The 2000 SA Air Force (SAAF) Museum airshow was not a good one in that it lost its airworthy Spitfire in a crash but dedication and enthusiasm have prevailed and a project is underway to rebuild the iconic World War II fighter.
Ian Grace and a former museum officer commanding, Colonel Tony Smit, led the initiative and made a number of presentation to the SAAF Museum council before the green light was given to Friends of the SAAF Museum in late 2014 to manage the project on behalf of the Museum.
Right now the most pressing need is for a new restoration hangar to accommodate the Spitty and its various components. While fundraising is underway the team are stripping, cataloguing and assessing all components to establish a repair or replace programme.
Also on the to-do list is sponsorship deals to involve the South African aerospace industry in the project by repairing major components. It is envisaged local companies will also become involved with smaller tasks.
Making the sponsorship option easier is that the Friends have registered the Spitfire Restoration Project (SRP) as a non-profit and public benefit organisation. This means there is a tax deduction opportunity for anyone donating to the SRP.
The Friends, based at AFB Zwartkop, headquarters of the SAAF Museum, said the SRP does not exclude other projects currently underway from sharing hangar space.
Planning for the restoration facility includes the promotion of restoration skills development, training and provision of a facility that will allow aviation apprentices to complete practical study requirements. The facility’s importance to the museum and preservation of vintage aircraft will expand over time.
The workshop will also house a Spitfire simulator, a first of its type in the world, to generate project funds and to train pilots on the aircraft.
The planning phase of the project is complete and restoration can commence immediately on completion of the workshop facility and with sufficient Spitfire donor funding available.
The first stop, the pair stress, is funding for the restoration hangar. The fundraising campaign is being run on behalf of the Friends of the Museum by Karen Heydenrych. People wanting to donate to this heritage aviation project can do so via GoGetFunding.
Spitfire 5518 arrived in South Africa in 1947 and served in the Cape and at Waterkloof Air Force Base before being decommissioned. She then served as a gate guard at Waterkloof for a number of years. In the early 1990s the South African Air Force Museum motivated the restoration of an iconic Spitfire to flying condition to serve as the star attraction at Air Force Air Shows to promote the Air Force and aviation amongst the youth. 5518 took to the skies in 1994 as 5553 “The Spirit of Reutech”. Unfortunately she crashed at an air show at Zwartkop in 2000 and was consigned to a container.