The Mitchell B-25 plane, perhaps the most versatile of the United States’ World War II bombers, is probably best known as the aircraft used in the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan in April 1942.
Stripped of every bit of spare weight to make room for extra fuel, 16 land-based Mitchells flew off the back of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier, delivering a mostly psychological blow to Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
The workhorse Mitchell flew in every theater of the war, performing tasks far beyond the manufacturer’s original conceptions.
One of these legendary planes, Maid in the Shade, will be coming to Albuquerque on June 17-20 for tours and flights.
Maid in the Shade was part of the 319th Bomber Group, 437th Squadron stationed at the Serragia Airbase, Corsica. It flew 15 combat missions over Italy and Yugoslavia between Nov. 4 and Dec. 31, 1944, attacking primarily railroad bridges.
Following the war, it was used as a trainer before being sold at auction to be used as an insect sprayer.
The Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa, Arizona, bought Maid in the Shade in 1981 and after an extensive restoration, it again took to the skies in 2009.
The B-25 is nearly 53 feet long, over 16-feet tall and was powered by two Wright R-2600-92 Twin Cyclone, 14-cylinder, air-cooled radial engines with 1,700 horsepower each. It had a wingspan of over 67-feet, with a usual range of about 1,350 miles.
“It’s an interesting and technical challenge to fly,” said pilot Pete Scholl, who flies the B-25 among other planes from the same era. “It’s gratifying to be able to learn how to safely and correctly fly these things.”
Originally designed to be built by the 1,000s and piloted by plug-in-and-fly, hastily-trained personnel, the B-25 is a Spartan, utilitarian work machine made to continue to perform under adverse conditions, he said.
“It was engineered and built to be effectively used in combat by low-trained personnel,” Scholl said.
And that’s what visitors will see and riders feel when rumbling down the airstrip and going aloft.
“It’s pure mechanical engineering,” Scholl said. “It’s a neat airplane. It shows people that it’s not a commercial airplane. It was built to do a war-time job. To be able to fly in it, it’s about as noisy as can be as its rumbles and vibrates. It’s not comfortable. It’s not what most people think of when flying.”
Scholl, who grew up in Minnesota, started volunteering at an airport while still a teenager and worked with a lot of WWII vets as they retired from service in the 1960s and 70s.
“I got to know these guys and gals and got to know the technology from them,” he said. “In a historical sense, I feel like I’m helping keep their memory alive, the guys and gals who flew these during the war. It’s my way of remembering what they did. This is kind of a time machine, a look back at the way things were back then.”
Flights will be in the mornings, while the afternoons are reserved for the tours. Scholl is joined by a co-pilot, a crew chief/flight mechanic and a load master. The latter two answer any questions riders may have, and guide people through the plane during its flight.
Before the flight, riders are given a briefing on what to expect and how the plane was used.
“We don’t fly all that high, 2,000-2,500 feet above ground so people can see the ground very clearly,” Scholl said. “We try very hard to make sure they experience history in a positive way.”