Small Addition – Big Story

Small Addition – Big Story: Supermarine Spitfire

Written by: Cayla Lindley

A little plane has a big story to tell at the museum. Fortunately for model enthusiasts, this one is pint sized. A 1:24 scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IX will be on display, championing its illustrative “Popeye” cartoon nose art and the serial number EN398.

The real EN398 would have a short but illustrious career by supporting both a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, by the name of Ian Keltie, and a Royal Air Force Pilot – James E. “Johnnie” Johnson. While the original was dismantled long ago, the story of this Spitfire is one with strong ties to Edmonton and the Canadian contribution to World War II.

EN398 began its service by taking its maiden flight on February 13th, 1943. It was delivered to 402 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force at RAF Kenley in England on the 18th of that month. That was when Ian Keltie took possession of EN398 (which would bear the code AE-I) and would fly the Spitfire for only two months. Keltie was an adept pilot in the war. Born in Millet and growing up in Edmonton, he made his way to 402 Squadron and flew during the Dieppe Raid and would later provide air support on D-Day.

On March 1st,1943, EN398 was re-coded as AE-B for unknown reasons and Keltie would fly his last missions with EN398 on March 13th. The Spitfire was destined for new heights with a new owner, Captain James E. Johnson. He would take over as wing commander for Kenley on March 16th and would fly the Spitfire Mk IX for the first time. He took his prerogative as wing commander and re-coded the plane again as JE-J – his initials – even though this was against the advice of Intelligence Officers.

In the six months he would fly JE-J, he would add to his already impressive tally of destroyed enemy aircraft that would reach 38 by the end of the war, making him an Ace more than 7 times over. Johnson’s success was also credited to the Canadians he flew with as he was impressed with their discipline and skill. Johnson gained the respect and admiration of those under his command.

However, the Spitfire would enjoy a far less successful end. In late 1943 it was transferred to 421 Squadron where it would suffer damage, and it was returned to Hamble, England for repairs. EN398 would sit in storage from late 1943 to May of 1946 because new aircraft were being produced and delivered faster than older aircraft were being repaired.

After the war, until 1949, EN398 would be used by No. 80 Operational Training unit to train young French pilots. But that would be the end of the EN398’s flying career because by 1952, after more years in storage, it would be sold to a private company and was dismantled and scrapped for parts and metal.

Despite its very short career of only a few years of active service, it would help propel two very accomplished pilots to successful careers with both the RCAF and the RAF.


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