Around The World In 90 Stopovers: IWC And The Journey Of The Silver Spitfire
“The Longest Flight” is a contemporary aviation marathon, involving two British pilots, supported by IWC Schaffhausen, in an unprecedented world tour aboard a 1943 Spitfire. Who says there are no more adventurers?
Monday, August 5, 2019, 13:30 GMT, Goodwood Aerodrome, West Sussex: a roar diverts the public attention. The Die Another Day Bond girl, Rosamund Pike, immediately takes out her phone to take pictures as the Silver Spitfire of Steve Boultbee Brooks and Matt Jones takes off. Three other Supermarine Spitfires, in tight formation, escort the plane as it races across the sky, flying over a black-tie cocktail reception that looks straight out of an old photograph.
Four hundred privileged spectators, including the Duc de Richemond, British actors Taron Egerton and Finn Cole, television and radio presenter Dermot O’Leary (himself a Spitfire pilot), and fashion designer Jeremy Hackett follow the aerial evolution. Then, suddenly, the polished metal apparatus disappears into the clouds with its attendants.
Flying North, they head to Scotland. For a moment, the pilot is confronted with a creeping sense of loneliness. “It’s a bit like going around the world aboard a Formula 1 car,” said Matt Jones a few minutes before his partner climbed into the narrow cockpit for the maiden flight. Sharing piloting duties, Jones was taking over the controls the next day to get to Iceland in one go. Former racer David Coulthard nodded in agreement while, in the sky, Steve Brooks found himself face to face with as much adventure as he could want.
In the regular purr of the 1943 Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX’s magnificent 1470 hp V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, there is relative calm. Over the past two years, the Spitfire was completely dismantled and restored in preparation for the pair’s 27,000-mile journey. A long-distance for a fighter plane with a limited fuel capacity restricting its range to about 497 miles.
The plane of freedom
The Supermarine Spitfire was originally designed in 1935 by Reginald Mitchell. A three-time winner of the Schneider Trophy, Mitchell’s talents as an engineer were amplified by his skills in drawing and formwork. And, by combining thin elliptical wings (originally designed by Canadian Beverley Shenstone) with the streamlined fuselage Mitchell perfected while racing seaplanes, he significantly enhanced the performance of his design.
“This aircraft is as much a manifestation of modern design as it is a world-famous symbol of freedom,” commented Jones, who never tires of looking at the aircraft to which he is dedicated to keeping in the air, not nailed to the ground in a museum.
The Spitfire is legendary. During the Battle of Britain (from July to October 1940) it was instrumental in the Royal Air Force’s victory over the German Luftwaffe and changed the course of a story that a few weeks earlier seemed unrecoverable. Now, of the approximately 20,300 planes built between 1938 and 1948, more than a hundred are still in flying condition and both pilots hope to train new mechanics and pilots to fly Spitfires.
“The significance of this trip is to offer this flight to the public and show them the Spitfire in flight,” said Steve Brooks. “We created the Boultbee Flight Academy [the only flight school still teaching how to fly Spitfires] 10 years ago and we’ve seen how much this extraordinary aircraft means beyond Great Britain. That’s why we’re going to fly over 30 countries, so people around the world can hear the music of the Merlin engine and see the Silver Spitfire brighten their skies.“
The Silver Spitfire, a 1943 Mark IX aircraft flew 51 combat mission during the Second World War, before being used to train the Dutch pilots, was completely reconditioned and restored. The 80,000 rivets of the cabin were dismantled, as were the 40,000 spare parts that make up the plane. A giant puzzle that was meticulously reassembled and verified. Everything remaining on board is original, starting with the engine, but everything is in new condition. The instrumentation was also revised for preservation.
Vintage Instruments and IWC Timezoner Watch
Only three pieces of modern equipment were added: a long-range radio, a tablet, and of course the pilots’ watch. Matt Jones and Steve Brooks wore the brand new Timezoner Pilot Watch – the special Spitfire Edition “The Longest Flight” (IW395501) – presented by IWC Schaffhausen at the latest SIHH in Geneva.
Designed to be practical, it enables the pilot to change the time zone with a simple movement of the patented rotating bezel. And inside the 46mm stainless steel case, the watch is equipped with the manufacture’s self-winding 82760 Calibre movement. Furthermore, the anti-reflective treated glass is designed to withstand changes in air pressure during flight. The Timezoner Spitfire will have ample opportunity to prove itself over the next five months.
The relationship between the adventurers and the Swiss Manufacture was easily forged. Just over a year and a half ago, when the two pilots attended the “Members Meeting” – an automobile event at Goodwood, of which IWC is a partner – they approached Christoph Grainger-Herr to tell him about their crazy dream. The CEO of IWC Schaffhausen quickly became enthusiastic and recognized the potential worldwide impact of such an undertaking.
Soon after, the logistics teams at the manufacture setting up an organization that was about as complex as the one needed for the air operation itself, around 100 stopovers across 30 countries. Like the beautiful dinner party hosted by IWC the previous evening at Goodwood House, the Duke of Richmond’s home, the next 5 months will provide the Brand with many opportunities to meet their customers, see journalists and retailers, and make friends.
From Iceland to Goodwood, through the Taj Mahal
The removal of the machine guns from the Silver Spitfire provided space for about 21 gallons of additional fuel in the wing tanks. Yet some stages of the flight plan, such as Syria or Pakistan, might have justified keeping them. “We had to learn precisely the procedures of recognition and possible air engagement with the air forces of the various countries that we will cross, in case of inspection or if, by chance, our identification was not recognized,” explained one of the two pilots, with a smile that spoke volumes about his state of mind.
However, a lot of preparation does not preclude a small dose of recklessness. Or, a “boldness,” as Prince Harry described it in a letter of encouragement and congratulations he addressed to both pilots. The grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and himself an Apache helicopter pilot in Iraq recommended they enjoy themselves.
The program for the coming months will be rich and varied. After Iceland and Canada, the Spitfire will traverse the United States, before crossing into Siberia over the Bering Strait. Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Nepal, and India will follow before turning toward Afghanistan and to the Middle East. After Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt the Spitfire will return to Europe via Cyprus and Greece, before Italy, France, and Monaco. Should neither the vagaries of weather nor mechanical difficulties delay them, the aircraft is expected on the grounds of St. Gallen-Altenrhein in Switzerland on November 28th.
Finally, after crossing Germany and The Netherlands with a stopover in Le Bourget, near Paris, where the pilots are scheduled to meet the descendants of the aviator and writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry, the Spitfire will return to its Goodwood home on December 8th. Half soap opera half chivalrous epic, the adventure of the “Longest Flight” can be followed in real-time at www.silverspitfire.com.
Today, marketing teams – including in the watchmaking world – promise that events will be spectacular, sensational, or adventurous. But oftentimes, these promises are empty, merely words to add a bit spice to a sanitized era. This is not one of those times. The expedition that has just taken flight offers a true adventure and a unique experience. Safe flying, gentlemen!
(Photography by Pierre Vogel & IWC Schaffhausen)