In my new post as Assistant Collections Officer – Spitfire, I’ve had to acquaint myself with our aircraft, RW388. The old girl has led quite a life and is in remarkable condition considering she wasn’t built to last beyond the war years. In my first blog post, I thought it might be good to share some of what I’ve learned.
Our Spitfire was built as an LF Mk. XVI at Castle Bromwich in 1945. Mk. XVI denotes the design variant (Over 22,000 Spitfires and Seafires were manufactured between 1938 and 1949 and the design was adapted and modified many times). LF designates her as a low-altitude fighter.
RW388 didn’t see combat and was first used a training aircraft. Later, she was used to tow targets for Navy ships. I’m told this isn’t as hazardous as it sounds, although live fire was typically used and the people doing the shooting were often still in training!
The aircraft went on to stand as a ‘Gate Guardian’ at RAF Benson and then RAF Andover. In 1968
she was converted to look like the Mk.VB Spitfire AB917, for use in the RAF’s 50th Anniversary Display at the Royal Tournament. Afterwards she was restored back to a Mk. XVI.
In 1972 RW388 was officially presented to the City of Stoke-on-Trent as a gift from the Royal Air Force. This commemorated the region as Reginald Mitchell’s birthplace and the fact he received his education in the City.
She lived under a glass canopy on Bethesda Street until 1986 when the decision was made to move the aircraft into the museum. One of the tallest cranes in the country at that time was used to lift and lower RW388 into her new home. The open courtyard into which she was placed was roofed over, creating the gallery we see today.
Of course, RW388’s story is far from over. With support from Operation Spitfire we have exciting plans to restore and conserve the aircraft for future generations, and to develop the gallery in which she sits. The results should be an inspiring experience that celebrates the engineering genius of R.J. Mitchell and the Spitfire.
I look forward to bringing you more news and information about our work with RW388. We hope this will became one of many interesting themes that run through this blog. Subscribe for updates and keep up with all the latest posts.