Guy Martin celebrates the people behind the Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire was Britain's most successful fighter plane and remains an iconic symbol of Britain’s resistance during the Second World War. In May 1940, while covering the retreat from Dunkirk, a Mark I Spitfire, N3200, was shot down and crash-landed on a beach in northern France, where it slowly sank into the sand. Its pilot, RAF ace Squadron Leader Geoffrey Stephenson, escaped and headed for Belgium. The wreckage was finally recovered in the 1980s and stored anonymously in France for more than 20 years until it was purchased and delivered to a specialist aircraft restoration company several years ago.
Motorcycle racer and lorry mechanic Guy Martin is a huge Spitfire fan - he joined the restoration team for its two year re-build. In this special film, he celebrates the people behind this famous fighter and its heroic pilots - the factory workers who risked their lives building the aircraft and the mechanics who worked around the clock to repair, reload and refuel the planes and speedily send them back into the skies to defend Britain.
Spitfire N3200 was part of 19 Squadron, based at RAF Duxford, and fittingly that’s where the restoration project was based. Guy’s mechanical skills were pushed to the limit as he took part in every part of the re-construction, following the original blueprints in forensic detail all the way to its inaugural flight. He even tested the fighter’s Browning machine guns to see their devastating firepower.
The story of Sqdn Ldr Stephenson, who would become the Queen’s pilot, is like something from a Boy’s Own paper and his private diaries, written while imprisoned in Colditz, have been uncovered for the first time for the film. Guy invited the pilot’s two daughters for an emotional day at Duxford to witness N3200 flying again.
Spitfires were the only British fighter to be in continuous production throughout the war and their success wasn't solely down to the skill and bravery of the pilots who flew them. The planes carried little more than an hour's worth of fuel and after just eight seconds of firing they would run out of bullets, meaning they had to be turned around with lightning speed to be sent back into battle.
The complete re-building of Spitfire N3200 not only gives us an extraordinary look at the amazing engineering and skills involved in building the aircraft, but is also a fitting homage to the bravery of everyone involved in its service, from factory worker to ground crew; from pilot to the modern re-construction team.