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Page last updated at 16:11 GMT, Tuesday, 4 May 2010 17:11 UK
The Grace Spitfire ready to fly at Bentwaters airshow

Spitfire marks 25th anniversary

The restored Grace Spitfire is to fly at the Bentwaters Airshow 2010.

The fighter plane was restored by Nick Grace, who died in a car accident in 1988, and it's a regular sight at airshows including Lowestoft.

"Every time I wheel her out, that excitement flows through your system," said Carolyn Grace, Nick's widow.

Carolyn and her son Richard are both qualified pilots and on Sunday 13 June their Spitfire will fly in aid of two local charities.

The Grace Spitfire was built in 1944 and was involved in 176 operations during World War II in the service of New Zealand, Belgian, Polish, Norwegian and Free French RAF squadrons.

To save the plane from being turned into scrap, it was converted from a single-seat to a two-seat configuration by Supermarine of Southampton in 1950 for the Irish Air Corps.

Of the 20,000 Spitfires built for World War II, Carolyn says there are only 28 still flying in the UK.

Her husband Nick bought the plane from a museum in 1979 and he flew it for the first time, post restoration, in 1985.

The 25th anniversary of that flight took place at Bentwaters in April 2010 with Richard Grace, who's now 25 years old, in the pilot's seat.

Carolyn Grace with the Grace Spitfire
Carolyn Grace is the only current female spitfire pilot in the world

Carolyn estimates it would cost around £1m to carry out a similar restoration today and says it wouldn't be up in the air without the sponsorship from insurance firm JLT.

"Nick wanted this Spitfire to go on and that's what is so wonderful," said Carolyn. "The work he did was to such a high standard that it's stood the test of time and will continue to do so.

"He would be so proud of seeing this at Bentwaters where the future is secure.

"We're into the next generation now and we're going to be able to carry on because of Bentwaters."

When Nick died, Carolyn was a wife and mother looking after their two young children, Richard and their daughter Olivia.

She was already a qualified pilot when her husband bought the Spitfire, but, upon his death, she had to learn to handle the warplane.

"The equivalent is of going from a family banger to a Formula One car," said Carolyn. "I was flying in a little bi-plane which had 148 horsepower, whereas the Spitfire has 1,800 horsepower."

The Grace Spitfire at Bentwaters airbase
The Grace Spitfire flies over the Bentwaters control tower in 2009

Bentwaters airshow

The airshow, near Rendlesham, is taking place on Sunday 13 June from 9.30am and it's raising money for the East Anglian Air Ambulance and the Bentwaters Cold War Museum.

The show will feature the Red Bull Matadors, Sally B Flying Fortress, Mustangs, a Hawker Hunter, a Wattisham SAR Sea King and F86 Sabre to reflect the role of the base during the Cold War when the United States Air Force was there.

The Grace Spitfire's 'home from home' is at Duxford near Cambridge and its maintenance is carried out in a former 'readiness' hangar at Bentwaters.

The hangar used to be home to USAF bombers which had nuclear bomb-carrying capabilities.

Carolyn said she would be quite keen on flying some other planes which are appearing at the show.

"I'd love to have a go in the Hunter - it's such a dramatic aeroplane," she said. "I'd also love to fly a Mustang because it's the 'competitor' to the spitfire.

"The event area, aircraft and activities are in front of the high perimeter fence giving the public an uninterrupted view of the pilots and feel part of it."

BBC Suffolk's Stephen Foster will be broadcasting live from the airbase during his regular Sunday morning show 9am-12noon on 13 June 2010.

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