The vast majority of Spitfires were single seaters. But some Spitfires carried an unexpected passenger as well as the pilot. How?
In 1945 Margaret Ada Horton was a WAAF (Fitter Mechanic Airframes) at RAF Hibaldstow airfield, a satellite airfield to RAF Kirton-in Lindsey, Lincolnshire, just south of Hull. It was a nasty day on 9 February 1945, with drizzle. As the day went on the wind increased considerably, and the Duty Controller instructed that ‘rough weather’ procedures should be observed. This meant that extra care had to be taken with taxiing aircraft.
Because the conditions were windy Margaret was instructed to assist Neil Cox, the pilot of Merlin-powered Spitfire AB910 by sitting on the tailplane whilst he taxied to the take-off position. This was to prevent the aircraft ground looping. At the end of the runway Cox turned into wind and, forgetting Margaret was still on the tail, started his take-off run.
Margaret, realising she could not jump off safely, clung on to the Spitfire’s rudder upright. The pilot took to the air but realised there was something wrong with his Spitfire. The control tower, without telling him the reason, told him to land immediately. He managed to land safely with Margaret still clinging to the tailplane. She was credited with the airtime in her logbook!
There was another, more tragic case of a passenger in a single-seater Spitfire. Squadron Leader Humphrey Gilbert attempted to fly home after drinking several bottles of Benskins Colne Springs, a 9% alcohol beer. Drinking with him was Flight Lieutenant David Gordon Ross. When it was time to go home the pair tried to borrow a two-seater Magister aircraft.
When the flight sergeant realised the officers were drunk he claimed that the aircraft was unserviceable, so they took a single-seater Spitfire instead, with Ross sitting in Gilbert’s lap. Control of the aircraft was lost not long after taking off from Great Sampford and the fighter spun in, killing both occupants.
The Russians were the first to convert a Spitfire to two seats! This was for training purposes. When they acquired some Spitfires during the war under the Allies’s lease/lend scheme they needed to train fledgling pilots on the powerful British aircraft. They had already converted some of their own front-line fighters to accommodate another seat and so did the same to several Mk IX aircraft. Their two seater Spitfires had a double greenhouse-style canopy. The makers of the Spitfire, Supermarine built a demostrator in 1946 with a bubble canopy.
Then in 1948, 10 Spitfire T Mk IXs, were exported to India. In 1951, a further six TR9 trainers were converted from the standard Mk IX to train pilots for the Irish Air Corps (IAC) Seafire fleet. The Spitfire training included gunnery practice since the type was equipped with four .303 Browning machine guns, Most of the TR9 aircraft passed to the ground technical training school at Baldonnel where they were used as instructional airframes for the training of aircraft engineers for the Air Corps. Four of the IAC aircraft survived.
You can fly as a passenger in a Spitfire today, with the Boultbee Flight Academy!