JCB joins mission to find hidden Burma Spitfires
DIGGERS made by JCB are to help spearhead a mission to recover forgotten Spitfires buried in the Far East during the Second World War.
Three of the Rocester-based company's machines will be used to excavate containers holding around 30 of the legendary fighter planes in Burma.
The unassembled machines are believed to have been hidden by American engineers at three sites as the conflict drew to a close.
JCB demonstrator Oliver Keates, from Cheadle, will teach staff at the site how to operate the diggers.
The 31-year-old Dancing Diggers team leader will fly out to the dig on Thursday.
He said: "I am really excited at the prospect of being at the controls of the diggers attempting to unearth the Spitfires."
The containers, which were uncovered by surveys and witness accounts, are thought to lie around 10 metres underground.
The team hopes to uncover 36 planes during the project – expected to last four to six weeks – but there could be up to 60.
Mr Keates is experienced on these kind of digs, having travelled to 73 countries for various other projects.
He said: "Really what they will need help with is actually digging down to the correct depth.
"The pictures that came back from the scans don't give a clear image of plane parts.
"Once they're brought above ground they will transferred home for assembly."
Mr Keates, who is expecting a baby with his long-term girlfriend is due to find out the sex of his baby the day before he flies out.
He said: "It's been a very busy time for us but luckily my girlfriend is very supportive of me and the project."
Designed by former Hanley High School student Reginald Mitchell, the Spitfire famously thwarted attempts by German fighter planes to master the RAF in the Battle of Britain in 1940.
The exciting dig follows a 17-year search for the lost Spitfires, led by aviation enthusiast David Cundall.
Mr Cundall believes the Spitfires were buried across sites in the Burmese jungle in August 1945.
JCB chairman Sir Anthony Bamford heard about the project and offered the use of his equipment and staff.
Sir Anthony said: "Reginald Mitchell put Staffordshire on the map in the 1930s with the design of the Spitfire.
"So it's very fitting that JCB, a modern day innovator and engineering company based in the county, should be providing the excavators to dig up the planes."
Reginald's great nephew, Julian Mitchell, from Newcastle, added: "I'm delighted JCB is involved in helping recover the Spitfires. Staffordshire is a great manufacturing county and I'm sure my great-uncle would have been pleased that a modern British engineering success story was playing such an important role in this project."