A Spitfire fighter plane emblazoned with the names of thousands of key workers soared above hospitals in the south east today in a flypast tribute to the NHS.

The blue reconnaissance aircraft, with “Thank U NHS” painted on the underside, took off from Duxford Airfield in Cambridgeshire at about 11am before flying south and making its first pass over Southend Hospital.

Other flypasts along the route included hospital in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire.

The gesture marks the latest effort by the Aircraft Restoration Company to thank Britain’s key workers for their efforts during the Covid-19 crisis.

The firm, which is based on Duxford Airfield, had previously flown the aircraft every Thursday during lockdown to support the clap for our carers campaign.

The plane was spotted passing over Leigh-on-Sea in Essex (@ChelmsRob)

A second flight was scheduled to take pace later on Saturday, with the plane set to pass over hospitals in Hampshire and Berkshire.

The words ‘Thank U NHS’ were visible on the underside of the plane (@ChelmsRob)

Tweeting a picture of plane, Gary Moore tweeted: “Spitfire over Dover just now… what a sight!!!”

Following the NHS’s 72nd birthday on July 5, members of the public were asked to nominate the names of people who offered essential help during the pandemic to be written on the plane.

The owners of the Aircraft Restoration Company said: “From a supportive family member to a kind neighbour, local community hero to frontline worker, you can say thank you for their support through the Covid-19 pandemic by nominating their name to be written upon the NHS Spitfire.”

People were asked asked to make a minimum donation of £10, to see their chosen name hand written on the a blue PL983 aircraft before it takes flight. The money will go to NHS Charities Together.