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Thursday, 20 November 2014

The last Spitfire

The last Spitfire to be used by the Irish Air Corp took its last flight in May, 1961. The Spitfire TR9 '163' was in use from 1951 as a training aircraft, having being purchased from the British as they decommissioned them in favour of jet engine craft.

The Spitfire TR9 '163' about to take off for the last time from Baldonnell Airport
19 May 1961
The Spitfires were synonymous with World World II, and caught the imagination of people for their feats in the Battle of Britain and other aerial dogfights with the Axis forces. Many films were made featuring the Spitfire, and Roald Dahl wrote a great book  called Going Solo about his time as a fighter pilot, and how they used to patch up the bullet holes with tin before taking to the air again.

One of the best known Spitfire “aces” was in fact an Irishman, Paddy Finucane, who shot down five German planes only to be killed himself over France in 1941. Six Victorian Crosses were awarded to Irishmen, who had fought with the British, for their efforts during the war. Five of those men were from southern Ireland, and may have come home from all the horror they’d witnessed to face hostility for signing up with the British.

After the war, industrial and technical advances meant that jet engines were the new system for flight technology. It was more efficient and more powerful, allowing a plane to fly further without needing to refuel. But the Spitfires were still sufficient for the Irish Air Corps for getting their cadet pilots into the air and gaining experience.

Although the Spitfire TR9 '163' was retired from flying in 1961, it was still used for ground training for another seven years, until it was sold to a private collector, Tony Samuelson of Spitfire Productions Ltd. If you’d like to find out more about the life of the TR9 ‘163’, you’ll find more here.

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