The Half Stork Spitfire Mk IX
Its iconic silhouette, fame from the Battle of Britain, legends of its aerobatic qualities, the Spitfire, even for Americans is the quintessential WWII fighter! For the Texas Flying Legends Museum, the quest to have a Spitfire began in its first days of establishment. And for TFLM’s chief pilot, reading as a teenager, Flying For Your Life, flying a Spitfire a dream come true. When MK959 first became available seven years ago, it slipped by. That wasn’t going to happen twice, so on 14 October 2015 it became part of the TFLM squadron and came back home to Houston, TX. But getting back there for this WWII vet was quite a journey!
In March 1944, MK959 came off the line at the Vickers-Armstrong plant at Castle Bromwich. Its first flight was in April and then it was assigned to the 39 Maintenance Unit (MU) at RAF Colerne where it waited to be assigned to a combat squadron. In May ’44 it was assigned to the 302 Polish Squadron based at Chailey, England. The 302 received their first Spitfires in October ’41 and first MkIX Spitfires in Sept ’43. MK959 wore the code WX-F in the 302 where it flew fourteen RAMROD (fighter escort) missions. The majority of these were medium bomber missions with some escorting other Spitfires that were carrying bombs making dive-bombing missions. The main focus of the 302 was transportation targets in France prior to the invasion of Normandy.
Mk IX Manufactured
Max Speed (MPH)
Service Ceiling (ft)
Nine days after D Day, Spitfire MK959 was transferred to the 329 Free French RAF Squadron based at Merston, England. MK959 was coded 5A-K and was flown by five different pilots on nineteen combat missions flying over the D Day beachhead on patrol. By the end of June ’44 MK959 was transferred to a Group Support Unit (GSU) for the installation of “slipper tanks.” Since this modification was done outside the squadron, RAF tradition was to transfer aircraft from GSU to other squadrons once modifications/repairs were completed. MK959 went on to 165 Squadron in August ’44 as SX-M based at Detling. It flew 41 combat missions including support of Operation Market Garden Sept ’44. It also flew escort of four Douglas Dakotas taking the exiled Belgium government back to their seat of government in Belgium.
With the end of WWII, MK959 was sold to the Netherlands ending up at Twente as part of its Fighter Training School, Royal Netherlands Air Force. MK959 was now designated as H-15 and completely overhauled in 1949 by Fokker and then put back into service. In 1954 the Royal Netherland Air Force retired their Spits and MK959 was trucked to Volkel to serve as a decoy (Cold War days). It was then moved shortly thereafter to Eindhoven to serve in the same role. At Eindhoven MK959 was saved from rotting away by a RNAF pilot who recognized it, refurbished it and had it moved near the Officer’s Club. Eindhoven was a joint base, and with the RAF being on the field they got MK959 moved to their side of the base by their Officer’s Club. In 1961 the RAF left Eindhoven and MK959 was returned to the RNAF.
It just so happened the new RNAF commander at Eindhoven was Col. Jan van Arkel who flew MK959 when in RNAF service. Van Arkel arranged for a memorial for be created with MK959 to all those who flew the Spitfire in WWII, placing the Spit on a pylon 16 January 1964. MK959 was lightened for its new role with much of if being stripped out and those parts used in other restorations. Seven years later, it was brought down from its perch, serviced and time taken to confirm its identity. It was repainted and put back on its pylon only to come down again in 1981, then reposted 7 April 1982. Then in 1989 Eindhoven was scheduled for closure and through some quick thinking and negotiations a fiberglass Spit was put on the pylon in place of MK959 and it was saved. 27 November 1991 the swap was made and MK959 ended up at RNAF base at Deelan to serve as a pattern for another Spitfire restoration. Funds for multiple restorations not being available, after participating in the 50th Anniversary ceremonies of the Operation Market Garner in Arnhem in 1994, MK959 was sold to Texan Raybourne Thompson.
Thompson was a veteran of many restorations and when looking for a new project wasn’t thinking of a Spitfire. Thompson from the start recognized the enormity of the project, retiring from his job and turning to his long time right hand Bob Guttman to get MK959 back in the air. “This was going to be the first Spitfire built from the ground up in the US and I talked to a lot of people before I started the project,” Thompson said. “When it arrived it was just a corroded hulk, basically a pattern. I knew from the start that we would have to replace every rivet because the Spitfire had been built with magnesium rivets.”
In February 2004, MK959 took to the skies again with Spitfire veteran pilot Elliott Cross at the stick. After all squawks solved, MK959 was flown to John Stewart’s Space City Aircraft Finishers to be painted. Thompson had come to know Andre Rose, the only living pilot to have flown MK959 during the invasion period. Thompson decided to paint MK959 in the Free French scheme. Rose provided photographs from the period as well as a painting he had done to aid in an accurate paint scheme. That included the Half Stork Free French squadron mascot. In 2005, MK959 made its public debut at AirVenture in Oshkosh.
In 2007, Thompson sold MK959 to Tom Duffy, Claire Aviation in Millville, NJ. There MK959 sat with very little operation for the next eight years. When the word got out that it might be for sale, Bruce Eames of TFLM didn’t hesitate this time and quickly chief pilot Warren Pietsch was at the hangar to do an inspection, and soon was flying it back to Texas Flying Legends Museum hangar at Ellington Field, TX. MK959 was the hit of the Wings Over Houston Airshow! One of the attendees at the airshow was there with his son and grandson. For over thirty minutes he told them about his father, their grandfather and great grandfather who flew Spitfires during WWII. There wasn’t a dry eye on the field and it’s that kind of emotional attachment for this legendary aircraft that was welcomed back to Texas. TFLM will be sharing its story across the country in the years to come, the adventures of The Half Stork Spitfire.
Special thanks to Bruce Eames, pilots Doug Rozendaal (Zero), Warren Pietsch (MK959) and Kevin Crozier (photo platform) for their assistance.