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Last Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006, 09:53 GMT
Spitfire maiden flight re-enacted
Spitfires over Southampton water
The Spitfires flew over the Woolston factory where they were built
Five Spitfires have taken part in a re-enactment of the first test flight - 70 years after the planes first took to the skies.

Thousands turned up to watch as the Southampton-built fighter planes took off from the airport and flew in formation over the city.

Aboard one of them was Alex Henshaw, 93, the chief test pilot during WWII.

Mr Henshaw, from Newmarket, Suffolk, said he had flown his first "Spit" from Eastleigh on his birthday in 1939.

Before taking off he said: "For me this is really full circle as I first flew the Spitfire from Eastleigh on my birthday in November 1939 and this is the last time I will go up in one so it's very nostalgic.

"I am feeling my age and it's not good having ideas in the mind that the body cannot carry out."

Alex Henshaw, 93, flew his first "Spit" on his birthday in 1939

Even though four pilots in his team were killed and Mr Henshaw himself escaped injury by bailing out twice, he is full of praise for the Spitfire.

"The Spitfire is the most outstanding low wing monoplane ever built," he said.

"The Hurricane was a fantastic aircraft and contributed as much as the Spitfire but although the Spitfire didn't win the war, it would have been lost without it."

Some of the veterans who built the first Spitfire at the Supermarine factory in Woolston, in 1936, and some of those who flew them were also watching the flypast from Mayflower Park.

Among them was Dr Gordon Mitchell, the son of Reginald Mitchell, who designed the aircraft.

RJ Mitchell
Reginald Mitchell died just over a year after the first Spitfire took off

Mr Mitchell died from cancer in 1937, at the age of 42 and only a year after seeing the prototype of his design make its maiden flight.

More than 20,000 Spitfires - which played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain - were built at the Woolston site.

The factory was also the reason much of Southampton was destroyed by German bombing during the war.

The planes took off at 1630 GMT, flew in salute over the factory site, up Southampton Water and back over Eastleigh to the airport at an altitude of 700ft (213m).

The flight re-created the plane's first ever flight which took off from Eastleigh airfield - now Southampton International Airport - on 5 March, 1936, at 1630 GMT.

The flypast was supported by Southampton City Council and Southampton Airport, and was arranged by the Solent Sky museum.

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