DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY Aviation Museum proudly unveiled their restored Spitfire IIa P7540 to the public on 16 July, 35 years after it was recovered from the depths of Loch Doon in South Ayrshire. It took a five-year search, involving 109 sub-aqua divers and 567 separate dives, to locate the wreck which was finally brought to the surface in the summer of 1982 and moved to the museum’s premises at the former RAF Dumfries site. Several aborted restorations followed, but thanks to the efforts of Mike Eastman and his Aircraft Restoration Group, the restored fuselage and tail unit was returned to the museum’s care in early 2015.
Building work was already underway on a Romney shed in which to house the completed aircraft, and after receiving a set of fibreglass wings from Gateguards UK (the originals having been totally destroyed in the crash), and with paintwork from local firm NH Commercial Painters, the aircraft was installed in the early summer of 2017. Museum volunteers have carried out further detailed work for the unveiling.
Curator David Reid, said ‘This has been a long time coming for us, but we are immensely proud to finally have this aircraft on display. It is the only combat veteran Spitfire in Scotland, with a fascinating history from the Battle of Britain before becoming a training aircraft for Czech pilots. The next stage of its restoration can now begin, as the museum re-fits the cockpit and carries out detail work on the rest of the airframe. Eventually, it is intended to allow visitors to sit in the aircraft, although this will take some time to achieve. However, to unveil the aircraft in this, our fortieth anniversary year, is a tremendous achievement for a small volunteer museum.’
Spitfire P7540 was built in October 1940 at Castle Bromwich and was issued to 66 Squadron at West Malling in time for the closing days of the Battle of Britain where it was flown by (amongst others) Flt Lt ‘Bobby’ Oxspring with whom it saw combat on several occasions. It also flew with 609 and 266 Squadrons at Biggin Hill and Wittering before transferring to 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron.
312 Sqn were at the time flying Hurricanes from their base at RAF Ayr, but they were to transfer to the Spitfire V at the end of the year. Six war-weary Spitfire IIa aircraft had been issued to aid the transition. P7540 crashed on 25 October 1941 whilst being flown by Fg Off František Hekl, 87619, on a familiarisation sortie. It was Hekl’s second Spitfire flight, the first being the preceding day. Whilst passing low over the waters of Loch Doon, the starboard wing of the Spitfire struck the surface and the aircraft crashed and was lost. Hekl’s body was never found, despite a search at the time of the crash. He is commemorated on a memorial at the side of the loch and on Panel 30 of the Runnymede Memorial.