Although not Australia’s first Warbird, Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII VH-HET RAAF S/N: A58-758 is surely the most famous – universally known as the “Pay Spitfire”
This Spitfire was the last of a number of Spitfires purchased for the RAAF. It was built in the UK in 1945 and shipped to Australia arriving on 19/06/45 at which time it passed into various storage facilities and never saw operational use. Post War the Spitfire was disposed of and passed to Sydney Tech College in 1949 for use as an instructional airframe. The Rolls Royce Merlin 70 engine was removed from the aircraft and was used to power a CAC Mustang. In 1961 Sid Marshall of Bankstown acquired the aircraft along with another and it was on display and then stored in his museum hanger until his death. In 1982 or 83 the Spitfire was acquired by the legendary Col Pay and began a 3 year rebuild to airworthy status at Col’s Scone base. On 29.12.85 the Spitfire registered as VH-HET flew again with Col Pay, painted as A58-758.
The Spitfire continued for many years delighting crowds throughout Australia in Col’s expert hands and it was certainly not pampered. One particularly memorable event was the 1988 Bicentennial airshow where after a spirited flight Col sadly dipped one wheel in a ditch and broke the very expensive prop but in typical Col fashion it was flying again in a few days with a borrowed prop. Nothing ever stopped Col or the Spit!
In 2000 the Spitfire was acquired by David Lowy and repainted as A58-602 it is flown by Temora Aviation Museum NSW. The aircraft is painted in the green and grey camouflage colors worn by the RAAF aircraft defending Darwin during World War II and in operations in the South West Pacific. The aircraft carries the markings of Wing Commander R.H. (Bobby) Gibbes OAM DSO DFC*. Prior to his death in 2007 Bobby Gibbs was able to see both this color scheme , and his P40 desert scheme on Col Pays new P40 and the two aircraft have flown together on a couple of occasions since.
This Spitfire flies as Australia’s greatest Warbird at numerous airshows and commemorations and represents not only those who flew the aircraft in Australia’s service but also as a testament to Australia’s great Warbird founders like Col Pay.
Over the past 50 or so years Warbirds Online has been privileged to have seen this Spitfire at its many locations and watched its restoration at Scone. We have also been privileged to watch it display at many displays up and down Australia.
Warbirds Online present a selection of images we have collected over the years of what we call “The Last of the Best”.
© John Parker 2015