Spitfire apprentice mechanic is first for a generation


A trainee engineer told of his joy after becoming the world’s first apprentice SPITFIRE mechanic in 40 years.

Proud Gareth Rutt, 20, will be taught hand crafted skills which his bosses fear could be lost to future generations who now rely on computer aided design.

He will join a team of eight experienced engineers at the Shuttleworth Collection in Biggleswade, Beds., who are working to restore a 1942 Supermarine Spitfire Vc.

The demanding project currently occupies 120 man hours a week, and will not be completed until 2012 after six years and 40,000 hours of work.

It is the most original Spitfire in the world and the only one to retain an original De Havilland three blade propeller, and is estimated to be worth up to £2million.

The AR501 Spitfire flew with Czech No. 310 Squadron and was first restored to flying condition for the 1961 film ”The Battle of Britain”.

Before their newest addition, the last apprentice at Shuttleworth was hired in 1970 and still works there as an aircraft engineer.

Parts for restoration are salvaged from scrap yards, swapped from aircraft in static collections, and engineered by hand at the Shuttleworth Hangar.

But the art of restoring vintage craft is becoming more and more specialised as the technology of modern aviation moves further away from original models.

Gareth is being taught techniques such as fabric covering and doping, the mixing of special resins which make fabric air and water tight.

He will also become skilled at sheet metal work and wood work, hand riveting, and repairing instruments and making aircraft parts which are no longer in circulation.

The oldest member of the team could retire in the next five years, gradually followed by the rest of the engineers who will pass the baton to Gareth.

Chief Engineer, Jean-Michel Munn, said that the Trust had decided to hire a new apprentice to learn skills and help ensure they did not disappear.

He said: ”Without recruiting new engineers, restoration of vintage craft will eventually become a dying art. We hope the new recruit will one day teach future generations.

”For us the most important thing is that our craft are airworthy. We have 40 different types of engine here, so it’s incredibly specialised work.

”Richard Shuttleworth was the first person to start collecting industrial heritage and to preserve the craft in working order.

”It’s the difference between seeing a caged bird and watching a bird in flight.”

The planes are flown by volunteer pilots who are usually ex-RAF although the increased advances in aircraft technology mean that current RAF training is no longer relevant.

Gareth, of Biggleswade, Beds., will work on the 400mph Spitfire which will be stripped down, rebuilt and re-riveted to ensure it is in perfect flying condition.

He will qualify with a BTEC Level Three and an NVQ Level Three in aerospace engineering to become a licenced aircraft engineer after four years.

Delighted Gareth said: ”When I was a small child my dad and granddad brought me to see shows at Shuttleworth and I loved watching the planes.

”I did work experience at the hangar when I was 14 through school and I realised it was what I wanted to do.

”When I saw an advert for the apprenticeship I decided to go for it. I’d like to be able to pass on what I’m learning as well to keep the aircraft going in the future.

”I enjoy working on the Spitfire, because how many people can say that’s what they do for a living?

”It’s British history we are working on and at Shuttleworth you can get so much closer to the planes than anywhere else.”

The Supermarine Spitfire model was introduced to RAF service in 1938 and was a crucial weapon for success in the Battle of Britain from 10 July to 31 October 1940.

Shuttleworth’s AR501 Spitfire was allocated to Czechoslovakian 310 Squadron in 1943 to be used in the defence of Scapa Flow, a natural harbour near the Orkney Islands.

It was piloted by Frantisek Dolezal, leader of 310 squadron, who was awarded D.F.C. for his wartime service.

The Shuttleworth Collection owns 40 aircraft and takes care of a further 20 belonging to private owners of which 55 are kept in working order for Shuttleworth airshows.

It includes the world’s oldest flying aircraft, the Bleriot XI model, which was the first plane to cross the English Channel in 1909.

These planes are now limited to short flights across the airfield providing the weather is clear and calm due to their delicacy.

The Shuttleworth Trust was set up in memory of Richard Shuttleworth, the first British Grand Prix winner, who was also a keen airman and RAF pilot.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here