A Man From the UK Built a WWII Fighter Plane by Hand. In 14 Years?

The task began with a dare.
Loukia Papadopoulos
A Spitfire aircraftRobHowarth/iStock

If a man was capable of turning a vehicle into a motorbike by hand perhaps a man could also build a plane under similar circumstances?

Martin Phillips did indeed engineer an entire Spitfire by hand and the task, according to The Daily Telegraph, and it took him 14 long years. It all began in November of 1999 when his friends gave him a unique birthday present: a single pop rivet derived from an actual Spitfire.

The first step: a birthday gift

According to his well-intentioned friends, the plane part was to be the first step toward Phillips actually putting a whole Spitfire together from scratch. “I was half-cut – well, completely cut by that stage, we all were – and I said, 'Right. On Monday morning I’m going to go out and find a Spitfire and prove you all wrong'" explained Phillips.

The ambitious builder didn't have much experience building planes so he had to educate himself. He had only built motorbikes and diggers before but luckily he could find valuable information from books, the internet, and even expert contacts.

His journey began with a hunt for the plane's parts. To find them, he had to first visit the southwest, then the UK, then the rest of the globe.

Once he had all the parts, he put together a team of 50 people, set up a workshop in a shed near his house, and began the passion project that would take 14 years of his life to complete. The whole ordeal cost him nearly £2.5 million ($3.35 million) but low and behold by the end of 2012 he had delivered a single-seater, Mark IX Supermarine Spitfire.

A fully functional plane

The plane was indeed fully functional and it was tested on the Filton Aerodrome in Bristol. “I remember when it taxied out, I looked at it and thought about all those bits. And then I was in bits. I was just crying; I was so ecstatic to see it. And then off it went, up in the air,” said Phillips.

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“And then it came back too!”

Phillips called his plane the RR232 but it's more commonly referred to as the City of Exeter. The Spitfire is today part of the fleet operated by Boultbee Flight Academy at Goodwood and it takes to the skies quite often.

In the meantime, fuelled by his success, Phillips has begun building another Spitfire and is even taking lessons on how to fly these mighty planes. His story is an inspiring tale of what can be achieved from a single rivet and how far the human spirit can soar if properly motivated.

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