Spitfire Progress- Peeling back the Paint

02/01/201910:5702/01/2019 11:03Leave a Comment

Late in 2018 I took a trip to visit the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society at Rochester Airport. The team have been busy on the restoration of Spitfire RW388 and work will continue in 2019.

One of the big jobs has been to strip away layers of paint from the wings and fuselage in order to re-prime and paint them with the correct finishes and colours. Below you can see the one of the wings stripped and primed ready for repainting.

Port wing stripped and primed. Photo courtesy of MAPSL.

During my visit I was able to see different parts of the aircraft at various stages of paint stripping. Each layer provides evidence for important chapters in the aircraft’s history.

The most recent paint layer probably dates from the 1980s. The colours were right but the finish was too glossy. Most importantly, the surface wasn’t well prepared in advance of painting which caused issues with peeling later one. Needless to say, this layer came off very easily.

The top, gloss layer came off very easily. I took some back to the office as a souvenir.

As layers disappeared, patches of brown paint appeared. We know that RW388 was ‘dressed-up’ as an earlier Mk.V Spitfire during the 1960s. This would have included the brown and green camouflage scheme used earlier in the Second World War.

A patch of brown from when RW388 was disguised as a Mk. V Spitfire.

The stripping also revealed some past mistakes. Evidence of a roundel painted onto the aircraft in the wrong position. When the wing was fitted the bottom would have been cut off!

Past mistakes – this blob of yellow and blue shows where a roundel was incorrectly placed at some point in the aircraft’s history. You can see the holes where the wing is attached.

Finally, at the very bottom, a silver layer – likely the same silver RW388 wore was a Gate Guardian in the 1950s and early 1960s. This layer was much more difficult to remove as the aircraft had been well primed before it was applied. Hopefully the new paint job on RW388 will be just as hard wearing!

Fuselage mostly stripped down the silver paint layer.

The inside of the fuselage is yet to be cleaned and repainted, but we will be taking a cautious approach. There are lots of authentic cable and pipe runs still in-situ, so we want to preserve them and work around them as much as possible.

Inside the cockpit, we want to gently clean and repaint only where necessary in order to preserve in-situ features such as wiring.

As ever, keep your eyes on our social media and blog for more updates on Spitfire RW388’s progress during 2019..

Written by Joe Perry (Curator, Local History)

3 thoughts on “Spitfire Progress- Peeling back the Paint”

  1. Duncan Mould says:

    Great work, cant wait to see it done and back home. Would it ever be possible to put this plane back in the air?

    1. Joe Perry (Curator, Local History) says:

      Hi Duncan,

      Thanks for your comment, I’m looking forward to RW388’s return too.

      Could the plane be made airworthy? Technically yes, with enough money and additional parts. But then there’s also the cost of housing and running a Spitfire, which would inevitably mean leaving the city for facilities elsewhere.

      Our aim with this project is very much to preserve the aircraft as a museum piece and keep it here in The Potteries.

      There are some operational low-back Mk.XVI Spitfires out there, including the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s TE311.


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