Newport Pagnell man who 'saved the iconic Spitfire' reunited with one of first planes he restored

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An aeroplane enthusiast - credited with helping to save the iconic Spitfire - has been reunited with one of the first aircraft he helped restore five decades ago.

Peter Arnold has been dubbed Mr Spitfire thanks to his love and encyclopaedic knowledge of the warplanes.

Now aged 80 years old, he has spent more than 50 years travelling the world to find parts and take them back to his garage in Newport Pagnell, near Milton Keynes.

Each bolt, section or sheet of metal is another piece to the puzzle, which results in an historic plane living again.

"It goes right back to my school days when I was 15," he said. "Usually you're interested in buses or trains, and then old aircraft, just before you get interested in girls. At 15 years of age it was second world war aeroplanes, and spitfires in particular - and it's never left me."

Across the world, there are less than 300 Spitfires left and just 74 of them capable of flying. Mr Arnold has owned seven of them.

But he said: “I’m not in this league [of] multi millionaires, I’m just a middle-ranking engineer who is ahead of the pack hunting down all these bits, chasing parts around the world, setting up horse trades, swapping bits. I don’t just find parts for my projects either, I help others too.”

Peter's first project, a Seafire 46, pictured here across the neighbours lawns in the 1970s. Credit: Peter Arnold

Mr Arnold has been to see every Spitfire in existence, bar one in Myanmar.

Despite once being metres away from the hangar in Mandalay where it was held, an official told the plane enthusiast he could not go in. 

For his 80th birthday, he was reunited with a very special Spitfire that crossed his path five decades ago, the Supermarine Spitfire TR9 TE308.

In 1972, aged 27, Mr Arnold lived near RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire which was being used by filmmakers for the Battle of Britain epic starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. 

Peter (left in both pictures) in front of Supermarine Spitfire TR9 TE308 in June 1972 with Don Plumb and last week in 2022 with Peter Monk. Credit: Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar

He went along a few times to see the planes, and during the final days of filming met a Canadian businessman called Don Plumb, who tasked the young man to find him a Spitfire to send to Canada for him to fly.

Mr Arnold was successful in his mission, and Mr Plumb repaid the favour by taking his new friend to Canada to fly the Supermarine Spitfire . 

Fast forward 50 years, and Mr Arnold was treated to a special reunion - and a 50 minute flight over the Kent countryside, taking off from Biggin Hill. 

“It was the same plane as the one in Canada," he said. "It was exciting, they strapped me in, the parachute came on. The helmet was very tight.”

Just as the flight was coming to an end, Mr Arnold was asked a question by the pilot: "What about a victory roll?"

“Just the one!” Mr Arnold replied.