Spitfire PL983 ‘L’
Spitfire PRXI PL983 (G-PRXI) wears the wartime photo reconnaissance blue livery of its time serving in Europe with 4 Squadron before it later passed to 2 Squadron in post war occupied Germany. The aircraft was subsequently placed on contract loan to Vickers-Armstrong who supplied it to the American Air Attaché as a personal transport. Famously raced by wartime Air Transport Auxiliary pilot, Lettice Curtis, it later passed to the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden, who placed it on external static display. A restoration to flying condition was started by a volunteer team, but the collection sold the unfinished aeroplane at auction in April 1983.
Purchased by wartime French pilot Roland Frassinet, it became the first Spitfire to be restored by Trent Aero Engineering and made its first flight in July 1984 at East Midlands Airport. Sold to collector, Doug Arnold, it featured in the TV series ‘Piece of Cake’ but saw little air display use. Following Arnold’s death in November 1992, PL983 was placed in dismantled storage until being re-assembled at North Weald prior to sale to Justin Fleming in 1999. Operated by Martin Sargeant, it was overhauled and re-flown, but sadly met with an accident at Rouen in France during June 2001. Following the conclusion of the accident investigation board, the severely damaged Spitfire was purchased by the Aircraft Restoration Company and moved to Duxford in 2003.
PL983 became the in-house project of Historic Flying and work began on the restoration in 2006. As an in-house project the restoration often had to take a back seat whilst we concentrated on customers work.
The fuselage was sent to Airframe Assemblies on the Isle of Wight with the wings being constructed by HFL and the exact Rolls Royce Merlin 70 which powered PL983 during the war obtained and overhauled. The Merlin 70 has a different supercharger gearing compared to the Merlin 60 series engines to improve the aircraft’s performance at the higher altitudes that the PR.XI’s were designed to operate at. A reconnaissance wrap around clear view windscreen has been fitted to replace the armoured version fitted to the fighter variants. Following the pioneering fitment of a mock cameral instillation on the Rolls Royce Spitfire PS983, HFL have incorporated the same lens assembly fitment into the side camera hatch on PL983.
During the restoration PL983 picked up the nickname ‘Eleven’ amongst the team which over time was affectionately shortened to ‘L’. ‘L’ because it’s the first letter of Lettice and because it’s pronounced ‘el’, the first syllable of Eleven. Since then the nickname has stuck and you will rarely hear us refer to PL983 in any other way.
L first flew again on the 18th of May, 2018 in the capable hands of our chief test pilot John Romain who’s first words upon shutting down the engine post flight were ‘Wow she’s fast!’. Since the first flight L has become an integral part of the fleet and flies frequently throughout the display season. If you are ever passing by IWM Duxford Airfield, always keep your eyes peeled for a dash of PR blue dancing amongst the clouds.