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A History of 5518

A remarkable aircraft with a remarkable, and colourful history. Information and images provided by Steven McLean.

 

The Early Years

This Spitfire MkIX, otherwise known as 5518, was built in the Castle Bromwich production line in May 1945 and originally designated TE213. She was the 5556th MkIX built and was fitted with a Merlin 70 powerplant. TE 213 was put in storage and eventually sold to the SAAF in July 1947, and was eventually flown to Union via Egypt in mid-August where she was allocated serial 5518 at 15 Air Depot. Now 5518, she was transferred to 1 Air Depot in November and then finally allocated to 1 Squadron at A.F.S Waterkloof on 4th December 1948. 5518 was involved in a collision with another spitfire in June 1949 and sustained category 1 damage and returned to 15 Air Depot. After which 5518 returned to 7 Wing in early (January) 1951 and then being transferred to Air Operations School in April 1951. In September the same year, 5518 hit a drogue cable and sustained category 1 damage. Later in June 1953, 5518 was transferred back to 1 Squadron at A.F.S Swartkop and then back to 15 Air Depot in September for storage. The SAAF retired the Spitfire MkIX in April 1954 and is was then decided to erect a Spitfire gate guardian at A.F.S Waterkloof. Spitfire 5518 was chosen after the removal of her Merlin engine and placed outside the administration block for the next 23 years.

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Initial Restoration

In November 1978, 5518 was taken down and moved to the SAAF Museum's storage at Lanseria Airport where it was later decided to rebuild 5518 to airworthy condition and retain 5518 on the SAAF books. Restoration progress was slow but steady, and eventually 5518 was handed over to Atlas Aviation/Denel for completion in November 1993. Restoration was completed in late September 1995, and 5518 was given the colours and designation of 5553 "AX-K", a former 1 Squadron Spitfire. In early October 1995, now 5553, went on and completed its first post-restoration flight , but engine problems plagued the aircraft and she was grounded until the 10th April the following year. 5518 made its public appearance on 20 April 1996 at the SAAF Museum and joined the air show circuit for the next 4 years although plagued by engine troubles discovered in September 1998 and eventually an engine overhaul was conducted.

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Tragedy Strikes

On the 15th April 2000 at a SAAF Museum Flying Day, 5553 suffered an engine malfunction after a low level fly-past and had to make a forced landing short of the runway, where she went through a security wall, breaking up. 5553 was then put back into storage at the SAAF Museum where she would remain for the next 15 years.

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A New Beginning

In early 2015, it was decided that the SAAF Museum in conjunction with the Friends of the South African Air Force Museum (FSAAFM) and hopefully with the help of vary dedicated partners and sponsors, to restore 5518 to static condition, with the possibility of making her airworthy once more in the future.