Spitfire AA790 (PRU) Photographic Reconnaissance Unit 1

On 6 January 1942, Alistair Donald Mackintosh ‘Sandy’ Gunn from Auchterarder took off in a PRU Supermarine Spitfire AA790 on a mission to photograph enemy installations in the Netherlands and Belgium. Sandy is most famously associated with another PRU Spitfire, AA810 (as detailed in the book Where Sky and Summit Meet).

Supermarine Spitfire AA790, 315983 Mk PRIV, first flew on 12 September 1941, it was powered by a Merlin 46 engine. It is likely that the Spitfire was produced in one of the small factories dotted around Henley-on-Thames and was probably first tested on a field grass strip aerodrome at the nearby Upper Culham Farm.  Fortunately, following the bombing of the Supermarine factory at Southampton in September 1940, some of the precision machines, jigs and tooling that survived had already been dispersed to temporary facilities such as requisitioned car and bus garages, and furniture factories. Supermarine Spitfire production would continue in hundreds of different locations as well as at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory (formerly Morris Motors).

AA790 was subsequently allocated, when it finished its PRU duties, to RAF 8 (Coastal) OTU based at RAF Fraserburgh. By a very strange coincidence, Spitfire AA790 crash-landed due to engine failure on 15 December 1944 at Westburn Farm near Aberuthven, only three miles from Sandy’s hometown of Auchterarder.  The pilot, Flying Officer R E Ludman was undertaking a cross country flight at 19,000 ft when the engine began to run rough, with a subsequent rise in radiator temperature and erratic boost reading. A sump oil tank in a wing had lost power and the aircraft had to belly land in a field near the farm. Westburn Farm is between Aberuthven and Dunning, near the Broadslap Farm Shop and Cafe.

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