Restored Spitfire takes flight

Restored Spitfire takes flight

By Dave O’Malley

Vintage Wings of Canada

Arnold Roseland was just 28-years old when he died in an aerial gunfight over Normandy in the summer of 1944.

He had fought both the Japanese in the Aleutians and the Nazis before and after D-Day. If anyone deserved to return home to his family, it was the well-liked “Rosey.” But it was not to be. Instead he died when his parachute caught on the tail of his burning Spitfire and he was thrown to his death when the aircraft struck the ground.

Since that day, Rosey’s remains have lain in a well-tended grave site at the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in Calvados, France.

The memory of Arnold Roseland lived on in his wife Audrey’s heart until her death, and since then his story has been carried like a torch by his son Ron and his children and grandchildren.

Though Ron would never meet his father, he had some artifacts to help him construct a bridge to him—his eyes have scanned the words that Rosey’s hands penned in his logbook, his hands have caressed his pilot’s brevet, his story has coursed through his bloodstream like a ghost.

But there was no actual living memory he could attach his love to. Until last week.

Last week, Rosey’s spirit rose into the air over his native Canada, casting a physical shadow across a country he gave his life to protect and to preserve its freedoms.

Last week, after many years and millions of dollars, Spitfire Mk IX TE294, known as the Roseland Spitfire, took to the skies for the very first time.

The Roseland Spitfire is the very embodiment of that brave, fatigued young man from so long ago. It is in fact the embodiment of every young Spitfire pilot who went to war and never came home.

That is why we took on this project—to honour these courageous Canadians by building the first Spitfire ever built in Canada and flying it in Canadian markings.

Comox shares in success

It was a happy day for the entire Comox/Gatineau team, but all of Canada should be proud of their accomplishment.

When the volunteers at the Comox Air Force Museum began work on TE294, they went forward under the hopeful banner “She will fly again.”

Vintech Aero and Vintage Wings of Canada have always respected this vision of the project’s founders and we are proud to have helped fulfill that promise they made.

Since this first flight, the Roseland Spitfire has now completed six test flights, each one carefully and gradually expanding the flight envelope of the aircraft.

Vintage Wings of Canada will now take TE294 through a lengthy, meticulous and methodical test process for the rest of the year to ensure she is in perfect order before she attends any distant air show or other events.

She will, however, be debuting for all of Canada when she makes a triumphant flypast over Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Canada Day to celebrate Canada’s 150th Birthday. How’s that for a homecoming for long lost but not forgotten Arnold Roseland!

Modest beginnings

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, RAF serial number TE294 – Twenty years ago, nothing more than a pile of rotting metal and loose components, TE294 had almost been subsumed by the earth from which she came—her aluminum and steel structure corroding and breaking down in a scrapyard in South Africa, her wings long gone, component parts stolen or vandalized.

Only to someone who could recognize her broken, twisted and rusted bones was she still a Spitfire. In the 1990s, TE294 was rescued, the decline to dust arrested, and the long, long journey to living warbird commenced.

From South Africa, her boxed bones travelled to British Columbia, Canada, where a group of passionate volunteers at the Comox Air Force Museum took on her daunting rebuild as a millennium project and as an homage to the wartime pilots of 442 Squadron, a Search and Rescue squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force still residing on the flight line at 19 Wing, Comox.

Funding a problem

For a number of years, the Comox team made steady progress, but continued funding of the extremely expensive enterprise became problematic.

Mike Potter and Vintage Wings of Canada were approached to offer assistance in terms of expertise, facilities and above all funding. The transition of control to Vintage Wings was not without controversy and detractors, but the Comox Air Force Museum website explains it best:

“In 2000, the Comox Air Force Museum, with a grant from the Y2K Millennium Fund, purchased TE 294 and embarked on the Y2K Spitfire Project. The project was funded entirely by donations and grants from the general public and the restoration proceeded slowly.

By 2007 only the fuselage and tail section had been completed and it was becoming obvious that a massive infusion of cash would be needed if the project was to continue.

“In 2008, the Museum presented a decision paper to the Wing Commander of 19 Wing, Comox. It concluded that unless a new owner could be found the Museum would be compelled to shut the project down and dispose of the unfinished aircraft. The Wing Commander accepted the findings, and the plane was offered to other museums and agencies who might be interested in completing the restoration.

“Vintage Wings of Canada, a Heritage Foundation based in Gatineau, Québec, was willing to take over responsibility for the project in situ and provide the estimated $1.6 million required to finish it to flying status.”

There are many people who have been critical to the rebuilding of this remarkable aircraft, the first of which were the original Y2-K team members from Comox. Their creative and audacious idea now seems close to reality.

In addition, the Comox Vintech Aero team—Ken Hazell, Dean Sept, Kaven Tremblay, Henry Bukach and Terry Chester—built the main fuselage, cockpit and tail assembly. The quality of their work took our collective breath away when the fuselage was unveiled at a special hangar dinner in October of 2014.

 

Restored Spitfire takes flight

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