Over the winter, the Airspace hangar at IWM Duxford has hosted a unique exhibition; “Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon.” This special presentation brought together 12 aircraft from IWM Duxford’s partner operators highlighting the incredible development of the aircraft from the small and elegant Mark 1 through to larger ultimate developments powered by the Rolls Royce Griffon. As a finale at the end of the exhibition’s run, the IWM hosted one of its “Duxford in a Different Light” events centred around the exhibition and the Airspace hangar.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

“Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon” has been a hugely successful exhibition for the Imperial War Museum. Since it opened in late December 2021 it has featured in the national media and won praise from the public who attended during the winter months. As well as charting the incredible development of the Spitfire the exhibition celebrated how this aircraft captured the hearts of the home front and became synonymous with the hope and protection of the British Isles.

IWM Curator Adrian Kerrison, said, “The Spitfire became synonymous with hope and protection as the threat of German invasion loomed heavy over Britain. The aircraft captured the hearts of the home front to such an extent that members of the public from across Britain and the Commonwealth would dig deep into their own pockets to fund their production, and the love for them has not subsided since they were first produced. It’s a great honour for us at IWM Duxford to know that we were not only the location from which the first operational Spitfire squadron flew, but that now we can bring together so many of them in one place for the first time and enable visitors to get up close and learn more about this icon of victory.”

12 aircraft were loaned by Duxford’s partner operators for the exhibition. Many of the aircraft would be familiar to those who have attended Duxford’s air shows and flying days. However, the Fighter Collection also loaned their Spitfire Mk.22 which is a long-term restoration project and was brought out of storage especially for the exhibition. The complete collection of Spitfires included: –

  • Spitfire Mk.1a N3200 – Imperial War Museums
  • Spitfire Mk.1a AR213 – Comanche Fighters
  • Spitfire Mk.Vb BM597 – Historic Aircraft Collection
  • Spitfire Mk.Vb EP120 – The Fighter Collection
  • Spitfire Mk.Vc JG891 – Comanche Fighters
  • Spitfire Mk.VIII MV154 – Max Alpha
  • Spitfire Mk.IXb MH434 – Old Flying Machine Company
  • Spitfire Mk.IXT PV202 – Aircraft Restoration Company
  • Spitfire PR.XI PL983 – Aircraft Restoration Company
  • Spitfire Mk.XIV MV293 – Anglia Aircraft Restorations
  • Spitfire Mk.XIV RN201 – Aerial Speed Icons Ltd
  • Spitfire Mk. 22 PK624 – The Fighter Collection

With the exhibition due to close at the end of the February half turn holidays, Duxford gave the exhibition a final send off with a special “Duxford in a Different Light” event on the 19th February allowing photographers the chance to capture some unique images of the exhibition and the Airspace hangar after normal opening hours.

The evening was split into two parts with the normal hangar lighting on for the first hour. Then the lighting was changed with the main hangar lights turned off and some coloured lighting illuminating both the Spitfires and the rest of the Airspace hangars. At various points the hangar floor was cleared allowing for some opportunities for photographers to capture the exhibitions from the balconies.

“Duxford in the Different Light: The Spitfire Special” was a very unique event that presented some familiar aircraft in a very unusual setting. With some big anniversaries coming up there, hopefully there will be many more events like this at Duxford offering some very unique opportunities for photographers.