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Pilot who spent 16 years building an exact replica of the Spitfire is ready for his first flight

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A World War II enthusiast who spent more than a decade building an exact replica of a Spitfire has finally been given permission to take to the skies.

Retired engineer Steve Markham spent an astonishing 11,250 hours painstakingly assembling the ‘iconic’ British aircraft in a shed at his home, ably assisted by his wife Kay.

Now, 16 years after starting the project, the qualified pilot — who was inspired as a child by the classic movie Reach for the Sky — has finally been officially given the green light to fly the handmade plane.

Although his first planned trip for the couple is to travel across the Solent to the Isle of Wight for an ice cream, Mr. Markham has set his sights further.

He said, ‘Now I can fly anywhere. I could go to Scotland for a day, but I could also bring my wife.

“My first flight is for an ice cream on the Isle of Wight. We go over the Solent and around the island.

Flying high: Enthusiastic and trained WWII pilot Steve Markham spent 11,250 hours painstakingly building his homemade Spitfire. He is pictured in the cockpit of the iconic aircraft at his home near Odiham, Hampshire

The project to build the replica took Steve about 16 years to complete.  He now hopes to make his maiden flight over the Solent to the Isle of Wight soon - where he will go get an ice cream

The project to build the replica took Steve about 16 years to complete. He now hopes to make his maiden flight over the Solent to the Isle of Wight soon – where he will go get an ice cream

The 200mph aircraft is a replica of the PL793, a photo reconnaissance Spitfire, which was stationed at RAF Odiham in Hampshire during the last year of the war.

The 200mph aircraft is a replica of the PL793, a photo reconnaissance Spitfire, which was stationed at RAF Odiham in Hampshire during the last year of the war.

“But my wife has Scottish family, so at some point we want to fly to Scotland, so that’s the next long flight.

‘The plane has such a range that it can go from here to Rome non-stop. In June, when the days are longer, I get up early and fly to Rome.

‘I’m going to have a nice Italian lunch with my wife and then I’ll fly back the same day.’

The 200mph aircraft is a replica of the PL793, a photo reconnaissance Spitfire, which was stationed at RAF Odiham in Hampshire during the last year of the war.

Markham, who lives near the base, said he fell in love with the famous fighter plane after seeing the film biography of aviator Douglas Bader.

“I’ve wanted a Spitfire since I was eight years old and I saw Reach for the Sky,” he said.

‘The PL793 was the most successful of the Odiham-based RAF aircraft.

“They were painted blue to hide in the air. They were the spy planes of their time and so very little was written about their achievements.

“They were the best of the bunch. My model is in memory of their great work. It’s a tribute.

“Without the RAF and their success in the Second World War, the lives of my generation would have been very different. We owe them a lot.’

In the past, Mr. Markham – who has had a pilot’s license since the 1970s – tried to buy vintage models, but he was always outbid, so he decided to build his own.

He bought a kit for the aircraft frame in 2006, but bought the engine parts, propellers and paint separately.

Steve bought a kit for the plane's frame in 2006, but he bought the engine parts, propellers and paint separately and then assembled them all in his shed, pictured

Steve bought a kit for the plane’s frame in 2006, but he bought the engine parts, propellers and paint separately and then assembled them all in his shed, pictured

Steve was ably assisted by his wife, Kay - pictured in the cockpit of the Spitfire - during the 16 years it took to build the plane

Steve was ably assisted by his wife, Kay – pictured in the cockpit of the Spitfire – during the 16 years it took to build the plane

Steve is putting the finishing touches on the grand piano as he sprays paint on it in his sanding shop in Hampshire

Steve is putting the finishing touches on the grand piano as he sprays paint on it in his sanding shop in Hampshire

Steve described the plane as a

Steve described the plane as a “complicated beast” to assemble. The aircraft enthusiast is pictured working on the engine of his Spitfire at Popham Airfield near Basingstoke, Hampshire

He said: ‘The Spitfire is one of the most iconic aircraft and everyone who has ever flown it has said how great they are to fly.

“If you want to buy an original WWII Spitfire, it now costs between two and four million pounds. This is a much cheaper way to do it.’

He described it as a ‘complicated beast’ to assemble, with some parts not fitting properly and having to be replaced.

Mrs. Markham helped him with the rivets that two people needed to put them in place and also made the leather upholstery.

He said, “She has been wonderfully supportive throughout the process.”

Over the years, news of his plane spread quickly and he had people asking if they could come and see it in the early stages, which slowed down the process.

He said, ‘I would say yes, you can come and see. But it did mean that work on the plane had to be halted for half an hour to an hour at a time. It delayed what had to happen.’

He finally completed the Spitfire in 2017. But it took five years to get a full permit to fly from the Civil Aviation Authority.

It was flown by a test pilot in 2018 but the engine overheated, so he had to go back to his workshop for repair.

On later test flights, it was limited to a range of 35 nautical miles from the airfield and allowed to carry no passengers.

In July of this year, Mr Markham successfully completed the flight test program and was allowed to move further afield and be escorted.

Since he began construction, he has asked visitors to donate to the RAF Benevolent Fund, which supports serving and former RAF members and their families.

When he first finished the replica, Mr Markham had a rollout party where 200 people attended, raising £4,000 for the RAF fund.

The RAF helped him in return and let him use an airfield for test flights.

For ten years, before retiring, he supplied parachute training simulators to the RAF and was ‘always made welcome in the RAF community’.

The complete Spitfire “flies beautifully,” he added.

‘It feels fantastic. It’s beautiful. It’s pretty fast. It’s about twice as fast as the other plane I’ve flown before. It’s something special.’

The Spitfire: One of Britain’s most iconic aircraft that helped turn the tide of the war against the Nazis

The Spitfire is one of the most iconic aircraft in British military history. It is a single-seat fighter aircraft used by the Royal Air Force and other allied countries before, during and after World War II.

According to the Imperial War Museum Duxford, the aircraft is characterized by its graceful curves, elliptical wings and the sound of its powerful Rolls Royce engine and has remained a British icon since its heroic efforts in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

It was designed as a high-performance short-range interceptor aircraft and had a higher top speed than several contemporary fighters, including the Hurricane, due to its wing design.

During the Battle of Britain, from July to October 1940, the Spitfire was regarded by the public as the RAF’s main fighter, despite being less in number than the Hurricane.

Spitfire units had a lower turnover and higher win-to-loss ratio than those flying Hurricanes due to the superior performance of the former.

Because of this, the Spitfires were usually the ones to go up against Luftwaffe fighters during the Battle of Britain, often against the German Messerschmitt Bf 109E series aircraft which were a close match.

Pictured: Supermarine Spitfire MkI fighters with the wooden, two-blade, fixed propeller of No 19 Squadron, Royal Air Force Fighter Command, waiting in line for a training exercise on 4 May 1939 at RAF Duxford airfield in Cambridgeshire

Pictured: Supermarine Spitfire MkI fighters with the wooden, two-blade, fixed propeller of No 19 Squadron, Royal Air Force Fighter Command, waiting in line for a training exercise on 4 May 1939 at RAF Duxford airfield in Cambridgeshire

The first Spitfire to enter service was the first Mk Is K9789, which entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford in August 1938.

They gained legendary status during the Battle of Britain when they were largely tasked with taking down German fighters while the slower Hurricanes were used to destroy the bombers.

During their lifetime there were 24 brands of Spitfire and many sub variants. These covered the Spitfire in development from the Merlin to Griffon engines, the fast photo reconnaissance variants and the various wing configurations.

More Spitfire Mk Vs were built than any other type, totaling 6,487, followed by the 5,656 Mk IXs.

Obviously there are only 54 Spitfires in airworthy condition worldwide. The oldest surviving Spitfire is a Mark 1, serial number K9942 and is kept at the RAF Museum Cosford in Shropshire.

This was the 155th built and first flew in April 1939. It flew operationally until June 1940 with No. 72 Squadron RAF.

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