Although there are a number of Spitfires flying throughout the UK, many others can be seen at static displays around the country.
Although nothing beats hearing a Spitfire in the skies above, seeing one up close and personal does certainly come very close. Numerous museums are found throughout the UK housing both Spitfires and other iconic aircraft from World War II.
Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum – Manston, Kent
Situated at Manston in Kent, the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum includes two full restored aircraft in the form of a Spitfire Mk XVI (TB 752) and a Hurricane Mk IIc (LF 751). These two iconic fighters sit side by side as they might have on an airfield in Britain during World War II.
Not many Spitfire’s found today actually have a wartime record, but luckily in TB 752, the museum can say they own one. TB 752 was built in 1944 and served with No. 66 Squadron over Northern Holland and Germany late in the war, primarily in a ground attack role against various road and rail targets.
After suffering damage when her port undercarriage failed, TB 752 was repaired and re-issued to No. 403 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). It was with the RCAF that TB 752 claimed her first victory, a Messerschmitt Me 109. Further victories followed including a Focke Wulf Fw 189, a Focke Wulf Fw 190 and finally a Heinkel He 111 bomber.
Following the war, TB 752 took up her post as gate guardian at RAF Manston for a period from 1955 to 1978 at which point she was restored over the course of 15 000 man hours to all her former glory. It was decided to raise funds to put her in a museum and in 1981 she took up her place at Manston.
Solent Sky Museum - Hampshire
An independent museum operating in Southampton, Hampshire, Solent Sky has a number of beautifully restored aircraft including a Spitfire Mk 24 (PK 683) and a Supermarine S6A, Reginald Mitchell’s incredible Schneider Trophy award winning seaplane and one of the forerunners of the Spitfire.
PK 683 is only one of 81 Mk 24 Spitfires to be built. In fact, this is the final design of the Spitfire ever produced. It had a number of changes from earlier Griffon powered versions including a larger tail fin, slightly different wing shape, a large bubble canopy and lastly, a five bladed propeller necessary to absorb the incredible power that the Griffon engine produced (over 2350 hp).
PK 683 although a Mk 24, was converted from a Mk 22 in around 1946. In 1951 the aircraft was sent to the Singapore Auxiliary Air Force in the Far East and operated until 1952 where a heavy landing led to some damage. It eventually became a gate guardian at the Changi airfield until in 1970 it was returned to the UK. In 1976 PK 683 was put on display at the RJ Mitchell museum and moved to the Southampton Hall of Aviation (now Solent Sky) in 1984 where it has remained as a static display till this day.
Royal Air Force Museum – London
The Royal Air Force has two museums, one located in London and the other in Cosford. Although Cosford does have a Spitfire on display, the London branch is a must visit for Spitfire lovers. No less than five Spitfires can be found here, comprising a variety of variants.
Perhaps the pride of the museum is Spitfire Mk 1 (X4590). She first flew on an operational sortie on 10 October 1940 with 609 Squadron and claimed a half shared kill on 21 October when she was involved in downing a Junkers Ju 88 bomber. X4590 was damaged in a landing accident on 25 October but soon returned to action, recording dogfight damage after being bounced by Messerschmitt Me 109’s on 28 November. As the war went on and Mk 1 Spitfires became more obsolete, X4590 was posted to a variety of inland squadrons, suffering damage in a few more landing accidents until in August 1944, X4590 was sent to Cardiff and packaged into storage for museum relocation.
X4590 was used in public display for the first time in London in 1954. More static displays around the country followed until X4590 joined the Royal Air Force museum in November 1972. Here, X4590 was displayed in a number of museums around the country before finally ending in London in 1998.
Other Spitfires on display at the Royal Air Force Museum including a Mk 24, a Mk Vb, a Mk XVI, and a Mk XIVE.
Imperial War Museum - Duxford
As a branch of the Imperial War Museum, Duxford hosts a Battle of Britain exhibition that offers a fascinating insight into this tumultuous period during World War II. Duxford aerodrome itself played a critical role during the battle. It was here that Squadron Leader Douglas Bader put his “Big Wing” theory into effect. Bader believed that attacking the Germans with many squadrons instead of one or two at a time would lead to more German losses. The problem however, was getting the “Big Wing” airborne in time. Duxford museum now houses over 200 military aircraft including Spitfire F Mk.Ia (N3200) shot down over Dunkirk in 1940, she eventually was reclaimed and restored. A number of other Spitfires from various collections also call Duxford home, while Spitfire F Mk.24 (VN485)stands on static display in the museum itself.
Tangmere Military Aviation Museum
The Tangmere Military Aviation Museum in West Sussex has a collection of around 20 aircraft from various points in the RAF’s history. Perhaps the most interesting of these is a replica of the first Spitfire ever built, K5054. The idea behind the replica came from Spitfire test pilot Jeffrey Quill, who together with RJ Mitchell’s son Gordon, teamed up with the Spitfire Society to build the replica. It took 10 long years, first to raise the funds and then construction but in 1993, the replica of K5054 was unveiled.
Museum of Flight - Edinburgh
With a large collection of commercial and military aircraft spanning the history of flight, the National Museum of Flight outside Edinburgh is well worth a visit. The museum is also home to a static display in the form of a Spitfire LF.XVIe built in July 1945. Although she did not see service during World War II, this airframe was used by the RAF as part of a squadron which offered refresher courses for pilots. Once retired from service, the airframe was posted as a gate guard at RAF Ouston until 1971 when she moved to the Royal Scottish Museum and eventually the Museum of Flight.