October 5, 2022

A much sought after and coveted aircraft

 

Prof Sharma of the Aeronautical Engineering Department instructs Students of the Punjab Engineering college on the Supermarine Spitfire XVIII airframe. Photo Courtesy : India Today

On the face of it, being Alma Mater of US astronaut Kalpana Chawla is the most well known claim to fame for Aeronautical Engineering department of Punjab Engineering College [http://www.pec.ac.in] at Chandigarh. But, not many know that the department has in it’s inventory a prized possession – a Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVIII. This is believed to be the only intact aircraft of Spitfire in the whole of South-East Asia. No wonder, the plane continues to fascinate the Vintage aircraft collectors abroad.

But, desperate efforts to acquire the plane, now in a dismantled state, have persistently been thwarted by the department which is passionate about preserving this aircraft. It is now forms a key feature in the study of evolution of aeronautical technology.

This photograph taken recently in 2004 shows the complete engineless fuselage of HS674 at the Engineering Department. Photo Courtesy : Rishi Tandon Click to Enlarge

Parked in the aeronautical labs, the aircraft has been an important instruction tool for the students. “The aircraft has the pride of place in our inventory not only because of its vintage value but as an important education kit” says S.C.Sharma who has so far resisted pressures from different quarters – including the foreign collectors, their Indian agents and even the College authorities – to sell it off. The department got at least four documented offers – two from the American firms – to acquire Spitfire.

How much money tag the collectors put on their offer is not known. “Since the department never entertained the buyers’ requests for negotiations, getting the aircraft valued was out of question” says Mr. Sharma. In one case even an NRI lobbied hard with the college authorities. Though a previous principal had shown inclination to sell it off, the department put its foot down, saying it was too valuable item on the stocks to be parted with. In fact, the department never allowed the collectors to even survey the aircraft or photograph it.

The airframe is in superb condition for restoration according to Mr. Peter Arnold, Aviation Historian and a well known authority on the World’s surviving Spitfires. He took this photograph in 1991. In the background can be seen one of the stripped wings. Photo Courtesy : Peter R Arnold Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge One of the wings can be seen below the Glider fuselage in the foreground. Behind, HS-674 still sports the original IAF colors. Photo Courtesy : Peter R Arnold

HS-674 was gifted to Punjab Engineering College in 1962 by the then Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh who took keen interest in establishing an aeronautical department at Chandigarh. This Spitfire was probably grounded in the 50s after the 1948 Kashmir operations of the Indian Air Force which inherited a part of the Spitfire fleet from the British rulers after 1947.

The Aeronautical department dismantled the aircraft in the early 70s – only to preserve it under the roof as a teaching aid. Despite obscene graiffiti scribbled on it’s grey Aluminium wings and fuselage – a sign of ignorance about its vintage value – a split Spitfire continues to an object of desire for the desperate collectors.

The other side of the Spitfire XVIII shows that the metal skins have been stripped away to reveal the inside structure. One of the longerons have also been sawn off as can be seen. The second wing of the Spitfire can e seen stored further behind in this photo. Photo Courtesy : Rishi Tandon Click to Enlarge

From some discussions that took place at the Warbird Information Exchange, Mr. Peter R Arnold, a well known Aviation Historian and authority on the World’s surviving Spitfires said ‘It is in fantastic shape for restoration compared to most current material we have to work with today‘.

Peter examined the aircraft fuselage and the detached skins during his visit to Chandigarh in 1991. He determined that the aircraft was a composite airframe made from HS-674, which was the marking carried by it and HS-683, which was found painted on the Starboard wing and other components. Further examination revealed that HS-674 was actually TZ-219 during its RAF days. HS-683 was found to be an RAF Spitfire with the serial TP370. Thus this aircraft which consisted of parts from two major aircraft took on the identity of one of them. HS-674.

Further information on the aircraft has been provided by Rishi Tandon as follows:

The wings had a further set of numbers, one painted over the other, too faint to discern. The engine had been removed, probably kept in PEC Aero Dept’s Propulsion Lab. The Spitfire was in a pretty good condition, canopy was intact (uncracked iirc). Some of the instruments are still there in the cockpit. The wings are kept near the fuselage, with the skin of one of the wings removed to expose the wing structure / skeleton. Apparently the control-wires are still in place. Damage to the skin is minimal. Wheels are not in wheel well, so Landing Gear is probably kept in the Structures Lab.

There were 3 metal info plates on the a/c, all on the flat region in front of the cockpit where the engine should have been mounted. They are not very clear, but this is what I could read:

Plate 1: Sr No HAI/65/6769-79
???-RC No. 39427SHT16 3
Passed HAI-III QCom Stamp BE-7629

Plate 2: “Spitfire Powerplant Assembled for this Nacelle, Assembly No 24 (42? 420? could not make out)

Rishi was able to secure permission from the Head of the Department, Mr. Sharma to take photographs of the Spitfire which are now displayed here in this page.

[Acknowledgements: Our Thanks go to Mr. Peter R Arnold – Aviation Historian, Mr. Sandeep Unnithan, India Today Newsmagazine for the Write-up, Punjab Engineering College]

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