The DIY Spitfire: Enthusiast builds working replica fighter plane in his Reading garage – Telegraph.co.uk


December 6, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ DIY Project


Like many other small boys Alan James’s childhood passion was to build aircraft models, inspired in his case by the ones he watched take off and land at the RAF base near his home in Reading.

As a grown-up, he’s gone one better – and built a Spitfire plane in his garage.

However, it took more than just a few bits of plastic and some glue to put together this version of the fighter plane which did so much to save Britain from German invasion during World War Two.

Mr James was forced to search across Europe and even the United States for the specialist parts and materials required to complete his project.

But now, many hours and £18,000 later, he has fulfilled his dream, taking to the skies over England in his home-built Spitfire.

Alan James has clocked up 60 hours’ flying time in his replica Isaacs Spitfire

Credit:
Neil Wilson/SWNS

“Like every true Brit I wanted to fly a Spitfire,” said Mr James. “Five years ago you could only get a flight in one if you enrolled in a two-day course.

“It cost £5,000 and you only got 40 minutes flying the Spitfire. So I thought about it and realised I could spend that money on building one.”

After paying £150 for the set of plans for the single-seater Isaacs Spitfire – which is 60 per cent of the full sized original – from the Light Aircraft Association in 2012, Mr James set converting the 18ft by 10ft garage at his home in Reading, Berks, into his DIY aircraft plant.

He sourced a 100hp Rolls-Royce engine in the Netherlands, which he managed to re-assemble, and bought a set of wheels on eBay.

The seatbelts were specially made in the USA but the rest of the 500kg plane, including the fuselage, wings and propellor, Mr James constructed himself.

He had already learnt to shape and plane a wooden propeller – having previously built a Pietenpol Air Camper light aircraft out of wood covered in fabric – but he now had to learn to cut, shape and weld steel and aluminium.

Alan James with the shell of his aircraft in his Reading garage

Credit:
Paul Jacobs/SWNS

Three years after starting work on the Spitfire it was ready to fly, and after being given the go-ahead by the Civil Aviation Authority, which had checked and approved his work at each stage of construction, Mr James took to the skies for its maiden flight in September last year.

The Isaacs Spitfire has been flown by an ex-RAF test pilot to clear it to perform aerobatics manoeuvres and Mr James has now clocked up 60 hours’ flying time in it, having already flown 1,500 hours in his Pietenpol and other planes, including a Chipmunk and a Tiger Moth.

Mr James said began building planes after it dawned on him it was no different in principle to the model-making he used to do as a child.

“I like making model planes. I’ve been doing it since a lad – but full-size planes interest me too,” he said. “It occurred to me that in many ways, this type of aeroplane is really only a scaled-up model.”

He did concede there was a little more to it that that.

“You cannot just build a plane and fly it – there are very strict rules,” said Mr James. “The aircraft was inspected numerous times during construction and then checked again by a different inspector when completed to obtain CAA certification.”

Alan James with his Isaacs Spitfire at the airfield he uses

Credit:
Paul Jacobs/SWNS

To date he has flown his Isaacs Spitfire, which has a top speed of 160mph, over the West Country, Northampton and the Isle of Wight.

As if spending all his spare evenings and weekends on his beloved Spitfire was not enough, the plane has only one seat, which means there is no room for either his wife Margaret, 59, or his 29-year-old daughter Debbie.

“My wife was the first one to go in the Pietenpol, but this is a selfish plane,” he said. “It only has one seat – for the pilot. And Debbie used to come flying with me until she found boys – and that was that,” he added.


Spitfires flyover London to commemorate the Battle of Britain


Watch | Spitfires flyover London to commemorate the Battle of Britain


00:22


Mr James, 63, became so immersed in his project that he has now given up his job as a driving instructor to devote himself to helping others build and fly similar aircraft replicas.

As a result of his efforts, he has become something of a legend in the world of light aircraft DIY.

This is the first time an Isaac Spitfire has been built and flown since the prototype was built 40 years ago by John O. Isaacs, a retired schoolmaster.

Not content with that, Mr James is now practising some of the same daring fighter pilot manoeuvres that small boys would carry out on their model planes in their bedrooms.

“I’m flying most weekends,” he said. “It’s a little scary but I am getting used to doing aerobatics.”

How Alan James built his boys’ own Spitfire

Wing and fuselage frame

Aviation-quality spruce from Vancouver, Canada, imported by Dartmouth-based specialist timber company and cut, shaped and assembled by Mr James.

Skin of plane

Plywood sheets cut and shaped by Mr James and treated with 10 coats of aviation varnish, known as dope.

Propeller

Carved by Mr James from five layers of laminated beech.

Undercarriage

Manufactured to Mr James’s design by Grove Industries, California, USA, for £1,000.

Engine 

100hp Rolls-Royce engine salvaged by a friend in Holland and re-assembled by Mr James, with new components from specialist engineering firms in UK and USA. £6,000-£7,000 total cost.

Safety belt

Specialist harness and seat belt with quick release harness made by Hooker Harness of Illinois, USA, for £200.

Metal control column, fibreglass cowling and steel brackets and joints

All made at home by Mr James


Spitfire pilot recalls his first flight


Watch | Spitfire pilot recalls his first flight


01:41


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