The man hoping to dig up a lost squadron of Birmingham-built Spitfires buried in Burma has agreed in principle for one of the historic fighters to return to the city.
Speaking at London’s Imperial War Museum, aviation enthusiast David Cundall agreed that one of the iconic Mark XIV spitfires could go on show in Birmingham.
The 67-year-old Lincolnshire farmer, whose goal is to create a flying squadron of Spitfires following lengthy restoration, said: “We could have a loose agreement that we could loan a Spitfire to Birmingham.
"I’d like to see a Spitfire back in Birmingham even if it’s just for a temporary display or for part of the year and that is because if we do not have enough to make up the squadron then we might need it.
“But even then in the winter time it could go on display in Birmingham.”
He added: “All I can say at this stage is that one could be made available for Birmingham because we can’t restore them all at once so some will have to wait. So Birmingham could have one on display as an extended loan either prior to or after restoration.”
During the Second World War a RAF fighter squadron typically numbered 20 aircraft and two reserves and would be expected to fly 12 aircraft.
Tracy Spaight, director of special projects at Wargaming, which is underwriting Mr Cundall’s entire project, said: “I think it would be cool for one to return to Birmingham. Wargaming’s enthusiasm is for as many people as possible to get to see these graceful and beautiful aeroplanes. I think for the British people in particular this is such an iconic aircraft, and Churchill’s words are running through my mind right now, and it’s really true that without having had the Spitfires, and the Hawker, that the Battle of Britain may have been quite different. So I think it’s important for these planes to be shown and, if they can be restored, fly again.”
Mr Cundall, who has already tracked down and excavated several Spitfires, Hurricanes, and even a Lancaster Bomber, all of which crashed in the Second World War, revealed eight eye-witnesses had separately told the same story about the location of the buried craft. One of them included a man, who was 15 at the time of the reputed burial, who claimed to have helped his father carry the timber to the site for the Spitfires to be buried.
A survey carried out by a former Leeds University geophysicist was also revealed, showing the possibility of aircraft buried on a site indicated by all eye-witnesses.
Mr Cundall said: “The eye-witnesses tell us there are 36 buried at the site, although there is evidence of possibly more. They are buried eight, nine, 10 feet down. There’s no oxygen down there so we don’t think they are corroded.
“One expert in Manchester said it’s like opening a can of beans after 67 years – they are not going to be at their best, but if you’re hungry you will eat it.”
The Spitfires are believed to be brand new and buried in individual crates.
Mr Cundall said evidence from a borehole survey and a ground penetrating radar survey also added weight to the belief that Spitfires were buried at the location, set to be excavated early next year.
Mr Cundall added: “We have done a borehole. The man who did it couldn’t see an awful lot but he went into a crate and, while there wasn’t much light, he believed he saw an object that looked like an aeroplane, but he wasn’t an expert and I wasn’t there.”
Speaking of the eye-witness evidence he said: “They all told the same story and all said they were buried deep around 10 metres. They talked about a straight formation in a T section and later an L section and that’s what we see on the geophysicist’s survey. We also did ground penetrating radar and we saw an aeroplane shape in this area.”
The project’s lead archaeologist Andy Brockman said: “We are going into this with no assumptions. As archaeologists we are interested in converting the speculation that has been rife since the story broke in the spring into facts on the ground. We plan to excavate in January and at the end of it we will have an amazing story but at the moment we don’t know what that will be exactly.”
Mr Cundall revealed his share of the find will be 30 per cent.
He added: “My agent’s share is 20 per cent, and the Burmese Government’s is 50 per cent. My share is coming back to the UK and I have companies interested in helping me to restore them up to flying condition. This would take three to four years.
“Re the Burmese share, my information is that they will be for sale and we will release that information as it comes.”