Best of the Battle of Britain
In this corner, the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire; across the ring, the Hawker Hurricane. Which is the more valuable restoration?
- By John Fleischman
- Air & Space magazine, March 2008
(Page 2 of 6)
JG891 stayed in storage for five years before Historic Flying spent 18 months transforming it from a nightmare to a flying machine, salvaging some parts and replacing others. Retro Track & Air in the United Kingdom supplied an overhauled Rolls-Royce Merlin 35 engine. Other vintage parts used include a gunsight, IFF (identification friend or foe) transmitter, and Dowty propeller.
In the summer of 2006, JG891 was getting its last "bits and bobs" at Historic Flying, along with a new radio and a GPS navigation system. Henocq and I were standing alongside the fuselage so he could show me the fine points of the cockpit when I finally lost control. The side hatch was folded down. The bubble-shaped Plexiglas canopy was pushed all the way back. What did I have to lose? "Could I…? I wonder if…? Maybe, um…?"
It was no problem. From a roll-up step platform, Henocq coached me on how to climb into a Spitfire. "You put your left foot there on the edge," he said. "Then with your right foot, stand on the seat. Now hold here." He guided my hands to a grip as I swung my other foot on board and lowered myself into the seat. "Do you see those shiny stripes down there?" he called out. "You want to put your feet up above them on the pedals." And there I was, sitting ear-deep in a Spitfire cockpit.
Henocq called out to his shop guys: "All clear on control surfaces? All clear on electrics?" Then he showed me how to swing the rudder, pull back on the stick, and break right and left. "If you reach down there on your right, you can throw the power switch," he said. Red lights blossomed around the cockpit. "And here's your gun button." Henocq adjusted the anti-glare gunsight screen and flipped a switch to project crosshairs onto the windscreen.
And here the illusion stopped: The crosshairs didn't light up.
Henocq studied the gunsight. Apparently a new bulb was still to be installed. It was just as well or I might have swooned.
Instead, I squinted down the Spitfire's long Merlin-filled nose, through the three-blade prop, to scan the clouds swirling over Duxford. Tally-ho! Bandits at six
o'clock! My left hand went for the gun button, but I swear I didn't say "Rat-a-tat-tat." (At least not out loud.)