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
Built at Castle Bromwich as a single seat low level LF Mark IX fighter, The Grace Spitfire served in the front line of battle throughout the last twelve months of WWII. ML407 is currently in the colour scheme as she was when delivered on 29 April 1944 by a famous lady A.T.A. pilot, Jackie Moggridge, to 485 New Zealand Squadron at ALG Selsey to Flying Officer Johnnie Houlton DFC, with Squadron letters OU and Johnnie’s personal insignia letter V (for Vicki his wife to be).
In 2014 the Grace Spitfire celebrated the 70th Anniversary of being taken on charge (into action) on 29 April 1944, in addition to the 70th Anniversary of D-Day when on 6 June 1944 (D-Day) Johnnie Houlton flying his Spitfire OU-V (ML407) was accredited with shooting down the first enemy aircraft (a Junkers 88) over the Normandy beach head just south of Omaha Beach. ML407 did a total of 176 operational sorties, predominantly ground attack, amassing over 320 combat hours whilst in the 2nd Tactical Air Force (TAF) going from 485 New Zealand Squadron in December 1944 to 341 Free French, 308 Polish, 349 Belgian, 345 Free French, 332 Norwegian Squadrons, returning to 485 New Zealand Squadron at the end of the War. Miraculously, ML407 did not suffer any major structural damage during this time.
Into Battle Sitting on the Front Line
In 1951 Vickers Armstrong at Southampton was commissioned by the Irish Air Corps to convert 20 Spitfires to the trainer configuration. ML407 was one of these, serving with the Irish Army Air Corps as IAC162 until 1960 with a total time of 763 hours flown for the IAC. In 1968 ML407 was sold on, finally ending up in Scotland, and went into storage.
Nick Grace found this Spitfire in a museum in Scotland in 1979 where he bought it, moved it down to Cornwall and set about his meticulous 5 year rebuild. It was in April 1985 that ML407 was flown again in Nick’s capable hands, with his wife Carolyn in the rear cockpit to enjoy this unique first post rebuild flight. Their children were present: Olivia aged 2 and Richard aged 9 months.
First Engine Run - 1985 First Flight - 1985
In 2015 they celebrated the 30th Anniversary of that flight on 16 April, with Richard, aged 30 and 9 months flying with his mother, Carolyn, in the rear cockpit to honour his late father’s achievement. Tragically Nick was killed in a car accident in 1988. He had been displaying the Spitfire for 3 years. Carolyn decided to learn to fly their Spitfire to keep it operational with a Grace in the cockpit. She did this in memory of Nick and in recognition of his outstanding achievement, and also for their two children then aged 5 and 4. It became known as the Grace Spitfire.
Carolyn is an Australian brought up on a property 120 miles south of Sydney. She achieved her PPL in 1978 in the Channel Islands with the majority of her flying being done in her Stampe biplane. It was from the Stampe that she progressed on to the Spitfire in July 1990 under the skilful tuition of Peter Kynsey who has trained her to achieve her aerobatic and formation display authorisation. She now has over 900 hours on the Grace Spitfire.
The Grace Spitfire is a family business. Olivia Grace (32) designed The Grace Spitfire website www.ML407.co.uk and Richard Grace (30) has his own Display Team: The Trig Aerobatic Team. Richard also displays the Grace Spitfire and runs the engineering side of the family business. Richard’s fiancé Daisy Burge administrates the Grace Spitfire Supporters Group and all the family strive to keep the Grace Spitfire operational for generations to come.
The Grace Spitfire featured in the Channel Four series Spitfire Ace. It was an honour for them to support the Battle of Britain Veterans who featured in this outstanding programme shown worldwide. The Grace Spitfire has a high public profile having been featured on Top Gear, James May’s Toy Stories, in Top Gear Magazine, and with Sir David Jason in the ITV Battle of Britain documentary.
CAROLYN GRACE IS MOST GRATEFUL TO JLT INSURANCE BROKERS who sponsor the insurance on the aircraft and to THE GRACE SPITFIRE SUPPORTERS GROUP who contribute so generously to help keep this Spitfire flying.