Ordered as part of the 17th order placed with Castle Bromwich for a batch of 1,884 Mk IX aircraft dated April 1943, TE392 was given cockpit C/N CBAF IX 4551. Fitted with an American Packard Merlin 266 and was designated as a Mk XVIe. The aircraft was delivered one month after VE day, to No 9 M.U. Cosford in June of 1945.
TE392 went on to serve with several Fighter and Army Co-operation squadrons until 1952. The aircraft became a ground instructional unit, displayed publicly at RAF Gaydon, Battle of Britain days on several occasions. Many remaining Spitfires found allocated to ‘Gate Guardian’ duty. TE392 eventually gracing the gate at RAF Credenhill, Hereford
Removed as a Gate Guardian in August of 1984, TE392 was acquired by notable Spitfire collector Doug Arnold, with restoration commencing in mid-1989. At this point the decision was made to convert the fuselage from its low-back configuration to a high-back configuration. The fuselage structure was dismantled, and new quarter frame repairs were used to change it back to the original high-back Spitfire profile, as per the ‘Unit Users Repair Manual for Accident and Battle Damage’.
Following the passing of Doug Arnold in 1992, TE392 was sold and shipped to Florida in the United States. Return-to-flight restorations continued under the guidance of Harry Stenger.
First engine runs were carried out August 1999 with the test flight being conducted Christmas Eve 1999. TE392 had, at this point, been gifted to the Lone Star Museum in Galveston, Texas, where it became a regular flying exhibit. *(ref Spitfire Survivors)
September 2008 saw the Galveston and surrounding areas devastated by Hurricane Ike, and sadly the Museum suffered significant damage to its buildings and exhibits. Most aircraft were flown out, however TE392 couldn’t as engine works were being carried out at the time. As a result, the aircraft was partly immersed in flood waters. Immediately after the water had recessed, TE392 was shipped to Ezell Aviation, in the North of Texas, where the aircraft was immediately dismantled, washed, inhibited and then stored in preparation for reassembly.
Nine years had come and gone with the aircraft still in storage before the opportunity for the Fighter Pilot group to purchase TE392 came about. Working with Platinum Fighter Sales, a purchase from the Lone Star Museum in its disassembled state was completed in early December 2017. Later that same month, the aircraft began it journey to Australia, arriving in February 2018 at Performance Aero in Brisbane Australia.
Under the oversight of Cameron Rolph-Smith, an overhaul of the aircraft component-by-component began. The process required a complete disassembly of the wings and replacement of the wing spars. Removal of many of the skins on the fuselage was also undertaken to assess any potential longeron, frame and skin corrosion from the immersion ten years earlier. In addition, all non-standard US hardware and components were removed from the airframe and replaced with original British specification hardware. During the 18-month period since restoration commenced, over fifteen thousand man-hours have been invested in the restoration process.
The livery chosen for the aircraft is proudly that of a Mk IX “DV*A” flown by Frederick Anthony Owen "Tony" Gaze, (DFC & Two Bars, OAM) - one of the great Australian WWII aces. DV*A was piloted by Tony whilst flying with 129 Squadron RAF. During the war, Tony Gaze was attributed with 12.5 confirmed victories and flew as a wingman to the legendary Douglas Bader. Also unbeknownst to many, Tony Gaze “post-war” was instrumental in the formation of the Goodwood racing circuit after persuading Freddie March, Ninth Duke of Richmond, to convert the airfield perimeter service road around RAF Westhampnett into a race circuit. Opened in September 1948, Britain’s first post-war motor race at a permanent venue was held. Later, a civilian airfield was also opened on the site, which continues to operate to this day.
Tony Gaze would also go on to become Australia’s first Formula 1 driver. His love of aviation continued with him going on to represent Australia in the world gliding championships.
A special acknowledgement is given to the team at Performance Aero - Cameron, Bec, Myke, Margaret, Greg and the three Johns to say what a great job you have done to get TE392 to this point.
It is planned that engine runs will be undertaken this week, with a test flight to be planned soon.
*Spitfire Survivors - Then and Now
By Gordon Riley , Peter Arnold , and Graham Trant
The Story of Squadron Leader Tony Gaze OAM DFC***, Australian Spitfire Ace and Racing Driver
By Stewart Wilson