All photos me too, copyrighted
Like many Spitfire enthusiasts, over the years I had gone through all the “fan-boy” motions: I’ve watched the movies, read the books, saw the photos… collected a bit of memorabilia even, the lot. But, as is often the case with these things, my involvement with the Spit had always stopped short of actually seeing a real, flying example. Sure, I’ve seen one in a museum – an ex-Yugoslav Mk.Vb in Belgrade’s Aeronautical Museum – but static, toy-like and lifeless, its beautiful Merlin silent, it just didn’t cut it at all.
Determined for years to right that wrong, last Saturday (26 June) I sat in the car and set off for La Comina airfield in Northern Italy. Just a few miles south of Aviano airbase, this small grass field – one of the oldest in the country – was the venue for the La Comina 100 airshow, part of a series of shows across the width and breadth of Italy, celebrating its first century of (practical :D) aviation. On this occasion, the aircraft line-up had included a mouth-watering selection of precious warbirds, including my “target for the day”, my first ever flying Spitfire! 🙂
Owned by the Jacquard Collection of France, F-AZJS – a post-war photo-reconnaissance PR.19 – is perhaps not the most exotic Spitfire around, but it is among the very few surviving examples of what some call the most capable Spitfire mark of them all. The last of the land-based Spitfires – powered by the monstrous 2035 HP Rolls-Royce Griffon 65 borrowed from the 1944-vintage Mk.XIV – the light, unarmed PR.19 can zip along at a fantastic 740 km/h, along the way touching altitudes in excess of 50,000 ft; heights that put most modern civil jets to shame! 🙂
That day though, F-AZJS would (thankfully) be touching just – 500 ft :D. Already excited out of my skin – and set and ready to experience the grace, power and charisma of the immortal Spit – I had readied the camera and waited…
As an added bonus feature – and in the interest of serving a balanced dose of irony 😀 – I’ve also decided to include a few shots of the unique Fiat G.59-4B two-seater that had also appeared at the show, currently the only flying example in existence. Though it outwardly looks like a bastard cross between a Spitfire, Bf.109 and Yak-1, it is actually based on the curvy Fiat G.55 Centauro, hailed by many as the best Italian wartime fighter. Powered by a 1475 HP Fiat Tifone inverted V12 – a license-built version of the Daimler-Benz DB 605A-1 – it had proved to be a formidable opponent, taking on Spitfires and Mustangs without a second thought. Stunningly maneuverable – but slightly under-armed – the G.55 had some notable combat successes, but their low numbers meant that the type couldn’t make much of a dent in Allied air fleets.
An advanced design that was ahead of its time in a number of respects, the G.55 was – like the Bf.108 previously featured here – returned to production following the end of WW2. However, again like the Bf.108, it soon started facing a serious shortage of engines, with the stockpiles of WW2-vintage Tifones – and even imported DB 605s – dwindling fast. In a bid to keep the production lines open, the design team started looking for a replacement engine – but, unlike with the Bf.108, their choices were very limited. The only realistic option in the required power range was none other than – the RR Merlin :D.
Re-designated as the G.59, the new aircraft was comparatively successful, though was in the end built only in modest numbers (with almost half intended for Argentina and Syria, the type’s only foreign customers). Two versions were produced, the single-seat A models and the two seat Bs, to whose last batch our example – I-MRSV – belongs…