James Elwyn Storey, in white overalls, with his brother Jack and LV-NMZ at Moron airport, Buenos Aires, Argentina shortly after the epic flight.

Throughout the history of photography many individuals have risked their lives driven by a need to tell a story or by a desire to capture that elusive photo destined to become an icon. But some photographers risked their lives for something a little more mundane – to keep their business afloat. One such photographer was James Elwyn Storey.

Born in Argentina on July 13th 1915 to British parents, Jim and his older brother Jack eventually became pilots in the RAF during WWII. Jack was a test pilot and Jim spent the later years of WWII as a reconnaissance pilot in 519, 542 and 543 squadrons. After the war Jim and Jack returned to Argentina, Jim working as a traffic controller for British South American Airways (BSAA) and Jack as managing director of Hale Hamilton and Co. of Buenos Aires.

Shortly thereafter they established an aerial photography business, mostly done with handheld cameras leaning out of the cockpit of a civilian plane. They then managed to obtain a government contract to do aerial mapping and so were in need of a more specialized aircraft. They settled on a Spitfire PRXI - a type Jim had flown during his time with the RAF. The PRXI was essentially a Mark IX fighter stripped of all armament and fitted with cameras. Jim returned to England in the spring of 1947 and purchased his Spitfire from the Ministry of Supply, RAF registration PL972. The intent was to ship her to Argentina by boat. Then came word from Jack that if the plane was not back in Argentina quickly they may loose the contract. Jim decided to fly his Spitfire to Argentina. Vickers-Supermarine equipped her with extra external fuel tanks under the fuselage and wings, repainted her in classic PR blue and applied her new Argentine civil registration of LV-NMZ. The Argentine oil company Shell-Mex provided assistance with fuel. On April 29, 1947 Jim started his journey from Bournemouth, England to Gibraltar. Next on to Dakar, Senegal. From Dakar across the Atlantic to Natal, Brazil. Then to Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Montivideo, then finally Buenos Aires, Argentina. This monumental trip set 2 records, one for the heaviest fuel load ever carried by a Spitfire (428 imperial gallons) and one for the longest flight for a Spitfire (1850 miles on the Dakar to Natal leg).

 

Above left: photo taken from BSAA Star Glitter somewhere over the Atlantic showing port engine and LV-NMZ carrying her 170 gallon ferry tank. Above right; Shell Mex Argentina magazine advertisement

Shortly after arriving in Argentina Jim was called upon by the Argentine government to assist in the search of the civilian BSAA passenger aircraft “Star Dust” that had gone missing over the Andes on a flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. Jim spent two weeks taking aerial photos of the peaks and valleys of the Andes along the route travelled by Star Dust. Efforts to find her failed and for years her last morse code message of STENDEC has remained a mystery. The wreckage was finally found in 2000. It was fitting that Jim assisted in the search as he knew the captain of the lost aircraft and during Jim’s Dakar to Natal flight, not having any radio direction finding equipment, Jim flew along side “Star Glitter”, another BSAA passanger aircraft, for the entire leg.

Soon the Argentine government canceled the contract and in July of 1948 Jim was forced to sell his Spitfire to the Argentine Air Force. Used as a trainer and for towing missile targets, she was eventually crashed and sold for scrap. It was several years after the crash that Jim heard of the demise of his beloved Spitfire.

Jim, sporting a classic RAF moustache, seated in the cockpit of LV-NMZ. His Spitfire was powered by a 12 cylinder, 27 liter, 1700 horsepower Rolls-Royce Merlin 70

Over a few drinks at Restaurente Noll in the little town of Vera Cruz, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, Jim told me of his Spitfire days. It was 1990, and Vera Cruz just a 2 hour car ride from the city of Porto Alegre where Jim had made a pit-stop 43 years earlier. As he ended his story there was a quiet pause as Jim’s thoughts drifted back to 1947 and I saw a tear in his eye.

Jim died at his home in England in 1994.