September 25, 2023

Spitfire VIII MV-459 Walkaround

Click to Enlarge Wg Cdr PK Shrivastava and Flt Lt Shiva of No. 41 Repair and Salvage Unit, pose by the Spitfire in its new display place.
Air Commodore LK Malhotra, Station Commander Ambala with Wg Cdr PK Shrivastava Click to Enlarge

I visited Ambala Air Force Station on December 9th, 2003. The Station Commander Air Commodore LK Malhotra was very hospitable and introduced me to Wg Cdr PK Shrivastava, who first took me to thier unit to explain how the restoration work was carried out. I was given a chance to examine the wrecked Merlin and look at various photographs of the restoration process. Flt Lt Shiva, who was also with 41RSU and who was involved in the work took pains to explain how the whole process was done and also introduced us to some of the Warrant Officers of the unit who undertook the work.

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A high amount of detail and attention was devoted to getting the the forward fuselage right – Perhaps at a future date – they get to fit a complete Merlin and a prop on this aircraft.

Then we were taken out to the place where the Spitfire was displayed. At first glance – one has to appreciate the amount of work that had gone into this aircraft. Yes it may have its flaws – like the cockpit canopy or the trailing edges of the wings which seem to ‘droop’ (Where the ailerons have to be there). but overall the effect of the aircraft is very positive.

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The Undercarraige legs and covers are original – The Wheel bays are covered with clear plastic sheets to prevent dust and grime accumulating in the wings. Note the Radiator scoops. Can you recognise where the wheel hubs and tyres came from?

The aircraft was now displayed on a platform (that was still getting constructed). The remaining components of the Spitfire are supposed to be moved to the Base museum once a suitable place is identified to set up the museum.

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It can be said that MV459 is now the fourth spitfire in India earmarked for preservation – after the two examples in the IAF Museum and the third one at Chandigarh – hardly 45km from this place.

There will be some inevitable comparision of this aircraft with the quality of restoration done in the west. But it has to be remembered that the entire restoration of the Spitfire was done completely on a voluntary basis by the men of 41R&SU and at ‘zero’ cost. i.e. all the material used in the activity was surplus and would not have been put to any other use. Considering that fibreglass Spitfire replicas in the west can sometimes go into six figures (in dollars), having a near-complete spitfire with a iron-clad provenance at no-cost is a bargain any day!

And the whole process has not only preserved the original wreckage – but also the amazing story of MV459’s discovery for days to come.

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