Flying high with the Onoto Spitfire

A ‘tribute’ pen is a dangerous thing. Look at something like Montegrappa’s Apollo 11 moon landing pens: I confess that I quite want one, but nevertheless they come across like cheap toys, even when the top-tier edition costs an eye-watering £6,000.

Image credit: Iguanasell

It’s not just Montegrappa’s usual over-the-top style, either. Platinum and Cross have both done some Star Wars pens that in my view are obvious and crass, and then there’s some of Montblanc’s releases — like this year’s Elvis pens, loaded with quotations and V8 engine parts and spark plugs and white jumpsuits.

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All of which is to say that it’s easy to cram a tribute design with references and gimmicks — which then feels like the designer is compensating for a lack of authenticity.

Onoto’s tribute to the Supermarine Spitfire, by comparison, is pure elegance.

At a glance, it just looks like a normal torpedo-shaped metal pen. It has a few subtle and well-integrated gestures to the iconic plane: most obviously, the cap end is shaped like a propeller hub cone, with a copper prop blade as the clip itself.

This is beautiful, stands out against the silver body, and patinas nicely. From this:

To this:

There’s also a tiny etched silhouette of the Spitfire on the cap, paired with a rather large textblock.

And perhaps you could also note the overall streamlined shape that evokes the old aeronautical saying “if it looks right, it’ll fly right”.

But this tribute to the Spitfire is not in the shape of the pen, its features or decoration. It’s deeper than that. The pen itself is actually made (in England) from the wing spar of Spitfire P7350, which fought in the Battle of Britain.

In reality, this pen isn’t a tribute to a Spitfire. It is a Spitfire. And that is what makes this a special pen: you can hold a piece of the real legend in your hand. How much more alluring would Montegrappa’s Apollo 11 pen be if it was a simpler design but incorporated a tiny piece of a real Saturn V booster, or captured a glimmer of real moondust in the finial for your £6,000? How much cooler for a fan would the top-tier Montblanc Elvis pen be if it featured a real Elvis rhinestone in its snowcap?

Anyway, back to the Onoto.

While Onoto’s other high-end pens are often solid silver, naturally the Spitfire’s airframe was fabricated from something lighter, an early aluminium-copper alloy trade-named Duralumin. To make these pens, a series of 100, the spar was melted down complete with all its grease and imperfections from its long history. The result is a pen that’s streamlined and gleaming, but scarred and pitted too. It looks industrial.

And I think that’s fitting. I remember back to all the air shows and air museums I’ve visited in my life, from the mists of my early childhood to the ones I’ve dragged my own children to. And every one of the planes I’ve seen was a well-worn tool, not a perfect toy.

So this pen has the authentic look of a tool. How does it function as one?

For starters, being aluminium it’s not as heavy as you might expect, even given its surprising size.

In length it’s more than 15cm, but the spec sheet puts it at 45g. On my scales mine weighed in at 49g inked, or 32g uncapped. And it’s exceptionally well balanced, one of the most agile pens I’ve used in that regard.

My review sample, number 1 of 100, came equipped with a delightfully stubby broad 18k nib in Onoto’s normal #7 size, and normal bi-colour design.

It’s the kind of nib that burns through pocket notebooks — and ink.

Luckily it’s backed by Onoto’s high-capacity and beautifully engineered vac filler. This is an optional extra that adds £250 to the price (and probably the 4g to the weight).

Comfort is good. The section is long, with a ridge at the nib end to ensure a secure grip. It’s not quite the normal Onoto section profile, but the family resemblance is clear.

I found the aluminium a little slippy at times, but nothing that caused me a problem.

Behind the section is a fairly sizeable and sharp barrel step, and the threads themselves are a little sharp too. But the length of the section meant I didn’t find these got in the way in use.

The cap takes a full five turns to unscrew, which Onoto warned me about before loaning me this pen… they know that long threads are a deal-breaker for me.

Given the kind of pen this is, I tried to see the uncapping as an opportunity to admire the history in my hands. I was mostly successful. And in any case, the threads are nice and smooth, so I won’t harp on too much about this point.

At £1,995 — plus the cost of the plunger filler — this is of course not an everyday pen for the average Joe. Well, actually, I’ll clarify that: the Spitfire pen is perfectly suited to using every day. It’s a comfortable design, made from a durable material, with plenty of ink capacity. But this kind of price point is normally reserved for precious metals or artisan processes like urushi, not a plain and undecorated aluminium pen.

No, you’re buying this pen for its unique material, rarer than gold — it is literally a piece of history recast for your hand. Other pens could be painted like a historic fighter plane…

But this is forged from an actual Spitfire. It is ultimately authentic, elegant and exclusive. If you are an admirer of the Supermarine Spitfire, and have the funds, it’s almost a no-brainer. Almost.

I was born in the early 80s, so my boyish daydreams and bedroom walls were filled with Warthogs, Harriers, Apaches, Blackbirds, Nighthawks, Vulcans, and the civilian Concorde that flew over my house daily. I’m a child of the jet age, not the golden age of the Spitfire. Even so, I hold the Spitfire in high regard — what aviation enthusiast doesn’t? And I have to say Onoto has done a marvellous job honouring its legacy.

I was loaned this pen for review. You can get yours here.

7 thoughts on “Flying high with the Onoto Spitfire

  1. Anthony,
    Hope you are all recovering and that isolation isn’t proving too testing.
    Another good review of a beautiful pen (and a piece of WWII Spitfire) that’s way out of my price range.
    It does make me wonder how many pens in these price ranges actually get used once bought as opposed to simply being put away to protect them and their value.

    Like

    • I have wondered the same. This is a perfectly usable pen — in fact, with the copper clip and the rustic aluminium finish, I think it would look even better with use.

      Like

  2. I handled this pen when I was in Asprey’s. It is surprisingly light in the hand for a metal fp. (though not really unexpected considering the material).

    It should be used as a daily writer, like my Martelé (but that almost half the price of the Spitfire + Vac).

    My eye remains on the Onoto BM Rosetta pen though. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Onoto crea el perfecto homenaje al Spitfire con una estilográfica – XankaClan

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