By Ned Soseman — Contributing Writer | Photos By Wes Stricker, Paul Bowen, and Jim Koepnick
The world’s only flying Supermarine Seafire MK SV graces the skies over Lake of the Ozarks and Columbia, Missouri.
Supermarine Seafire XV #PR-503, single-seat British fighter
NATIONAL ORIGIN: United Kingdom
INTRODUCTION OF SEAFIRE XV: Late 1944
YEARS PRODUCED: Modified to the Seafire XVII a year later.
NUMBER BUILT: 396 including six prototypes
CAPACITY: One pilot only.
LENGTH: 31 feet, 10 inches
WINGSPAN: 36 feet, 10 inches
HEIGHT: 12 feet, 8 inches
EMPTY WEIGHT: 6,300 pounds
TOP SPEED: 400mph
SERVICE CEILING: Up to 37,000 feet
RANGE: 375 miles on internal tank
RATE OF CLIMB: Up to 5,000 feet/minute
Dr. Wes Stricker is a medical doctor who loves and collects airplanes. A gem in his collection is the world’s only flying example of a Supermarine Seafire XV carrier-based WWII British fighter.
The Seafire XV is something of a hot rod among military aircraft. It has the highest horsepower-to-weight ratio of its group and could out-climb all other WWII fighters. A Japanese Zero climbs at 2,710 feet/minute; a German ME-109 at 3,427 feet/minute; an American P-51 at 3,500 feet/minute. But the Seafire XV could climb faster than most of today’s corporate twin-engine jets can climb, at the rate of 5,000 feet/minute. When armed, it could also pack a mean wallop with two .20mm cannons, four .303 caliber machine guns and a couple of bombs. A 90-gallon drop fuel tank extended its combat range to 900 miles.
The Seafire was a carrier-based warplane made to defend British ships. Early Seafire models flew off the coasts of Italy and France. Later models were deployed extensively in the Pacific. The fighter was purposely designed to reach altitude as quickly as possible to cover ships below. Such rapid ascent was made possible with a Rolls-Royce Griffon Mk. VI water-cooled V-12 engine. Its supercharged 2,240 cubic inches pack 1850 horsepower in a very light single-seat fighter aircraft with a giant propeller. A similar Rolls-Royce Griffon engine powered the Miss Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane in 1980.
Seafire is the abbreviated name for a Sea Spitfire. The Spitfire was a remarkable British warplane introduced in 1935 as an interceptor. WWII demanded it be refined, redesigned and fortified for aircraft carrier operations. Many early Seafires and so-called hooked-Spitfires were damaged or lost in punishing carrier landings, resulting in many redesigns (or “Marks”). Including six prototypes, a total of 396 Seafire Mk. XVs were built. Dr. Stricker’s is the last Seafire XV still flying. His Seafire Mk.XV PR503 literally first reappeared on the radar at a 2010 airshow. PR503 had last flown in 1950.
THE THRILL OF THE FLIGHT
What attracted Dr. Stricker to the Seafire XV was its rarity and ties to WWII. Dr. Stricker’s father, Major Eamil A. Stricker, was a United States Army Air Corps Flight Surgeon in the 339th Fighter Group that flew P-51s in combat during WWII. The Seafire XV isn’t the only WWII aircraft in his squadron. Doc Wes, as his friends call him, also owns a North American P-51 Mustang that was named “Kansas City Kitty” in WWII, a North American AT-6D, a Grumman TBE-3E Avenger, and a 1939 model Grumman Goose “flying boat” that served in the RAF during WWII.
The Seafire XV provides a solo thrill as powerful and unique as the aircraft itself. When asked how the ride compares to a video game or race boat, Doc Wes replied, “The noise, acceleration, G-loads and freedom experienced in a WWII fighter just can’t be replicated in a video game, and I’ve not seen a boat yet that I’d like to ride at 400mph!” Top airspeed for his Seafire XV is 400mph.
Pull the stick back and at the full 5,000 feet/minute climb rate the pilot feels 3Gs of pure acceleration. During maneuvers, forces can range from +8 to -4Gs, thanks to its tremendous power and large elliptical wings. By comparison, the greatest roller-coaster G force in the world is 6.3G at South Africa’s ‘Tower of Terror’. Six Flags Over Texas’ ‘Shock Wave’ ranks second at 5.9G.
FOUND IN BURMA
Doc Wes once owned two Supermarine Seafires. “We recovered a number of airplanes in Burma years ago,” Doc Wes says. “One was an Mk.XV Seafire (SR462).” It was the rarest of the finds, and Doc Wes chose to restore it first. About that time in 2005, another Seafire (PR503) came up for private sale and it had an interesting history. The war was over when PR503 went into service in 1945. In 1950, with less than 500 hours on it, the engine was removed and the airframe was put into reserve storage, then ultimately assigned to a firefighting training unit. It and another Seafire were later rescued and hidden away. The other Seafire sits on static display at a museum in Calgary, Canada.
A total of 2,300 Seafires with different 8 Mk. models were built. Only 17 complete airframes remain today. Four of those are Mk. XV models. The only one flying is Doc Wes’ PR503.
Aircraft restorations on this scale are more than any one person can handle. Doc Wes is an active medical doctor who enlisted the perfect team to help bring his vision into reality. One of those people is expert pilot John Beattie. Beattie spent 35 years in the Royal Navy before becoming a commercial pilot. “We met John Beattie in the UK through mutual aviation contacts, and he’s about the only guy in the world with hands-on experience flying later-model Griffon-powered Seafires,” Dr. Wes says. “And FYI, John LOVED his (albeit brief) time at Lake of the Ozarks!” Beattie knows the weak points, quirks and kinks unique to the Seafire XV.
One of those quirks is a result of the high-powered engine and giant 14-foot-diameter, 4-blade wooden propeller. The Seafire wants to go to the right. It demands a lot of left rudder to compensate for the massive torque of the Rolls-Royce Griffon Mk. VI engine, particularly during taxi and take off. When airborne, the plane rolls more easily to the left than it does to the right. Another quirk is the liquid cooling and radiator. Lowering the flaps for take-offs and landings blocks the radiator, which can cause the liquid coolant temperatures to quickly rise. Pilot Beattie knows these quirks and compensates for them. Over the years, he also has identified critical structural and mechanical weak spots to keep a watchful eye on.
The Seafire is British, therefore it and all its nuts and bolts are metric. It takes a special kind of mechanic to deal with metric aircraft. That mechanic was Jim Cooper, the friend who actually made the Seafire Mk. XV PR503 fly. Cooper was an aircraft mechanic who had worked with Doc Wes for several years restoring various WWII aircraft. The Seafire Mk. XV (PR503) was successfully completed after Cooper spent 199 weeks with it in restoration. It took Cooper more than four months and miles of painter’s tape just to paint the Seafire. He did all the painting and stencil work himself. Between all the team members, about 8,000 man-hours were put into the project before it ever got off the ground.
Doc Wes’ original Seafire XV SR-462 was recently sold to Tim Percy in the UK because his father, retired Royal Navy Captain Terence Percy, flew that exact same aircraft (SR462) off the British carrier HMS Formidable in the South Pacific in 1945, and sent us copies of his WWII logbook entry to prove it! Captain Percy’s son wanted to move the restoration closer to home where his dad could be more involved. Percy made several visits to Columbia to see the aircraft and was very instrumental in supporting the restoration through his contacts in the UK.
Doc Wes’ PR503 won the coveted “Silver Wrench” award at the Experimental Aircraft Association convention, and won the “Best Fighter Aircraft” trophy at the EAA summer convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “The aircraft may also have set a record for the longest restoration in history, from 1964 to 2010,” Doc Wes jokes proudly.
• Our sincere condolences on the passing of Captain Terence Percy in the past month at the age of 95, but not before he was able to participate in the restoration of his favorite World War II aircraft!
O W N E R ’ S P R O F I L E
NAME: Wes Stricker, M.D. and wife, Pam
HOME: Columbia, Missouri
HOME AT THE LAKE: The Villages, Sunrise Beach
OCCUPATION: Medical Doctor and Pilot
AIRCRAFT: Supermarine Seafire XV (PR-503)
FAVORITE THINGS TO DO: Flying and spending time with my wife and daughter in New York at the Juilliard School
WHY THIS PARTICULAR AIRCRAFT: Rarity and its link to WWII. It is part of my effort to collect, restore, fly and display fighter aircraft from various theaters of operation, so the part they played to ensure our freedom can be enjoyed and studied by future generations.
WHY DID YOU PURCHASE IT: To help with the restoration of a sister ship Seafire XV (SR462) recovered from the jungles of Burma. There are only three of this model remaining in the world, and this is now the only flying example!
DESCRIPTION OF AIRCRAFT: 1945 Supermarine Seafire XV. It is a modified carrier-based version of the famous WWII British Spitfire Fighter.
MODIFICATIONS TO AIRCRAFT: Completely stock; painstakingly authentic restoration.
FLYING RANGE: 360 miles
COST OF ADDITIONAL MODIFICATIONS AND ADDITIONS: 10-year effort; lots of parts and labor! We spent approximately 8,000 man-hours on the restoration, and the aircraft was in various stages of restoration from 1964 until we acquired it in 2005.
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