A 1943 Spitfire, being flown on an unprecedented trip around the world, will touch down this morning in Kelowna.
The vintage plane, the likes of which are credited with helping to win the aerial Battle of Britain in the Second World War, took off from an airfield in England on Aug. 5.
It's expected to land at Kelowna airport about 10 a.m. after doing a low fly-by of the runway. After touchdown, interested members of the public can get an up-close look at the plane before it's flown out of Kelowna around noon.
"We're pretty excited the crew decided to include Kelowna on the route. It's a great honour," Dave McElroy, president of the Kelowna Flying Club, said Wednesday.
"The Spitfire adjusted world history, in terms of the contribution the plane made to helping the Allies win the war," McElroy said. "Seeing one of the planes, after all this time, flying around the world, is a pretty momentous event."
Spitfires are a "U.K. treasure and an emblem of freedom across the globe . . . The unmistakable sight and sound of this aircraft once again gracing the skies aims to inspire future generations more than 80 years after (aircraft creator) R.J. Mitchell's timeless design first took flight," says the tour website, SilverSpitfire.com
The Spitfire has already been flown by its two pilots, who take turns at the controls, across the Atlantic Ocean, down Atlantic and Central Canada, and across the United States.
McElroy, a longtime pilot who himself flew a small plane around the world five years ago, went to the Spitfire's stopover in Madras, Ore., on Monday to make a personal appeal to the pilots to fly to Kelowna. He'd earlier sent a three-page letter to flight organizers extolling the charms of Kelowna, but never heard back.
Original plans were for the Spitfire, after Wednesday's stop in Seattle, to fly to Fort St. John before continuing to Alaska then over to Russia. But in Oregon, the Spitfire pilots seemed impressed by McElroy's determination to have them fly to Kelowna.
"I think they were pretty surprised to see me. They said, 'Well, Kelowna sounds interesting. We'll think about it, but no guarantees'," McElroy said of the tarmac conversation.
On Tuesday afternoon, McElroy heard from flight organizers that the Spitfire would indeed be coming to Kelowna.
"I hope a lot of people from Kelowna come out to take a look at the plane," McElroy said. "A Spitfire flying around the world, it's never happened before and it'll probably never happen again."
After landing at dozens of airfields in 25 countries, the Spitfire is due to return to England in mid-December.
- Temporary free parking will be available this morning on Airport Way on a first-come, first-served basis. There will be a $5, cash-only charge per person to access the plane close-up. Kids under 16 are free, and a family admission is $10.