Spitfire Season (8)
‘The Last of the Line’
The Spitfire MkXIX (PR) was the last development of the Spitfire to see operational WW2 service. Issued to 541 and 542 Squadrons at the Photo Reconnaissance base at Benson in April 1944 the aircraft was the mainstay of high-level recce for the major part of European operations. Virtually completely redesigned - no armament or cockpit armour - and fitted with the supercharged Griffon engine the Spitfire XIX was intended to be untouchable by the Luftwaffe fighter air arm. With a top speed of 460mph and a service ceiling in excess of 44,000 ft this did indeed prove to be the case and the Spit XIX was capable of PR operations over all of Occupied Europe. Increased fuel tankage provided for a range in excess of 1500miles - more than enough to complete missions well beyond Berlin. This was one of the first truly operational aircraft to provide a pressurised cockpit for the crew and a heated area for the variety of cameras carried - ambient external temperatures at 40,000 + ft average around -80C - not the best environment for human or photo film!
The type remained in service until 1952 and this example has been restored to 1944 standards and is currently operated by an individual French owner. The aircraft is a ‘regular’ at Duxford air shows and was photographed there in 2008 - with the original image ‘mounted’ in a more sympathetic cloudscape from my archives.