an aircraft flown by Karel Posta.

With a coup in February, 1948, came Russian domination of the Czech political system. Britain discontinued the flow of necessary parts and supplies. In that transitional summer, Czechoslovakia recognized a young Jewish state and provided Spitfire fighter planes. In September the Avia Kunovice Aviation Repair Shop of Moravia undertook overhaul including, in an irony of history, modification to receive ME 109 extended range fuel tanks. Once placed in service, our Spitfire continued its combat record with over six years of operational flying in the only war to pit Spitfire against Spitfire. With the conversion in 1954 of the Israeli Air Force to turbine power, our Spitfire was sold to Burma where it served in its fourth air force. The combat records from Burma were sparse at best. When “discovered” in a Mandalay museum, our poor Spit had sustained a “wheels up” accident and featured a T-6 tail and cellophane windscreen. After a series of private transactions, the essential components returned to Duxford as an inventory project of Historic Flying, Ltd.

In 2007 Historic Flying undertook restoration of SL 633, returning it to its 1945 specification as the Czech Spitfire flown by Karel Posta to raise the spirits of the Czech people. Come see the most recent addition to the collection.