'Majestic' WWII Spitfire takes off on round-the-world flight

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The 43,500-kilometre (27,000-mile) adventure westwards around the globe will be the first time a Spitfire will ever have circumnavigated the planet

The 43,500-kilometre (27,000-mile) adventure westwards around the globe will be the first time a Spitfire will ever have circumnavigated the planet (AFP Photo/Adrian DENNIS)

Chichester (United Kingdom) (AFP) - An original Spitfire plane took off from Britain on Monday on an unprecedented attempt to fly the iconic World War II fighter around the globe.

The gleaming silver aircraft set off from Goodwood Aerodrome outside Chichester near the south coast of England for the first leg of the epic four-month journey.

The restored 76-year-old fighter served in World War II but has been de-militarised, stripped of its guns and paintwork, revealing the shining, silvery aluminium underneath.

The Silver Spitfire was heading for Lossiemouth in Scotland on the first stage of its attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean via the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and the wilds of remote northern Canada.

The single-seater plane will visit around 30 countries and soar over some of the world's most cherished landmarks.

British aviators Matt Jones and Steve Brooks are taking turns at the controls for some 90-odd legs on its 43,500-kilometre (27,000-mile) adventure westwards around the globe -- the first time a Spitfire will ever have circumnavigated the planet.

"I'm nervous and beginning to get excited," Jones told AFP, standing beside the plane, shortly before take-off.

"We're going to see so many people and so many countries. I hope it's successful and we get back. We want to show this plane off to the world."

- Sandwich, cuppa, chocks away -

Jones, 45, flew the first leg, with Brooks, 58, following in the support plane.

In the hangar, Brooks warmed up for the expedition with a bacon sandwich and a coffee in a British flag mug.

"Bacon sarnie. Absolutely essential," he told AFP.

"We've been training for this for so long. I can't wait to go.

"It's all about sharing the greatest aeroplane ever built. It's about inspiring the next generation. Life is tough and the Spitfire seems to symbolise that willingness to overcome against all odds."

Agile, short-range interceptors, Spitfires were crucial in the 1940 Battle of Britain as the UK held off the threat of an invasion by Nazi Germany.

The expedition will hail the iconic fighter plane as a symbol of freedom.

A design classic with elliptical wings, the outline of a Spitfire is instantly recognisable.

"It's the most majestic machine," Brooks said.

The Silver Spitfire took off from the grass airstrip accompanied by three other surviving Spitfires in their regulation military green colours, before circling back round for a flypast.

Of around 20,000 Spitfires built, fewer than 250 survive, with only 50 or so of those still airworthy. They rarely fly and are mostly based in Britain.

The weather was looking grim but the clouds lifted in time for take-off, meaning the plane glinted in the sun as it swooped and twisted through the air.

Former Formula One racing driver David Coulthard and actors Taron Egerton and Rosamund Pike were there to witness the take-off.

- 'Real soul' -

The expedition, funded by Swiss watchmakers IWC Schaffhausen, will cross North America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The plane will fly past some of the world's most well-known sites, including the Grand Canyon, Mount Fuji, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pyramids of Giza.

Brooks said being inside a Spitfire was an experience like no other, with the 21-litre Rolls-Royce engine resonating through the body.

"It's like driving a classic car. It's got a real soul," he said.

It is expected to return to Goodwood on December 8.

The restored Mk.IX Spitfire, original registration MJ271, was built in Britain in 1943 by Vickers Supermarine.

It flew on 51 combat missions, escorting bombers, conducting fighter sweeps over France and dive-bombing targets on the French coast.

It was in storage in a museum before its restoration began in 2017.

All 80,000 rivets and parts were dismantled, checked, cleaned and restored over two years.

Having stripped the paint off, they decided to leave the gleaming original aluminium panels on show -- something never done before.

Brooks said: "It's like looking up and seeing mother nature wearing jewellery. It's a perfect piece of silver flying through the sky."