JCB on mission to unearth buried Spitfires

Posted on 15 Jan 2013

JCB diggers, made in Staffordshire, will help to recover 30 Spitfire warplanes believed to be buried in Burma – and the aircraft were designed by one of the county’s most famous sons.

The unassembled planes are thought to have been hidden in the ground by US engineers across three sites as World War II ended.

A bid to excavate four crates thought to contain more than 30 of the Spitfires is about to begin at Rangoon International Airport. JCB is providing a 20-tonne JS200 tracked excavator, a 22 tonne JS220 tracked excavator and a 3CX Eco backhoe loader to complete the job.

Team Leader of the world famous JCB Dancing Digger display team, JCB Demonstrator Oliver Keates, 31, of Cheadle, Staffs, will go to Burma to operate the machines with an expert touch during the digging.

JCB was founded by Joseph Cyril Bamford in a lock-up garage in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire in October 1945.

Another great Staffordshire engineer, Reginald Mitchell, designed the Supermarine Spitfire in 1936. He was born in 1895 in Kidsgrove and educated at Hanley High School, Stoke-on-Trent.

JCB chairman Sir Anthony Bamford 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.”

Oliver Keates, who has worked for JCB for 14 years, said: “it’s going to be thrilling to be at the controls of JCB machines attempting to unearth Spitfires.”

Reginald’s great-nephew, Newcastle-under-Lyme businessman Julian Mitchell, said: “I’m delighted that 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-day British engineering success story was playing such an important role in this project.”

A 17-year search for the Spitfires led by aviation enthusiast David Cundall has led the excavation project to Burma. Online games developer Wargaming is funding the recovery of the buried Spitfires.

More than 22,000 Spitfires were built in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, in the 1930s and 1940s. Very few working planes survive today, highlighting the importance of the excavation.

The JCB 3CX backhoe loader is one of the world’s biggest selling construction machines thanks to its ability to load, road and excavate. It weighs in at eight tonnes, has a top speed of 40kph and a bucket capacity of 1 m³.

JCB is supplying the machines through its dealer in Burma, RMA Services Co Ltd, which is also providing logistical support.