In late 1915, the Société-pour l’Aviation et ses Derives (SPAD) designed an airplane that became known as the SPAD VII – one of the best fighters of World War I. This sturdy, compact biplane armed with a synchronized machine gun and a V-8 engine, debuted in 1916 after overcoming several teething problems. It was a success with both French and British air forces, with the British building them under license. By August 1917, nearly 500 of the fighters were in service with over fifty French squadrons, including the famed Lafayette Escadrille, the legendary squadron of American pilots flying for France.
The Museum’s aircraft was manufactured in Norwich, England in 1917. Later that year, it was sold to the United States and was one of many sent to Rockwell Field on North Island in San Diego. While there, the SPAD VIIs, retaining their British markings, were used for advanced fighter training and took part in the huge Armistice celebration fly over of downtown San Diego in 1919. The SPAD went through several subsequent owners.
In 1981, the aircraft was purchased at auction from the Wings and Wheels Museum in Orlando, Florida, by the San Diego Air & Space Museum. The Museum began restoration of the SPAD in 1990, with a team of volunteer craftsmen and expert consultants, including noted antique aircraft authorities Jim and Zona Appleby, who were enlisted to restore the fuselage, empennage, instruments and engine at their home in Yucca Valley, California. Restoration of the wings, painting and assembly was done by volunteers working at the Museum’s Gillespie Field facility in El Cajon, California. The aircraft is 95 percent original, making it one of the most authentic World War I aircraft in existence. Wartime graffiti under the wing was discovered during the restoration.