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Bonhams to auction iconic two-seater Spitfire

An airworthy two-seater Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire aircraft, estimated value 1.5 million pounds ($2.2 million), will be auctioned by Bonhams on April 20 at the RAF Museum, Hendon, London.
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Bonhams is offering for sale an airworthy two-seater Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire aircraft, estimated at 1.5 million pounds ($2.2 million), on April 20 at the RAF Museum, Hendon, London.

This will be the second iconic World War Two Spitfire that Bonhams has offered within just seven months. Last September the auction house sold a non-airworthy 1945 Supermarine Spitfire for a record price of over NZ$3 million ($1.8 million). This was a `Bubble Canopy MK XVI, considered by many collectors to be a less desirable plane. That plane was on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio until 1997.

Bonhams is now selling the first two-seater Spitfire to be offered at public auction for over twenty years. Painstakingly restored to airworthiness over a five-year period, Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire TR Mark IX is civilian-registered ‘G-ILDA’.

Today, this Spitfire is being offered as a freshly-completed ‘zero-hours’ ground-up restoration to perfect two-seat TR Mark IX specification; in effect an historic warbird absolutely ready-to-fly and in truly sparkling flightline condition. Originally it was a single-seat Mark IX but it now offers a new owner the attractive extra accommodation and flexibility of the two-seat trainer variant.

The Supermarine-designed aircraft was built originally by the British Vickers-Armstrong company in 1944. It was delivered to the Royal Air Force’s No 33 Maintenance Unit at Lyneham in Wiltshire where it was prepared to operational standard for service delivery. Its original serial number was ‘SM520’.

This magnificent and charismatic aircraft was subsequently sold in 1948 to the South African Air Force in whose service its operational history presently remains unknown. Many years later, in the 1970s, it was rediscovered in a Cape Town scrap yard from which it was rescued by the late building developer and aviation enthusiast Charles Church, who initiated the inevitably long process of restoration. Old ‘SM 520’ was then sold in 1989 to Alan Dunkerley, who eventually resold it to the late Paul Portelli in June 2002.

Mr Portelli then commissioned Classic Aero Engineering to restore the machine to its as-original TR Mark IX two-seat trainer specification. As work progressed upon the historic airframe at CAE’s Thruxton facility in Hampshire, the mighty, supercharged V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin 266 engine was overhauled and returned to airworthy standard by the specialist Retro Track & Air concern at Dursley, Gloucestershire, and fitted with a four-blade Hoffman propeller.

When the Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire family of single-seat fighter aircraft initially entered service in 1938, the Mark I model was an extremely sophisticated, blindingly fast and supremely powerful eight-gun weapon of war. Training pilots were expected to make the transition from humble training aircraft to this new thoroughbred, and the gulf between the two proved huge. A two-seat training version of the Battle of Britain Spitfire was first considered in 1941, but barely a handful of local service conversions were made before 1946. A post-war batch of 20 Mark IX airframes were then converted into two-seat form as the Type 509 model, for supply most notably to the Indian and Irish air forces. The forward cockpit was moved forward 13 1/2-inches and a second cockpit was inserted behind it, slightly raised to give its occupant improved forward vision. Price was quoted at the time as 5,200 pounds ($10,393).

The immortal R.J. Mitchell-designed Supermarine Spitfire fighter evolved from the world air speed record setting, Schneider Trophy race-winning, Supermarine seaplanes of the 1920s and early 1930s. The prototype Spitfire eight-gun fighter emerged in 1936. It proved itself a real pilot’s airplane – a delight to fly and famously forgiving, a high-performance thoroughbred fighter almost without equal. The 1940 Battle of Britain Spitfire Mark II was powered by a 1,240hp Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, providing a top speed of some 354 mph at 17,550 ft plus the ability to climb at a “homesick angel” rate of 3,025 ft per minute. The Spitfire has since become woven into the fabric of world history as an icon of the age, an emblem of the defense of democracy itself.

James Knight, MD of Bonhams Collector’s Motoring Department which is managing the sale of ‘G-ILDA’ comments: “We are greatly honored to be entrusted with the sale of such a distinguished and historic aircraft. As Bonhams is the last of the great international fine art auction houses to remain under British management, the sale of an aircraft so linked to the history and very survival of our nation has enormous significance for us here.”

Bonhams Chairman, Robert Brooks, who learned to fly – as did so many contemporary Spitfire pilots - on Tiger Moths and who still has a 1940s Stampe aerobatic biplane, comments: “The sale of this Spitfire touches me personally as an enthusiastic amateur pilot and a keen student of military history. For Bonhams to be associated with this aircraft gives me particular pleasure…and not a little sincere pride.”

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