Spitfire in fatal crash was used in D-Day operation

The Spitfire came down in a field near RAF Coningsby on Saturday
The Spitfire came down in a field near RAF Coningsby on Saturday - Jake Zuckerman/BBC

The RAF Spitfire which crashed on Saturday killing the pilot flew over Normandy during D-Day and shot down German aircraft.

The pilot died after what the Ministry of Defence (MoD) described as a “tragic accident” shortly after take-off from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

On Saturday night, the Prince and Princess of Wales paid tribute, and said: “Our thoughts this evening are with the pilot’s loved ones, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and the wider RAF family.”

MoD sources said the pilot’s identity would be released to the public on Sunday afternoon. The Defence Accident Investigation Branch is understood to have launched a formal investigation.

The fatal crash happened at around 1.15pm on Saturday. It is believed that a catastrophic failure occurred immediately after take-off, leaving the pilot with few options to avoid crashing.

The Spitfire was due to appear at an airshow being held at East Kirkby, a nearby former RAF airfield which now houses an aviation museum. RAF Coningsby was its home base.

Pictures from the crash scene showed the yellow-camouflaged Spitfire appearing to be resting on its side, with a tarpaulin covering the cockpit.

The yellow-and-brown plane is seen against a blue sky
MK356 airborne on May 20 this year - Bav Media

Police closed roads around Dogdyke Road and Sandy Bank and asked motorists to stay away from the area.

The Spitfire, a Mark IX built in February 1944 and given the military serial number MK356, was flown operationally on D-Day.

It was fitted with a 27-litre Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 engine, rated at 1,705 horsepower. All modern Spitfire operators run their engines at reduced power settings to preserve their useful life, however.

Engines are typically overhauled after around 500 hours of continuous running. The Spitfire carries enough fuel to fly for around 90 minutes.

The Telegraph understands MK356 was due to appear over the Normandy beaches again as part of the 80th anniversary commemorations of the invasion, which freed occupied Europe from Nazi Germany, in June.

Two years ago, MK356 was involved in a landing incident when its brakes locked on, forcing the pilot – Flt Lt Andy Preece, MBE – to land on the grass beside Coningsby’s tarmac runway.

The aeroplane was undamaged except for needing a new set of tyres, earning Flt Lt Preece an air safety commendation for his “impeccable airmanship”.

During its wartime career, MK356 shot down a German Messerschmitt during its five months on the front line with 443 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

One of its regular pilots, Flying Officer Gordon Ockenden, claimed a shared kill against a German Bf109 over Caen on June 7th 1944, the day after D-Day.


The squadron’s war diary records: “B Flight spotted four Me109s east of Caen. Bounced over Caen, one destroyed by Flight Lieutenant H Russell shared with Flying Officer GF Ockenden.”

After sixty operational flights, MK356 was force-landed with its wheels up on 14th June 1944. It then remained on the ground for the next 53 years.

After being restored to flying condition, the Spitfire joined the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) in November 1997.

The BBMF exists to commemorate all the RAF personnel who served during the Second World War.

It has ten aircraft, including six Spitfires, two Hurricanes, a twin-engined Dakota transport aeroplane and the iconic Lancaster bomber, one of just two flyable examples in the world.

The flight also has two Chipmunk training aircraft on charge, although these are generally not given star billing at airshows in the same way as the so-called “warbirds”.

A schedule published a few weeks ago showed that the BBMF was due to display its aircraft on 72 occasions during this summer’s airshow season.

The RAF declined to comment on the cause of the crash.