The full story of the Grace Spitfire ML407 can be bought from the website shop in the book ’2nd TAF Spitfire’ by Hugh Smallwood.
The Grace Spitfire ML407 was originally built at Castle Bromwich in early 1944 as a 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.
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. This remarkable story can be seen in the acclaimed documentary ‘The Perfect Lady’ and can be purchased in the Grace Trilogy DVD from our website shop.
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. This task was documented in the film ‘Going Solo’ which can be purchased in the Grace Trilogy DVD from our website shop.
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. She has been displaying the Grace Spitfire for 22 years.
The Grace Spitfire is based at Bentwaters in Suffolk and during the summer months can be found at its other base at Duxford in Cambridgeshire and is maintained by our own Team of Engineers including Richard Grace who has been working on the Grace Spitfire since he was 14.
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 and now the next generation – being Richard Grace is not only maintaining the aircraft but is flying the aircraft just as his late father had done.
Keeping the Grace Spitfire flying is an incredibly daunting challenge financially and it was the idea of Olivia Grace aged 14 at the time, to start the Grace Spitfire Supporters Group join here in late 1997. To this date the Group has continued to thrive and is unique in that it supports the one Spitfire. The large annual costs are helped to be met by the Grace Spitfire Supporters Group and the fund raising for the spare Merlin Engine rebuild ensures we will always have a serviceable engine for ML407 but without the generosity of JLT Insurance Brokers who sponsor the entire insurance programme for the Grace Spitfire the aircraft would not fly.