When the single-seat Supermarine Spitfire fighter was at the peak of its operations during World War II, it had a maximum operating radius of some 450 miles. Today, from the aérodrome at the center of the Goodwood Estate, a rebuilt Spit from 1943 stripped of its paint and polished to a mirror-like finish, set off on a new sortie that will take it on a 27,000 mile odyssey, completing a complete circuit of the globe through 26 countries.
The Silver Spitfire is the brainchild of two pilots based at Goodwood’s Boultbee Flight Academy which restores Spits and offers flight training to pilots and joyrides to fans of these unique and iconic aircraft. Steve Boultbee Brooks and Matt Jones, both experienced spitfire pilots, are sharing the trip in collaboration with IWC watches, a pre-eminent specialist in aviation timepieces, whose relationship with pilots predates even the Spitfire itself. In 1948 IWC delivered its made-to-order Mark 11 pilot watch to the RAF, founding a whole family of robust functional tool watches still in production today and that for much of its history has shared the name Spitfire. In early 2019 IWC launched its Year of the Spitfire, and a whole new generation of Spitfire watches inspired by the original Mark 11.
Boultbee and Jones will both wear a brand new “Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire ‘The Longest Flight’,” whose time can be adjusted with a simple twist of the bezel to each new timezone, itself a technological challenge. Complicated as such an innovation is, for IWC’s CEO Christopher Grainger-Herr, the object for IWC is to make things simply. “At the core for us the brand DNA is in very pure, functional watches that are understated yet confident,” he says. “That’s the heart and soul of who we are. We don’t do complications for complication’s sake. IWC is about problem solving.”
Problem solving, perhaps, like how to fly a nearly 80 year-old plane entirely round the world. But its a milieu in which IWC feels very much at home. “It’s so easy to for IWC to generate new ideas around flight,” Grainger-Herr says. ‘It’s not just the the inspiration of the Spitfire. There are many similarities between aircraft engineering and watchmaking. As soon as you stop investing in training engineers who can look after these machines the skills go away very quickly. It makes perfect sense for us to support that.”
The Silver Spitfire’s challenge is to negotiate—in roughly 400 mile hops—a course north and then west through Scotland, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and the United States before crossing the continent and heading for Asia. The aircraft will face climatic and logistical difficulties never faced in operations during wartime. You can follow the day-by-day action on The Longest Flight at www.iwc.com and www.thesilverspitfire.com.