For sale: Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, $3,400,000

History: In 1943, the largest single contract for Spitfires was being produced at the Castle Bromwich factory near Birmingham, England. One of these aircraft was production Number MJ730, a Mk-IX Spitfire, first test flown by Alex Henshaw, the factory’s chief test pilot, on December 10, 1943. Within a couple of weeks, it was dismantled and crated for shipping to the North African port of Casablanca.

The first operational unit that MJ730 served with was 417 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. There, its first mission was escorting a group of USAAF B-25 Mitchell bombers during the Italian campaign. It was involved during this time with the allied landings at Anzio and flew 15 sorties over 24 days.

On May 9, 1944 the aircraft was transferred to the 154 Squadron of the RAF and its identifier was changed to HT-W. Here it operated from the island of Corsica on 95 missions flying bomber escorts for the American forces over northern Italy and in support of the southern invasion of France. It was during these operations from Corsica the MJ730 was filmed in color by William Wyler, famed director of the Memphis Belle documentary and later Ben Hur, for an Army movie about the use of P-47 Thunderbolts in the Italian campaign.

On October 9, 1944, MJ730 was transferred again to 32 Squadron RAF at Kolomaki, Greece. The aircraft was chosen by Squadron Leader George Silvester, DFC, as his personal plane. Before it’s individual code had been assigned, he jokingly said to some of his ground crew that there was “a bit of a question mark” over which identity letter to give his personal Spitfire, because as Squadron Leader, he belonged to neither ‘A’ Flight or ‘B’ Flight.

The ground crew as a lark placed a large “question mark” where the individual code letter would have normally appeared. Squadron Leader Silvester was amused by the gesture and MJ730 was referred to as ‘The CO’s Query.’ This tradition continued into the 1950’s with 32 Squadron’s future commanding officers continuing to also display the ‘?’ on their Vampire jets.

The war ended with the aircraft being flown by 249 Squadron RAF, from Yugoslavia, in harassment of the retreating German forces. After the war it was ferried to RAF Brindisi in Italy. Here it was stored for almost a year before being sold to the newly reformed Italian Air Force. The aircraft underwent a major overhaul by Aeronautica Machhi at Varese and then accepted by the Italian Air Force at Centocelle Airport on the outskirts of Rome.

In 1951, MJ730 was among a batch of Spitfires sold by the Italian government to Israel. The Israeli Air Force assigned the number 66 to the aircraft and it served in an Operational Training Unit at the Ramat David Airfield.

It was finally decommissioned in June 1956, when most of Israel’s other Spitfires were sold to Burma. MJ730 was saved to provide young Israeli children with a subtle desire to become fighter pilots. It was moved to a playground at a kibbutz in Kabri, near the border of Lebanon.

It was here that the aircraft was found in a dilapidated condition during the 1970’s and transported back to England in 1978. The initial restoration work was begun by a firm in the south of England. But in August 1986, the project was sold to Fred Smith, founder and President of Federal Express.

The work was completed in November 1988, but immediately offered for sale. It was purchased by David Pennell, an electronics manufacturer in Birmingham, England. The aircraft spent the next ten years in the Midlands area performing at many charity events and memorial functions.

In 1998, the Fighter Factory learned about the possible availability of this aircraft while in New Zealand searching for assorted Curtiss P-40 parts. An inspection in England was arranged and a contract was signed at the May Duxford airshow.

An engine problem developed prior to delivery, which necessitated an overhaul of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine in Great Britain. The aircraft finally arrived at the Fighter Factory facilities in Virginia during the beginning of 2000.

History of Spitfire IX MJ730
Dec 10 1943 Castle Bromwich – Alex Henshaw, Test Pilot
Jan 29 1944 Shipped to Casablanca, North Africa
April 6 1944 417 Squadron RCAF – Marcionise, Italy (AN-T)
May 9 1944 154 Squadron RAF – Poretta, Corsica (HT-W)
Oct 9 1944 32 Squadron RAF – Kalamaki, Greece (GZ-?)
Feb 16 1945 94 Squadron RAF – Sedes, Greece (GO-Y)
May 3 1945 249 Squadron RAF – Prkos, Yugoslovia (GN-Y)
June 27 1946 Sold to Italian Air Force – Rome, Italy
July 17 1951 Sold to Israel Defense Forces (66)
Summer 1978 Recovered from Israel – Robs Lamplough
August 1986 Project purchased by Fred Smith (FedEx)
Nov 12 1988 First post restoration test flight – Hastings, England
June 1989 Purchased by David Pennell, Gloucestershire, UK
May 2 1998 Purchased by Tidewater Tech at Duxford, England
Feb 2000 Delivered to Virginia, USA (N730MJ)

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Joris Nieuwint

Joris Nieuwint is a battlefield guide for the Operation Market Garden area. His primary focus is on the Allied operations from September 17th, 1944 onwards. Having lived in the Market Garden area for 25 years, he has been studying the events for nearly as long. He has a deep understanding of the history and a passion for sharing the stories of the men who are no longer with us.