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Why would you want to build a Spitfire?

How it began...

KMF are currently in the process of creating a full-size Spitfire sculpture made from 316 stainless steel. This sculpture is a thank you to the people of North Staffordshire for all their extraordinary achievements and a tribute to R.J Mitchell's finest design which is a timeless legend. The sculpture is devoid of armament and markings and draws attention to the design excellence stemming from human creative talent.

Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE was one of Britain's most outstanding aeronautical engineers and designers. RJ Mitchell CBE was the technical director at the aviation company Supermarine based in Southampton where he led the team that designed the iconic WW2 Supermarine Spitfire. Born in May 1895, in Butt Lane, Stoke-On-Trent, Kidgrove, Staffordshire; he attended Hanley High School where he developed his interest in making and flying model aircraft. Mitchell left school at the age of 16, he worked as a railway engineer whilst studying engineering and mathematics at a local technical college, where he showed a passion and talent for mathematics. In 1916, he joined the Supermarine Aviation Works at Southampton where he went onto become chief designer in 1918. The company was primarily a designer of flying boats from the First World War and in the post-World War. The technical skill Mitchell used to design the Spitfire were developed in the evolution of the Schneider Trophy seaplanes. He created many different aircrafts; however, the Spitfire is the design most associated with Mitchell due to the timeless quality of the design as this enabled the Spitfire to be continually improved throughout World War Two. Over 22,000 Spitfires and derivatives were built.

paper spitfire
Paper Spitfire

This sculpture originated from a conversation between KMF's Managing Director Gareth Higgins MBE and apprentice tutor/ trainer Steve Dalton. Gareth encouraged Steve to find a project that would inspire our apprentices so Steve along with a group of apprentices planned to build a full-size Spitfire from Steel. Roland Machin and Pat Smith from Operation Spitfire; a local organisation who were raising awareness and funds to restore RW388; a Spitfire donated to the city in 1972 and located in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, were working in local schools promoting art in engineering and heard of KMF's intention to progress the idea and got in touch. A meeting was quickly organised during which Roland showed pictures of a paper Spitfire made by an Indian born, French resident and paper artist, Suhail Shaikh. Following this initial meeting Steve Dalton contacted Suhail to arrange a meeting with him and all interested parties.


Soon after KMF accepted the challenge; to build a replica of Suhail's paper model in Steel and Suhail was invited to oversee the construction of the sculpture. Suhail, Steve and the apprentices set to work on the build who they affectionately named the sculpture "Vera," after the wartime singer, Dame Vera Lynn.

On Thursday 1st February 2018, Vera was put on display at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery for 12 months while RW388, the City of Stoke On Trent Spitfire, was sent away for extensive renovation. Vera's final resting place is now on our main site adjacent to the Training Centre. Suhail commented that, "It's about engineering meeting art and it's been a joy to work with KMF apprentices who have such open minds and are willing to exchange ideas."
The Stoke Potteries Museum and Art Gallery now features the fully restored Spitfire RW388 plus two of Suhail's paper sculptures, the original paper Spitfire and a Hawker Hurricane, complete with a working paper model of a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine all of which can be viewed in the new £6m glass sided gallery extension.

Meet the artist – Suhail Shaikh

suhail shaikh
Suhail Shaikh

Paper is my medium of expression, my comfort zone, my world of possibilities. My first encounter with paper was in Bombay, India, where as a child I made my own toys out of discarded packaging. With a growing fascination for flying machines and toy making, I began to make paper models from scratch. Replicating aircraft in the finest detail became an obsession and I discovered the pleasure of minute precision work. I first saw a picture of the Spitfire when I was a small boy growing up in India. I was attracted by its shape. This made me dream of one day building a full-size replica of the Spitfire. I met KMF shortly after I created an accurately scaled model of a Spitfire from paper. After visiting Stoke, I soon realised my desire for the people and history. After many long days and sleepless nights, myself and KMF created the prototype full-scale Spitfire model, made of sheet metal, and we now look forward to creating a legacy for Stoke-On-Trent.

Where are we now?

shelton bar
Shelton Bar

Over the past few months, the team at KMF have been working hard to create a new Spitfire along similar lines to Vera. However, this time the Spitfire is to be made from stainless steel and to be placed on the Etruria Valley Link Road roundabout, on the former Shelton Bar Steelworks.

The team began by creating a 3D model of the Spitfire to ensure accuracy of parts and to help the build process to proceed as smoothly as possible and from this model, parts were produced utilising one of KMF's new Trumpf fibre laser CNC cutting machines. Full size plans were kindly printed by QPS Screenprint and laid out onto a wooden base so that the parts could be overlaid to check for position. The sculpture fuselage was built in two halves for ease of fabrication and assembly and on completion, the halves bolted together and placed on a purpose-built mobile frame to aid further assembly work. The central part of the wing spar has now been added along with stand mounting brackets and at present the outer wing spars are currently under construction.
The stands have been manufactured to Suhail's design from Cortes Steel by a local engineering business called Patera Engineering. The sculpture was installed on 7th January 2023.

The Big Unveiling

The KMF Spitfire is being unveiled on 11th January 2023 and is available to for public viewing on the 12th January 2023. Thankyou to the Stoke-On-Trent City Council for making this happen. #StokeSpitfire
Remember to tag us (@KMF_Metal, @KMFmetal) in any photos you take and post.

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Partners working on the project

  • Pell Frischmann – Architects
  • Balfour Beatty Management – Base/ Civil Construction
  • Patera – Leg/ Stand construction
  • Bentley Project Management – Managing the project
  • QPS – printed the flattened CAD drawings
  • William Mellards – Leg/Stand Construction
  • David Stubbs – Stoke-On-Trent City Council Highways Department

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