An historic Second World War Spitfire decorated with tributes and messages of thanks to NHS workers paid a visit to Teesside International Airport today (September 22) as part of a special flight around Northern England.
The blue Spitfire PL983 ‘L’ flew over dozens of the region’s hospitals with its ‘Thank You NHS’ message painted across the underneath of its wings to show appreciation to the hard work of frontline healthcare heroes who have done so much to help others throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The Spitfire, which will soon be decorated with the names of 80,000 people, raising tens of thousands of pounds for NHS charities in the process, visited Teesside International as part of its journey across Northern England.
The aircraft flew over Darlington Memorial Hospital before landing at Teesside Airport at 12.20pm. It then took off again at 1.30pm, passing over the University Hospital of North Tees, James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
Mayor Houchen said: “I am delighted that Teesside Airport has been able to welcome this historic and unique NHS Spitfire as part of its journey across Northern England. It is a brilliant idea and I’m sure people right across the North-East will have been trying to get a glimpse of the plane in the skies today.
“Our NHS and care workers have been the true heroes of the coronavirus pandemic and we should all be forever indebted to them for the work they have done to save lives and care for our loved ones during this difficult time. As well as being a brilliant way to pay tribute to someone by having their name on the Spitfire, the money raised from this will do wonderful things for charities helping us through the pandemic.
“I was thrilled we could use Teesside International earlier in the year to mark Clap for Careers with support from our emergency services, and welcoming the Spitfire is the latest way we can use our airport to say thank you to our incredible NHS.
“It’s already been a busy month for our airport with the first Heathrow flight in 10 years on Monday. With the arrivals hall overhaul taking shape along with the new state-of-the-art security system in place, it really is an exciting time for Teesside Airport.”
The NHS Spitfire Project was launched by The Aircraft Restoration Company – a family owned business that specialises in aircraft maintenance, restoration and operational services.
After initially flying the aircraft around villages near to their base at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford as part of the Clap for Carers campaign for NHS workers during the height of the pandemic, organisers found the response so overwhelming that they decided to make the aircraft a regular feature of the Thursday evening event.
John Romain, the company’s founder and director who flew the Spitfire during the special journey, said; “It was great to stop off at Teesside Airport today to refuel as part of our journey.
“It all began with an idea around a family table during lockdown to fly our beloved photo-reconnaissance Spitfire ‘L’ around the local villages for the Clap For Our carers with ’Thank U NHS’ emblazoned on the underside of the aircraft.
“We hoped it would lift the community spirit and it did, the response was utterly overwhelming. We weren’t prepared for the emotionally charged messages of support and gratitude that we received for that first flight, it was what paved the way for the development of the NHS Spitfire project.
“Our aim was to involve the nation, enabling them to become a part of the story whilst raising funds for NHS Charities Together. Having now flown over hundreds of NHS hospitals and with thousands of names hand-written onto the Spitfire, we are humbled to have been able to give those in our communities a way of saying a simple thank you.”
During the tenth week of Clap for Carers, the Spitfire was flown with ‘Thank You NHS’ across the underside of the aircraft for the first time. Over the course of the next year, organisers are attempting to hand write 80,000 names onto the Spitfire, either the name of a NHS worker, a tribute to a loved one or family member, friend or neighbour who has gone the extra mile during the pandemic.
To have a name written onto the Spitfire this summer, visit the NHS Spitfire Project JustGiving Page. A minimum of £10 donation along with the name of the person and the reason for the nomination is required. All money raised will go to NHS Charities Together, and more than £75,000 has already been raised.