The Isle of Wight is reknowned for its aviation engineering industry
Seventy years after the Battle of Britain, authentic Spitfires are still being produced on the Isle of Wight.
Airframe Assemblies in Sandown meets a niche market for Spitfire enthusiasts who want to fly the legendary plane.
The company has re-built over 40 airworthy planes from wreckage and genuine Spitfire spare parts.
Each has “the heart and soul” of a Spitfire, according to managing director Steve Vizard.
Twenty skilled engineers now work at the business which has been based on the island since 1986.
Steve Vizard is an avid collector of aviation memorabilia
They are currently working on four Spitfires. Bulkheads salvaged from around the world are supplemented with wheels, Merlin engines, controls and other parts – not necessarily from that exact plane, but all salvaged from genuine Spitfires.
Mr Vizard insists: “Everything we do is exactly as it was … absolute authenticity is the watchword for all our customers.”
Although forever associated with the Battle of Britain, Spitfires were flown as far afield as Australia, Burma, South America and even the former USSR, so spare parts and identifiable carcasses are available worldwide.
A beach in France and a scrapyard in South Africa yielded two of the Spitfires currently in the workshop. Five have emerged in Russia in the last few years.
There are currently around 50 airworthy Spitfires
There were 22,000 Spitfires built, so for Mr Vizard who has been involved in tracking down and swapping military memorabilia for nearly 30 years, “There is no shortage if you know where to look”.
Anything “new” – from nuts and bolts upwards, is made from original Spitfire plans. The company is the only one in the UK licensed to manufacture replacement parts.
One of the Spitfires in the workshop was originally found in a dried-up riverbed in Yorkshire during the 1976 drought and should be completed by the end of this year.
Its owner, Peter Hood, said: “It’s very important these are returned to the air. You can see what it looks like and hear the sound – it’s part of our heritage.”
He already co-owns another Spitfire, Spirit of Kent, which makes regular appearances at air shows and stages flypasts at private events like weddings and funerals.
He said: “It’s a fabulous aircraft to fly – very powerful”.
Mr Vizard insists the popularity of the plane has not faded – even 70 years after the Battle of Britain.
Rebuilding a Spitfire could take 3-4 years
“Luckily for us people are still drawn to the iconic image a Spitfire now has. It seems to be one of those things which transcends age.
“Everybody from eight to 80 recognises the sight and sound of the Spitfire.”
Turning a piece of rusting scrap into a fully airworthy plane is, of course, a “huge task”.
A typical project takes 5,000 manhours and so does not come cheap – a Spitfire restoration will have a price tag of at least £1.3m and take three to four years to complete.
However customers can expect an instant £0.5m rise in value on their investment as soon as it comes out of the workshop.
Mr Vizard said: “Our customers are passionate about the aircraft and are lucky enough to be able to afford it.
“Unless its absolutely as it should be, they won’t spend what is a large amount of money on their hobby. And to get it right takes time.”
Wow!! Authentic Spitfires are still being produced on the Isle of Wight UK.