If you’re a lover of machines with wings, you can’t help but be captivated by a remarkable undertaking currently unfolding in Myanmar (Burma).
There, a 21-member team of archeologists, led by a British farmer and aviation enthusiast by the name of David Cundall, has begun the process of excavating and raising to the surface what is believed to be dozens of buried Spitfire aircraft from the Second World War.
The quest drips with historical intrigue and drama. Do the aircraft actually exist? One report says there may be as many as 140 of them. If they do, and they’re found, in what condition will they be?
Part of the answer may already be at hand. Early this morning there was news from the site: The team said it had found a wooden crate containing what is believed to be an aircraft and that the crate was filled with water. The information was gleaned from a camera inserted through a bore hole.
Cundall, who has invested $200,000 of his own money and some 17 years on the project, called the find “encouraging,” and believes once the water is pumped out, a vintage aircraft in good condition will be the prize.
But will it? Others are more skeptical. One of search team’s archeologists, Andy Brockman, has said the team might find nothing more than rusted metal and parts. British war veterans have been quoted saying the airplanes don’t even exist.
Cundall is more hopeful. He believes the airplanes, new from the factory, were packed in grease and tar paper and that the burial depth of 30 feet will be enough to keep oxygen out and prevent corrosion. He also says a protective covering was placed over the crates to prevent water damage.
It’s believed the airplanes were buried by the U.S. army, on British orders, in August, 1945, as the war was coming to a close. Reports vary as to why. One says that with the war in its final stage they had become surplus and were buried to prevent them from being used by Japanese. Another says the airplanes were buried so they couldn’t be used by Burmese independence fighters (Burma was a British colony) after the war.
Regardless, if true, and if the airplanes are in a condition that would permit restoration, the find would be sensational. The Spitfire is the iconic fighter that helped win the Battle of Britain, Some 20,000 were built and only 35 remain flyable. The buried airplanes are all believed to be the Mark XIV variant, meaning they were equipped with the powerful (2035 hp) Griffon engine.
Impossible not to be cheering Cundall’s team on, and hoping some, or even all, of the aircraft exist and can be restored to flying condition.
By the by, there’s a minor Canadian angle to the story: Cundall says the lumber used to crate the airplanes was two-inch thick Canadian pine.