By Mark S. Kuhar
Two excavators and a backhoe made by Staffordshire, England-based JCB are about to embark on a mission to help recover Spitfire warplanes designed by one of that county’s most famous sons and believed to be buried in Burma. The unassembled planes are thought to have been hidden in the ground by American engineers across three sites as World War II drew to a close.
Now a bid to excavate for crates thought to contain more than 30 of the Spitfires is about to get underway at Rangoon International Airport, and JCB is providing a 20-metric-ton JS200 tracked excavator, a 22-metric-ton JS220 tracked excavator and a 3CX Eco backhoe loader to complete the job.
The company is also dispatching the Team Leader of the world famous JCB Dancing Digger display team, JCB demonstrator Oliver Keates, 31, of Cheadle, Staffordshire, to operate the machines and offer expert advice on the digging operation.
JCB was founded by Joseph Cyril Bamford in a lock-up garage in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, in October 1945 and under the leadership of his son, Chairman Sir Anthony Bamford, it has grown into the world’s third largest manufacturer of construction equipment.
It is another great Staffordshire engineer, Reginald Mitchell, who is famous for designing the Spitfire. He was born in 1895 in Kidsgrove, Staffordshire and educated at Hanley High School, Stoke-on-Trent.
Sir Anthony Bamford said: “Reginald Mitchell put Staffordshire on the map in the 1930s with the design of the Spitfire so it’s very fitting that JCB, a modern day innovator and engineering company based in the county, should be providing the excavators to dig up the planes.”
Oliver Keates, who has worked for JCB for 14 years, said: “I’m excited at the prospect of being involved in this project. It’s going to be thrilling to be at the controls of JCB machines attempting to unearth a Spitfire.”
Businessman Julian Mitchell, of Newcastle, Staffordshire, who is Reginald’s great-nephew said: “I’m delighted that JCB is involved in helping recover the Spitfires. Staffordshire is a great manufacturing county and I’m sure my great-uncle would have been pleased that a modern-day British engineering success story was playing such an important role in this project.”
The dig is getting underway after a 17-year search for the Spitfires led by aviation enthusiast David Cundall. Award-winning online games developer Wargaming is funding the efforts to recover the buried Spitfires.
The JCB 3CX backhoe loader is the world’s most versatile piece of construction equipment and is one of the biggest selling machines thanks to its ability to load, road and excavate. It weighs in at 17,000 lb., has a top speed of 25 mph and a bucket capacity of 1.4 cu. yd. JCB has made more than half a million backhoes since 1953. The JS200 tracked excavator being used in the dig weighs in at 20 metric tons, is powered by a 172-hp engine and can dig to a depth of 21.8 ft.
JCB is supplying the machines through its dealer in Burma, RMA Services Co Ltd. Based in purpose-built facilities in Yangon, the company is also providing logistical and service support.