The Temora Aviation Museum is currently home to the only two Supermarine Spitfires flying in Australia, including Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII Civil Rego VH-HET, RAAF S/n: A58-758 which we covered in our article The Pay Spitfire – The Last of the Best.
The “other” Spitfire is Mk XVI Ex RAF TB863 Civil Reg VH-XVI. This is a unique aircraft in its own right having spent all of its six weeks of operational service life in Europe with No. 453 Squadron (R.A.A.F) with Squadron and aircraft codes ‘FU-P’. The Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI was a 1944 development of the Mk IX optimized for the ground attack role with capacity for 2 X 250lb bombs.
The RAAF in Australia only operated the MkV and MkVIII series of Spitfires however in Europe RAAF Squadrons attached to the RAF and Australian pilots in RAF Squadrons operated many different models.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI TB863 was constructed at Vickers Armstrong’s Castle Bromwich “shadow factory”, near Birmingham, in late 1944. The aircraft was then issued to No. 453 Squadron (R.A.A.F) Sqn and commenced her service with a fighter bomber operation over Europe on 24 March against Railway targets and carried out another 12 operations in the next 6 weeks. Little is documented in about the Spitfires service after this, however she continued in RAF usage until on 17 July 1951 she was involved in an accident on take-off and was subsequently written off and disposed of as scrap. This however was not to be the end of the aircraft and she was acquired by a film company for use as a cockpit prop and it appeared in the 1955 film as “Reach for the Sky” based on the life of Douglas Bader. The Spitfire was then stored in the Film companies storage facility and it was not for another 12 years that the aircraft was to see the light of day when she emerged in 1967 for use as spare parts aircraft in the “Battle of Britain” film of 1969.
Following the dispersal of aircraft from this film the Spitfire moved to a new owner in 1968 to Southend UK. The Spitfire moved again in 1982 to Booker for work to commence on a full restoration to flight, receiving the civil registration of G-CDAN. During this restoration the aircraft was sold again to Stephen Grey of The Fighter Collection and work continued.
New Zealander Sir Tim Wallis then acquired the aircraft in 1987 and continued the restoration in the UK and in 1989 the aircraft was completed, dismantled and shipped to New Zealand where it was civil registered ZK-XVI and flown on the test flight by Stephen Grey. The aircraft experienced several incidents during its time in New Zealand but was repaired each time.
Sir Tim Wallace flew the aircraft at many NZ airshows over the following years in its original No. 453 Squadron (R.A.A.F) Sqn markings as “FU-P” including regular appearances at ‘Warbirds Over Wanaka’ at Wanaka, New Zealand where the aircraft was based at Sir Tim’s Alpine Fighter Collection.
Temora Aviation Museum acquired the Spitfire in April 2006 and it was then re-registered on the Australian Civil register as VH-XVI. Since then the aircraft has be an active participant at many of the TAM’s airshows and appeared at displays across the country. Warbirds Online has been privileged to see the aircraft performing at many displays and it is a great sight in company with the Mk VIII VH-HET with which it contrasts well in its Australian grey and green versus the European scheme on this aircraft.
We hope to see Warbird VH-XVI, a fantastic and unique Spitfire with a great RAAF provenance flying in Australia for many years to come.
© John Parker 2017