Spitfire Progress – Fuselage

October 8, 201810:00 amOctober 16, 2018 11:12 amLeave a Comment

Progress continues on the restoration of Spitfire RW388 by the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society Limited (MAPSL). This week we look at progress to the main body of the aircraft – the fuselage. This section is made from curving panels attached to a supporting structure of horizontal longerons and vertical frames, forming the core of the Spitfire.

The Spitfire fuselage at the workshop of Medway Aircraft Preservation Society. Image courtesy of MAPSL.

The team have been busy stripping paint from the fuselage exterior by hand. The aircraft has been repainted several times throughout its life, and hasn’t always been the same colour. One of the layers encountered was a fetching silver paint scheme. RW388 was painted this way when it was a ‘gate guardian’ at RAF Benson, and later at RAF Andover, during the 1950s and 60s.

RW388 as a ‘gate guardian’ at RAF Andover. Photo courtesy of The Aviation Photo Company.

The front of the fuselage, where the firewall and fuel tank are located, has been cleaned. Some areas are unpainted and will be preserved as such. Other sections, such as the firewall itself, have been fully painted and sealed. The firewall sits behind the engine to project the fuel tank and pilot from gunfire. It is made from two sheets of metal sandwiching a layer of fire-retardant asbestos – so it’s very important this is protected and sealed!

RW388 Fuselage

Have you ever noticed that RW388’s fuselage looks a bit different from other Spitfires you have seen? It has a cut-down rear fuselage and ‘bubble’ style canopy, which was common in later versions of the aircraft. This is very noticeable when placed side by side with an earlier Spitfire, such as in the images below.

RW388 in the old Spitfire museum, early 1980s.

Mk. V Spitfire from 303 (Polish) Squadron. Public Domain.

RW388’s fuselage also has a unique series of small holes running down the back. These are the scars left behind by an artificial ‘high’ back that was added in 1968 to disguise it as Mk.V Spitfire, AB917. The disguised RW388 appeared at the 1968 Royal Tournament at Earls Court and at Edinburgh Military Tattoo in celebration of the RAF’s 50th anniversary. This version of RW388 may have also appeared as a grounded ‘extra’ in the 1969 film Battle of Britain.

(Probably) RW388 at Edinburgh castle, disguised as a Mk. V Spitfire. Photo copyright Rob Bearden.

Work on the fuselage has paused whilst the team concentrate on the wings and engine. So look out for fuselage ‘part 2’ when work begins again in the future.

Written by Joe Perry (Curator, Local History)

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