(Images: Urban Ghosts. Supermarine Spitfire F21 LA198 in Kelvingrove Museum)
British aviation fans often describe the Supermarine Spitfire as the most beautiful aircraft to ever grace the skies. And with good reason; its elegant design and high performance have made R.J. Mitchell’s acclaimed aircraft a flying legend, while its decisive role during the Battle of Britain – as the pilots of RAF Fighter Command fought tirelessly against the might of the German Luftwaffe – has cemented its place as a national icon.
This is embodied perfectly by “the Glasgow Spitfire”, which is proudly displayed amid the late Victorian grandeur of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in the city’s West End. Despite inhabiting different points in time, the two seem like a perfect match, echoes of vintage design and engineering at its most graceful.
This particular Supermarine Spitfire, serial number LA198, is a late model Mark F21 airframe fitted with the more powerful Rolls Royce Griffon engine, as opposed to the Merlin, which allowed those earlier Battle of Britain machines to take on their formidable German adversaries. The vintage fighter, coded RAI-G, also has a five-bladed propeller.
Spitfire LA198 served with No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron, a Royal Auxiliary Air Force unit, between 1947 and 1949. 602 had formed as a light bomber squadron in 1925. In 1938 its role changed to one of army-cooperation and by the time the Second World War broke out in 1939, it had become a fighter unit.
According to a plaque inside the Kelvingrove Museum: “The 602 pilots were the first part-time squadron to be equipped with Spitfires – on 8 May 1939. The squadron was disbanded at the end of World War II in 1945, but reformed a year later. They continued to fly Spitfires until 8 May 1951, exactly 12 years after the planes first arrived.”
The Spitfire F21 was developed in 1944 as World War Two was nearing its bloody end game. After the war LA198 was placed in storage and, after a three year spell as a gate guardian at RAF Leuchars during the 1980s, eventually passed to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where she hangs among the animals in one of several grand halls.
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