The owner of Aircraft Restoration Company tells Spear’s aviation expert Ben Griffiths about how his family business has become the first port of call for aircraft enthusiasts and fundraising for NHS charities during Covid-19 using his personal blue Spitfire. He sits among the leaders, innovators and tastemakers featured in the Spear’s Luxury Index 2020
Fit for the fighter
Few places on earth share the ambience or allure of the Aircraft Restoration Company. The family-owned firm’s workshops at the historic Duxford Airfield near Cambridge boast a global reputation for restoring vintage flying machines, with a particular expertise in building Spitfires. Company owner, pilot and engineer John Romain is regarded as the pre-eminent restorer of Supermarine’s iconic Second World War fighter. For any pilot or potential Spitfire owner worth their salt, ARCo is the first port of call for advice and assistance to source an aircraft, whether for personal use or for investment purposes.
The company once took the wreckage of a pair of Mark 1 Spitfires which had crash-landed on a French beach in 1940 and rebuilt them to flying condition, with one reportedly being sold for a cool £3 million. The aircraft became film stars too, being flown by Romain and his team during the filming of Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk. Such Skilled craftsmanship has meant Spitfires and other rare classic aircraft have gradually been gaining popularity for investors seeking new asset classes.
Romain’s team can also train pilots to fly these historic machines, using the same pathway followed by the fighter pilots of yore, taking in the Tiger Moth biplane basic trainer, via the radial-engined Harvard and – if you’re skilled enough – eventually onwards to the aircraft that won the Battle of Britain.
As a pilot, Romain is highly experienced, with dozens of aircraft types in his logbook, including more than 1,000 hours in Spitfires alone. His company also undertakes maintenance on privately owned aircraft, as well as looking after those operated by the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, including the famed Lancaster bomber, one of only two still flying anywhere in the world.
Most recently Romain’s personal Spitfire, a stunning blue machine that was used as for wartime photographic reconnaissance, has been a regular sight around the UK. Flown overhead hospitals as a tribute to the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, the response to the flights has uplifted members of the public, who view the Spitfire as a symbol of hope – just as they did back in the 1940s.
Romain has turned this into a fundraising drive for NHS charities, with donors asked to nominate a name to be inscribed on the aircraft’s skin in tribute or as a thank you to those who have died, loved ones or simply a friend or kind neighbour.
Image: George Lewis Romain