Although ordered as part of a batch of 200 Spitefuls, most were cancelled and PS853 was one of 79 aircraft built as Spitfire PR.19’s at the Southampton works. Delivered to the Central Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at Benson on 13th January 1945, it was transferred six weeks later to No.16 squadron of 34 wing, based initially at Melsbroek and later at Eindhoven. It was later transferred to No.268 squadron, which was to re-form as No.16 at Celle on 18th September 1945. The war over PS853 returned to the UK by March 1946 and on 18th April was to be found at No.29 MU High Ercall.
Although this was a storage unit its next recorded entry was on 17th January 1949, when it suffered a Cat.B flying accident, and on 9th March it was returned to the makers for repairs. Almost a year later, on 28th February 1950, PS853 left South Marston en route to Eastleigh, the pilot experiencing cockpit pressurisation problems during the flight, and on 24th March it was awaiting collection, arriving at No.6 MU Brize Norton six days later.
With the establishment of the Short Bros and Harland operated Meteorological Flight in 1950, PS853 was selected for conversion for the role and on 13th July it went to No.9 MU for removal of the PR gear and installation of Met recording instrumentation, being delivered to Hooton Park shortly afterwards. The flight moved to Woodvale in 1951 and PS853 served until it was retired in 1957, making its last THUM flight on 9th June.
The three Woodvale PR.19’s were due to fly to Biggin Hill on 12th June, but PS853 suffered the indignity of being tipped on to its nose and the formation did not get away until the following day, 853 being flown by none other than Gp Capt (future AVM) Johnny Johnson to join the newly established Memorial Flight. Following an excursion to No.32 MU St Athan on 8th November 1957. PS853 returned to Biggin to be allocated to the Station Flight on 20th December, moving on to North Weald Station Flight on 1st March 1958 and the Central Fighter Establishment at West Raynham on 14th April. Here, surprisingly, it was struck off charge as Cat.5c (components reduced to spares) on 1st May, but was, instead, placed on the gate as 7548M. Here it remained until 1961, when it was surveyed and taken to No.19 MU to be restored to flying condition, returning to West Raynham in November 1962, remaining on charge until transferred to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Coltishall on 14th April 1964.
In 1967 the aircraft was allocated for the film the Battle of Britain in which it was to fly bearing the codes N3316, N3321/AI-G, AI-M, EI-K, returning to the Flight on completion of filming. It has remained with the Flight ever since and in 1973 was repainted in the authentic PRU blue colour scheme that it wears today.
By the end of 1984 the engine hours remaining on 853’s Griffon 66 were coming to an end, and trials had taken place to fit ex-Shackleton Griffon 58 engines into the Spitfire Airframe. This project is no easy task, as had been discovered during trials with both LA255 and PS915, but during 1985/86 the Flight, together with Rolls-Royce Ltd, installed a Griffon 58 in PS853 at Coningsby. The opportunity was also taken to update various systems and change the electrical system fro 12 volts to 24 volts.
Sold to Euan English early in 1995 but back up for sale following English's death in a flying accident on March 4th 1995. Sold to Rolls Royce, September 1996, to replace the original Rolls-Royce Spitfire XIV, G-ALGT. The aircraft was re-registered as G-RRGN; the RR for obvious reasons and the GN after the drawing number prefix allocated to Griffon engine parts. The aircraft is painted as 'C' of No. 16 Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, 2nd Tactical Air Force, being the identity PS853 wore during its wartime service.
In 2010, 65 years after its first delivery to RAF service, PS853 was taken out of service for its first major overhaul. The aircraft received full inspection and maintenance to all its structures and systems at the Aircraft Restoration Company and Historic Flying Limited at Duxford in Cambridgeshire. The first flight after restoration was on 9 October 2012 and PS853 was delivered back to Rolls-Royce in November 2012.
Unfortunately, the return to service was beset by an unfortunate accident on 7 January 2013, when the undercarriage was inadvertently retracted while on the runway at East Midlands. Fortunately it occurred at very low speed but left damage to the propeller, wings and fuselage. The pilot was unharmed and the aircraft was recovered with no further incident. The Spitfire was sent for repair at Duxford and returned to service some six months later. PS853’s first public display was part of a special thank you to the employees of Rolls-Royce when the Spitfire flew in formation over the Derby factories with the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the 8 August 2013.
- Flown with serials N3316 and N3321, and fuselage codes AI-G, AI-M and EI-K