Former marine who bought old Spitfire engine for coffee table design sets up Int. project to rebuild world’s only existing flying WWII 303 squadron plane
A former British Royal Marine is to reconstruct a Spitfire plane last flown by Polish pilot Piotr Łaguna of the legendary Polish 303 Squadron, after unwittingly buying the plane’s engine online and becoming fascinated with the history he discovered.
Scott Booth, founder of the Laguna’s Spitfire Legacy Project, was waiting to take a dream flight in a two-seater Spitfire in 2016, when he noticed a coffee table in the waiting area made from a Rolls-Royce Griffon engine used in some late Spitfires.
Inspired, Booth wanted to recreate a similar coffee table for himself and began searching for spitfire engines online.
Two years later he came across an original early Rolls Royce Merlin engine on sale, which he put in an offer to buy.
After travelling to pick it up, Booth noticed that there were Air Ministry Serial numbers all over the engine, and intrigued, decided to investigate.
He then discovered that the engine had belonged to the Supermarine Spitfire P8331 “Sumatra”, the plane last flown by Acting Wing Commander Piotr Łaguna, who was the Commanding Officer of 1 Polish Fighter Wing, which included the Polish 303 squadron which was part of the British Royal Air Force in WWII and played a key role in the Battle of Britain.
He also discovered that Łaguna had been flying one of the squadron's plane's when it was shot down over France in 1941, crashing in a field in Calais and killing Łaguna.
The discovery led to Booth’s growing fascination with the Polish 303 Squadron and Łaguna and the other pilots who flew in the P3881 Spitfire, which culminated in him setting up the Laguna’s Spitfire Legacy Project to tell their story.
After carefully researching and reconstructing a log of the Spitfire’s daily flights and identifying every pilot who took part in her missions, as well as the number of enemy aircraft which were shot down or damaged, he now intends to rebuild the original Spitfire.
He has also had his plans approved by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), who have given the go-ahead for the reconstruction and re-registration of the aircraft.
Booth told TFN: “This spitfire is very valuable and incredibly rare for a number of reasons.
“There are only around 240-250 spitfires left in the world and only 40-45 of those are still flying, but not a single one of those is a Spitfire flown by Polish Squadron 303.
“This plane was flown by all the most famous pilots of the 303 squadron, mostly Poles, but also a Canadian, John Kent. When we get it reconstructed, it will be the only Spitfire of the 303 squadron to be flying.
“In addition, the plane is a very rare type of Spitfire. There were 22 types made and this is a type 2B, which is a very early Spitfire of which there are only 3 examples in the world, one is in a Canadian museum, but no longer flying and one other, which is registered, but is essentially a bucket of parts and ours would be the third.
“Reconstructing it would make it very special for that reason as well: it will also be the only 2B in the world to be flying.”
The reconstruction project is expected to cost around GBP 3 million and has already received backing from a UK sponsor and Booth is in talks with a potential Polish sponsor and on the lookout for other company support, in line with his desire to secure both Polish and British backing.
Booth said: “The plane will be reconstructed in the UK, as that is where Spitfires were built in WWII, but there will be a strong connection to Poland as we want to keep the connection between the two countries and highlight that common purpose both countries shared in WWII, through this project.
“Our aim is for the project to be a philanthropic one and once the plane is rebuilt, to hand it over to an organisation in the UK who will look after it, with the idea that it will go to Poland every two years and that a pilot of the Polish Airforce will be trained in how to fly spitfires before then, so that when it goes to Poland, it will be flown by a Polish pilot in line with its history of being flown by Polish pilots.”
“Many countries were involved with this plane over the years and I wanted to honour those connections.
“It was originally built in the UK, sponsored by Sumatra, at the time part of the Dutch East Indies, flown by the Polish and after the war curated by the French, who removed parts after the crash and kept them in museums and private collections. I have tried to get all of these countries involved in the project.”
Booth is currently in the early stages of reconstructing the plane and returned last weekend from a trip to Calais, where he went to pick up original parts from the plane which include the hub, undercarriage, tail leg and wheel, original cockpit details and the control column.
As well as reconstructing the plane, Booth is working to have a permanent memorial built at the plane’s crash site.
Booth’s goal is to have the plane ready by 2025 in time for the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and 80th anniversary of the end of WWII.
He has also contacted Łaguna’s relatives, who live in Australia and alongside historian Peter Sikora, produced a book telling Łaguna’s biography which was released in June 2021, for the 80th anniversary of his fateful flight.