Rediscovering History: The Spitfire AA810’s Remarkable Tale

DAYTON, Ohio -- Supermarine Spitfire Mk XI at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A Historical Aircraft Uncovered

In a stunning revelation, a World War II Spitfire, pivotal to the “Great Escape,” was discovered in near-pristine condition on a Norwegian mountain. This Spitfire, lost for 76 years since being downed by the Germans, marks the first significant find of its kind in over two decades. The aircraft’s pilot, part of the infamous war breakout and later executed by the Germans, adds a poignant layer to this discovery.

Alastair Gunn, the Spitfire’s pilot, embarked on a fateful mission from Northern Scotland on March 5, 1942. Tasked with photographing the German battleship Tirpitz, his plane was tragically shot down. Captured by the Germans, Gunn’s subsequent involvement in the Great Escape led to his execution, a tragic end for a brave aviator.

Supermarine Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire

The PRU’s Secret Warriors

The Spitfire AA810 belonged to the RAF’s elite Photographic Reconnaissance Unit. These specialized planes, over 500 in number, were designed for covert intelligence missions. Stripped of armaments for added range, they undertook hazardous tasks, gathering critical wartime intelligence. The perilous nature of these missions is underscored by their short life expectancy and the high number of aircraft lost over hostile territories.

The discovery of Spitfire AA810, largely intact, is an extraordinary event. Its survival, despite decades in a peat bog, offers a unique glimpse into the design and operation of these special aircraft. The find is not just a piece of war machinery but a testament to the innovation and skill of its creators and the courage of those who flew it.

The Man at the Controls

After the crash, Gunn faced a dire choice: an arduous escape to Sweden or surrender. His decision to surrender, given his lack of ski knowledge and the daunting journey ahead, led to his capture. This choice ultimately led him to Stalag Luft 3 and his involvement in the Great Escape, sealing his fate under the Nazi regime.

Gunn’s story is emblematic of the bravery and sacrifice of the era’s pilots. Their contributions to critical reconnaissance missions were vital, albeit often overshadowed by more visible wartime activities. The Spitfire’s discovery brings Gunn’s story and the tales of others like him back into the limelight, honoring their legacy.

spitfire AA810
Artist impression of Spitfire AA810

Reviving the Spitfire 

The Spitfire AA810 restoration transcends mere aircraft repair. This project strives to bring the plane back to the skies by 2022, marking 80 years since its last mission. More than reconstructing an aircraft, this effort revives a vital piece of history. It stands as a tribute to the courage of pilots like Alastair Gunn, embodying their enduring legacy. The restored Spitfire, once airborne, will serve as a living symbol of their bravery and sacrifice.

Alongside the restoration, the team will launch the Alastair Gunn Aviation Skills Program. This educational initiative focuses on teaching young people the art of aircraft restoration, a skill that intertwines engineering prowess with historical preservation. By doing so, the program ensures that the legacy of the Spitfire and its pilots not only remains alive but also continues to inspire and educate future generations. It’s a commitment to keeping the spirit of innovation and heroism, as exemplified by Gunn and his colleagues, a relevant and influential part of our future.

pitfire flatlay: Ian Hewitt, CEO of expedition sponsors Spitfire Heritage Gin, with recovered parts pieced together in the Norweigan village theatre
pitfire flatlay: Ian Hewitt, CEO of expedition sponsors Spitfire Heritage Gin, with recovered parts pieced together in the Norweigan village theatre

A Journey Through Time

The uncovering of Spitfire AA810 opens a remarkable chapter in the chronicles of World War II. It creates a tangible link to a past fraught with heroism and sacrifice. The aircraft, a silent witness to the tumultuous times of war, now resonates with the stories of those who risked everything. Through its restoration and the associated educational program, this initiative honors the airmen who undertook perilous missions and serves as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring aviators and historians.

The trajectory of Spitfire AA810, from its deployment over hostile skies to its resting place on a Norwegian mountainside, and finally to a restoration workshop, narrates a saga of resilience, innovation, and bravery. This story, once on the brink of being forgotten, is now reawakening, ensuring that the valor and lessons of a bygone era are not lost but passed down to future generations.

Reconnaissance Spitfire
Reconnaissance Spitfire