Spitfire downed

By Cliff Taylor

The most famous fighter plane of World War II has lost none of its awesome reputation if the reaction of United States authorities is anything to go by.

A Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, which was to have been the star attraction at this weekend's Mercury Bay Shell Airshow at Whitianga, has been impounded by US Customs - apparently because they still consider it to be a deadly military machine.

The rebuilt two-seater, one of only five in the world, was bought in the US by Aucklander Doug Brooker, who had hoped to see it fly over the Coromandel this weekend and appear at the Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow in March.

It would have been the first time such an aircraft had been seen in the Southern Hemisphere. But the fighter has been prevented from leaving the US, caught for the past fortnight in a web of bureaucratic red tape.

"From what I can gather, the rules were changed in the last few months after a couple of understandable issues they had over there," said Brooker.

"It seems that a plane built in 1943 goes into the same category as an F16 or something. With an exported military aircraft it has to be in a certain category.

"My guess is the same thing would happen with a WWI aircraft."

Brooker would not reveal how much he paid for the Spitfire, which comes complete with replica wing-mounted machine guns, except to say the price was "very reasonable".

The plane is painted to represent the Spitfire flown by American Major Robert Levine of the 4th Fighter Squadron in the Middle East during WWII.

Brooker said he had been a Spitfire enthusiast "since reading Biggles books as a boy".

He was still hopeful the plane would make it for the Wanaka airshow, but admitted it was "getting pretty tight".

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