Aviation historians and warbird enthusiasts are drooling at the discovery of at least 12 and maybe as many 20 perfectly preserved brand-new Spitfire Mark 14s buried in Myanmar, which was formerly Burma. Thanks to the tenacity (and apparently considerable diplomatic skills) of British farmer David Cundall, the lost squadron of pristine fighters was found where they were buried by U.S. troops in 1945 when it became clear they wouldn’t be needed in the final days of the Second World War. At least a dozen of the aircraft, one of the latest variants with their 2,035-horsepower Roll Royce Griffon engines replacing the 1,200-1,500-horsepower Merlins in earlier models, were buried without ever being removed from their original packing crates. It’s possible another eight were also buried after the war ended. After spending 15 years and $200,000 of his own money, Cundall was rewarded with visual proof of the magnitude of his discovery. “We sent a borehole down and used a camera to look at the crates,” he told the Telegraph. “They seemed to be in good condition.”
The aircraft were declared surplus when they arrived in Burma because the Japanese were in retreat by then and carrier-based Seafires were getting all the action. They were ordered buried in their original crates, waxed, swaddled in grease paper and their joints tarred against the elements. Cundall found some of the soldiers who buried the planes by placing ads in magazines and was able to narrow down the search before using ground-penetrating radar to confirm the burial site. The next obstacles to recovery are political. Myanmar’s former military junta was under a variety of sanctions, among them an international convention that prevented the transfer of military goods to and from the country. Recent political reforms have led to the lifting of that ban effective April 23. Cundall will also need the permission of the new Myanmar government to unearth the treasure. He helped his own cause by making numerous trips to the country and earning the trust of government officials. British Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to seal the deal with Myanmar President Thein Sein during a visit.