The Grace Spitfire ML407
The Grace Spitfire ML407 has been gracing the skies above the Battle Proms for many summers, with a meticulously choreographed display to the opening pieces of the orchestral performance. The arrival of this iconic plane always brings the crowd to their feet and a tear to many an eye.
Image courtesy of Darren Harbar
The Grace Spitfire ML407 was originally built at Castle Bromwich in early 1944 as a Mark IX single seat fighter and served in the front line of battle throughout the last twelve months of World War II with six different allied Squadrons of the RAF’s 2nd Tactical Air Force. ML407 flew a total of 176 operational combat sorties amassing an impressive total 319 combat hours. ML407 was delivered to 485 New Zealand Squadron on the 29th April 1944 by Jackie Moggridge, one of the top lady pilots of the Air Transport Auxilllary (ATA), where it became the ‘mount’ of Flying Officer Johnnie Houlton DFC who was accredited, whilst flying ML407, with the first enemy aircraft shot down over the Normandy beachhead on 6th June D-Day.
In December 1944 ML407 was transferred to 341 Free French Squadron to Sergeant Jean Dabos. It then moved on through various Allied Squadrons – 308 (Polish) Squadron, 349 (Belgian) Squadron, 345 (Free French) Squadron, 332 (Norwegian) Squadron and back to 485 (New Zealand) Squadron at the cessation of hostilities. ML407 then went into a Maintenance Unit where it remained until being selected by Vickers-Armstrongs at Eastleigh, Southampton for conversion in 1950 to the two seat configuration for the Irish Air Corps as an advanced trainer. ML407 changed to 162 and flew to Baldonnel. Flying a further 762 with the IAC the aircraft was put into storage and offered for sale in 1968. Sir William Roberts eventually bought the aircraft for his museum in Strathallan.
Into Battle Sitting on the Front Line
Design Engineer Nick Grace, having always wanted to fly a Spitfire, acquired ML407 in late 1979 from the Strathallan Museum and spent five years meticulously restoring the Spitfire to flying condition in it’s two seat configuration incorporating what is known as the ‘Grace in line Canopy Conversion’ which Nick designed to remove the bulbous rear canopy to a more streamlined version to keep the original line of the Spitfire intact. Nick completed this incredible project in early 1985 and on the 16th April the Grace Spitfire flew again with Nick’s capable hands at the controls and Carolyn in the rear cockpit.
First Engine Run - 1985 First Flight - 1985
Nick went on to fly the Spitfire at many Airshows throughout the UK and Europe. A cruel twist of fate occurred when Nick was tragically killed in a car accident in 1988 leaving his widow Carolyn and their two children, Olivia aged 5 and Richard aged 4. Carolyn knew there needed to be a Grace flying ML407 and so took on the immense task of learning to fly the Spitfire.
Carolyn went solo in ML407 in 1990 and the Spitfire ML407 became known as the Grace Spitfire in tribute to and in memory of Nick Grace. Carolyn attained her display authorisation in the Grace Spitfire in 1991 and carried on to add an Aerobatic and Formation qualification over the next two years. Carolyn had displayed the Grace Spitfire for 25 years amassing over 900 hours on Spitfires before retiring from flying in 2017.
It was the intention of Nick Grace for his Spitfire, now the Grace Spitfire, to carry on for generations to come, and with his untimely death Carolyn took up the gauntlet of keeping this aircraft flying. Now the next generation is not only maintaining the aircraft but is flying the aircraft just as Nick Grace did.
The Grace Spitfire is now based at Sywell Aerodrome and is meticulously maintained by a Team of Engineers, led by Richard Grace, at Air Leasing Ltd. Richard, along with Air Leasing’s select team of pilots, flies the Grace Spitfire for various displays, airshows and passenger flights, including the Battle Proms Concerts every July and August.
It is the generosity of JLT Insurance Brokers, who sponsor the insurance for the Grace Spitfire, that plays such an important role in the continued success of this truly historic Spitfire.