Spitfire 5518 restoration progressing despite COVID hiccups


Over the past 12 months, the SAAF Museum Spitfire Restoration Project has much inaction mainly due to the effects of COVID-19, with a major partner withdrawing support temporarily, but the project to make Spitfire 5518 display-worthy has seen recent progress.

The South African Air Force (SAAF) Museum Spitfire Restoration Project aims to rebuild a Mark 1Xe Spitfire, serial number 5518, built in May 1945 and delivered to the SAAF two years later. It was retired from service in the first quarter of 1954 and preserved in non-flying condition as a “gate guard” on a plinth at AFB Waterkloof. After the only flyable Spitfire in South Africa (Evelyn) was exported, 5518 was taken off its plinth, stripped down and re-evaluated. Parts were then either restored and re-used or remanufactured in a combined effort by the SAAF Museum, 1 Air Depot and what was then the Atlas Aircraft Corporation (now part of the Denel Group).

Restoration was completed in 1995. Five years later the Spitfire was declared “Category 5” after crashing into the southern boundary wall of AFB Swartkop during a SAAF Museum air show.

All surviving components of 5518 are stored in three different locations at the SAAF Museum at Swartkop. The most urgent requirement for the project is a new, larger hanger to accommodate the jigs required for the empennage, wings and fuselage. The SAAF Museum has allocated an area for the erection of a new hanger, designated to become the SAAF Museum Restoration Hanger. For the construction of this hanger, the project is in need of civil and structural engineers, legal specialists, a quantity surveyor, building, project and personnel managers, and industrial engineers to oversee the workflows.

A Centurion based company, Performance Centre, partnered with the Spitfire Restoration Project and offered to build and sell ten unique FTR 5 litre V8 Ford Mustangs. These cars have custom body kits with the colours and insignia of a Spitfire. Notable features are the iconic spitfire decal and unique badge on the hood of the Mustang. The first Mustang has been sold in the colours which the Spitfire 5518 bore whilst stationed at Air Force Base Waterkloof in 1950. As a result of the sale, Performance Centre donated R75 000 to the project.

The Pillay family (from left to right), Darren, Nirvarsha, Craig and Rajen with their new Performance Centre Ford Mustang DB-H

The project also offers a chance for young engineers to engage in certain plans of the restoration. In 2020, Robert Cathro, the project’s Aeronautical and Engineering manager, engaged with second year University of Pretoria students from the Faculty of Engineering, Built Science and Environment to evaluation of the plans of the Spitfire empennage. The project says huge progress was made in establishing the completeness of these plans.

The Spitfire Restoration Project requires skills from many services and if anyone wishes to get involved or contribute, they can contact Ian Grace: cell: 082 452 5291 or email: [email protected].