SM520 was built in the Castle Bromwich factory in 1944 as single seat Mark H.F.IXe high level fighter, with firewall construction number CBAF 10164. It was delivered to the RAF on 23 November 1944 at 33 Maintenance Unit at RAF Lyneham but with the European conflict tapering off it was retained in storage until being shipped or flown (they did both) to the South African Air Force (SAAF) in 1948, one of a 136, 80 gifted and the remainder sold by the UK Government for £2000.00 a piece. Very little is known of its history after that but the SAAF Spitfires were used mostly for training, being issued to various Bombing, Gunnery and Air Navigation schools and latterly to the Air Operations School to train pilots en route to Korea to operate with the SAAF P-51 Mustangs.
Clearly involved in a major flying accident the aircraft was recovered to AFB Ysterplaat until its wreckage was disposed to the scrap yard of SA Metals in Cape Town. Here it languished for many years until recovered to the SAAF Museum store compound at Snake Valley and identified by Spitfire historian Peter Arnold as SM520 in 1981. It then passed through various owners before being purchased by Paul Portelli in 2002. It was Paul who decided it should be restored and converted to a Trainer 9 two seater. He commissioned Airframe Assemblies to convert the fuselage and build the wings and Classic Aero to undertake the fitting out of the project. The aircraft now registered as G-ILDA after Paul's granddaughter. Paul's untimely death meant that on completion the aircraft was put up for Auction at Bonhams where it was purchased by the current owner Steve Brooks in April 2009. It is now operated by Spitfires.com.
On completion of its rebuild the aircraft was delivered in the colours of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, one of only three air forces to order and take delivery of the Spitfire Trainer 9 after the war. We wanted to return the aircraft to a British wartime paint scheme and to create a provenance that best reflected its short known history. We enlisted the help of Peter Arnold who suggested a WWII South African scheme to reflect its South African origins, the SAAF Wing then operating in RAF livery and rotating its aircraft with RAF Spitfires within the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force ' Desert Air Force.
The first and probably the only ever two seat Spitfire in RAF service was an unofficial conversion of a former tired 4 Squadron SAAF Mk V, ES127 that is thought to have been converted locally in Sicily by 118 Maintenance Unit at Catania. This conversion had the front fuel tank removed and a second wind screen attached that enabled passenger and observer flights to be given. The squadron code markings used for 4 SAAF were 'KJ' and the letter used for this specific aircraft was 'I'. SM520 now wears those same code letters. No. 4 SAAF squadron had traded in its old Mk V's for Mk IX's at Sinello, Italy, in May 1944 having fought through Africa and up into Italy where it was engaged until the end of the war flying ground attack missions against enemy communications and giving air support to the Allied Armies in the battle area. Once in Italy the squadron was switched from a desert to the European Standard Day Fighter camouflage grey/green scheme as represented by the livery SM520 carries today.
Max take-off weight:
31 ft 5 in (9.58m)
36 ft 10 in (11.23 m)
12 ft 8 in (3.86m)
Rolls-Royce Merlin 66
450miles (724 km)
BACKGROUND OF THE SPITFIRE TR9
Wartime conversions of the Spitfire into a two-seat trainer included the one-off modification of a Mk VC by RAF no. 261 Squadron and a Mk IX converted for use as a trainer by the Soviets, however the two-seat Spitfire trainer was primarily a postwar program. In 1946, a Mk VIII (MT818) was the first Vickers-built trainer built as a demonstrator, but in 1948, 10 Spitfire T Mk IXs, were exported to India. In 1951, a further six TR9 trainers were converted from the standard Mk IX to train pilots for the Irish Air Corps (IAC) Seafire fleet. The Spitfires provided transition training that included gunnery practice since the type was equipped with four .303 Browning machine guns, Most of the TR9 aircraft passed to the ground technical training school at Baldonnel where they were used as instructional airframes for the training of aircraft engineers for the Air Corps. Four of the IAC aircraft survived.