A set of rare aircraft which made aviation history are to be excavated in Myanmar under an agreement aiming to restore the “beautiful” aeroplanes after they were buried since World War II.

The restoration project was a result of more than a decade of searching by British farmer and aviation enthusiast David Cundall. “I’m only a small farmer. I’m not a multi-millionaire and it has been a struggle. It took me more than 15 years but I finally found them,” Mr. Cundall told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

There could be as many as 140 British Spitfire fighter jets in crates believed to be hidden by the former colonial power during the World War II, a local geophysicist involved in the search since 1999 told AFP.

“They were just buried there in transport crates,” Mr. Cundall said. “Spitfires are beautiful aeroplanes and should not be rotting away in a foreign land. They saved our neck in the Battle of Britain and they should be preserved”.

The team plans to dig in various locations including in Yangon, northern Kachin state and central Mandalay. Some of the Spitfires will be returned to Britain, in a move to strengthen relations with its former colony. Britain ruled Myanmar until Japanese forces invaded the country in 1942, which prompted them to hide the Spitfires.

The British government lauded the agreement saying the signing “marks an important step towards uncovering, restoring and displaying these fighter planes, and perhaps even seeing some of the aircraft gracing the skies of Britain in the future,” an embassy spokesperson said.