It was a challenge only the few would dare to take on.
But when friends called on Martin Phillips to build his own Spitfire – by giving him just one rivet of the aircraft for which he had to find the rest – he was determined to fulfil the dream.
Now, some 13 years later, the 53-year-old businessman from Exeter has not only completed the mission of rebuilding the heroic Battle of Britain fighter plane but also realised his dream of seeing the Second World War aircraft take to the sky once more.
Mr Phillips spent years of his life meticulously restoring the iconic fighter plane to its former glory in a shed outside his home in Newton St Cyres, near Exeter.
The project for the aircraft – named City of Exeter – cost an estimated £2.5 million and was achieved with the help of a 50-strong team.
Mr Phillips described the project, which will feature on tonight’s episode of BBC Inside Out South West, as a “cradle to the grave journey”.
“Many times I thought the project wouldn’t ever be completed. But we never gave up the ghost,” he said.
It began in earnest when Mr Phillips found the fuselage of a 1944 Mark IX Spitfire, RR232 in Worthing, West Sussex.
He gathered the genuine Spitfire parts from around the world – including four of the Merlin engines which gave the Spitfires their unmistakable sound. He also found a £70,000 four-bladed propeller, wing skeletons, engine parts, wing cannons, flying instruments, original seats and components.
One of its wings came from a Spitfire that crashed near Exeter Airport and lay for decades in a hedge near a pub until it was salvaged.
The Spitfire took off from the recently-closed Filton aerodrome outside Bristol in December for the first time since the 1940s.
Team members lined the A38 road bordering the airfield to watch the Spitfire take off – joining crowds of aviation and history enthusiasts.
Mr Phillips said: “Now I can now enjoy the fruits of our labour. It’s a massive relief to have finally finished. There was a lot of excitement among the team. What I’ve restored is an iconic piece of British history. The spitfire is something that makes Britain a great nation. I am humbled that 18-year-old kids went up in them during the Second World War and died in them.”