A JOKE 40th birthday present led to Martin Phillips setting out to achieve his boyhood dream.
Martin had talked about restoring a Spitfire fighter aircraft for so many years that his friends finally clubbed together to buy him his first piece.
But it wasn't a propeller, wing or engine which set the £2.5m project rolling. It was a tiny "pop rivet" — suspended on a string in a huge cardboard box.
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 his Langford warehouse, outside his home in Newton St Cyres, near Exeter.
He has travelled the world in a desperate search for spare parts, expert knowledge and inspiration – although one of its wings comes from a Spitfire which crashed near Exeter Airport and lay for decades in a hedge near a pub until it was salvaged. Martin said: "The Spitfire is such a pleasing shape to the eye. It's just like a giant seagull.
"It's so elegant and beautiful but, at the same time, it has such destructive power."
Under the guidance of a team of experts and some dog-eared DIY manuals the plane slowly came together.
He said: "I've had help from a host of people but there are loads of manuals and I have taught myself to do a lot. Everything is signed off by a chief engineer who comes to check and inspect all the work. Everyone in the aeroplane world thinks that for someone like me to do something like this is remarkable."
The Merlin-engined aircraft was originally built in 1944 and therefore never saw action in the Battle of Britain.
It was then sold by the RAF to the South African Air Force, in which it served until 1957 before being taken to Australia.
Now Mr Martin is waiting to here from anyone who might like to hire the iconic aircraft to raise money for charity.
"I haven't heard anything yet but I am waiting for bookings!
"The fact it has survived is unbelievable," he said.
"That's part of why the Spitfire is such a legendary plane."