Housed within the sprawling Victorian grandeur of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum hangs a fully restored Spitfire fighter plane, all 2.3 tons suspended perilously above visitors’ heads.
The World War II-era fighter plane, an icon of the 1940 Battle of Britain air defense against the Nazi Blitzkrieg, has been in residence at the museum since 2006, after a major restoration project saw it returned to its former glory after years of neglect. From neck-straining views on the ground floor to up close and personal views on the first-floor mezzanine, visitors can get a real sense of what it must have been like to see a Spitfire in action.
Spitfires were essentially a thin aluminum shell with an engine, offering little in the way of protection from enemy fire. Pilots, some as young as 18, only had steel plating behind their seats to shield them from bullets. If they needed to abandon their aircraft the canopy had to be manually popped open, preferably while flying upside down to make use of gravity for a speedy exit. To aid escape each plane was fitted with a crowbar to jimmy open the canopy, should it become jammed shut.
LA-198 was delivered to the local 602 Squadron (City of Glasgow) in 1947, so it did not actually see any action during the war. Its active service was cut short in 1949 after engine trouble saw it “pranged on the runway,” as a contemporary Royal Air Force logbook jauntily described the accident.
The plane had mixed fortunes over the next few decades, variously being used as an extra in the 1967 film The Battle of Britain, as a gate guardian at several RAF airfields, and as an aerial target practice tow plane for the military. A rather battered and bruised aircraft ultimately ended up languishing in RAF museum storage until being rescued for restoration in the mid-90s by Glasgow City Council. The plane now stands, or rather hangs, as a vivid memorial to those daring pilots of the Second World War.
Know Before You Go
The LA-198 is located in the Life Gallery (west wing) of the museum.