By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor, Video Editor
British farmer and aviation enthusiast David Cundall Tuesday signed an agreement with Burma's government to unearth a cache of what he expects will be dozens of Spitfires carefully stored and buried in that country at the end of World War II. Roughly 35 Spitfires are still flown in the world, today. Cundall and his Burmese business partner Htoo Htoo Zaw estimate there may be at least 60 Spitfires, all of the rare Mark XIV model, at a location Cundall discovered in February after a 16-year search. Cundall will get 30 percent of the aircraft. He's spent about $200,000 locating them and arranging the deal. It's believed the aircraft were greased and wrapped prior to being buried in crates, and may be recovered in good condition. Some 20,000 Spitfires were built during the war, but the Mark XIV model represents a much smaller segment of that group.
Earlier Spits were powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and only a few dozen more than 2,000 of the aircraft were built as Mark XIV models driven by a more powerful Griffon engine coupled with a five-blade prop. Those buried in Burma may have seen very little use prior to being put in storage. The agreement to excavate the famed fighters came after a disagreement between Cundall and British businessman Steve Brooks, who also claimed the right to retrieve the planes. Cundall came out on top but more work followed. In the end, an April meeting between British prime minister David Cameron and Burmese president Thein Sein led to the agreement. Cundall and Zaw signed the deal with Burma's director-general of civil aviation, Tin Naing Tun, Tuesday. Excavation awaits, and if the aircraft are recovered in good condition, they may be worth roughly $2.3 million each.