Two of my favorite things collided last year when my local minor league hockey team announced their Military Appreciation Night sweater. I had been thinking all along that it would be amazing if they had a military themed logo instead of their existing one. My dream came true on February 26, 2022 when the team played the Charlotte Checkers.
The jersey was designed for the Springfield Thunderbirds Military Appreciation Night by Matt McElroy. The Thunderbirds are in the American Hockey League (AHL) and are the farm team of the St. Louis Blues. The sweater combines the team’s name along with features of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds jet demonstration team. The jersey is an almost perfect lift of the jet’s topside paint scheme placed onto the hockey sweater. This combination is perfect since the team’s name was actually inspired by the USAF jet team.
The main logo of the sweater is a copy of the USAF Thunderbirds flight helmet and oxygen mask, with Springfield written above it and a lightning bolt. This was not by mistake. It is actually a tribute to the original Springfield Indians logo. Springfield has a long history of minor league hockey, and was one of original founding member teams of the league. The original Springfield team was known as the Indians.
Overall, the jersey is white, which is identical to the USAF Thunderbird jets. The sleeves contain the player’s number circled in stars, just like the demo team jets. The elbow area proudly flies the rondel used by all United States military aircraft to identify their nationality. The bottom has the red scallop with stars just like the tail of the jets. The team also used navy blue pants, which matches the color of the underside of the Thunderbirds’ jets. Again, very specific attention to detail.
When the jersey was unveiled, several members of the team visited the 104th Fighter Wing, 131st Fighter Squadron “The Barnstormers” at Barnes Air National Guard Base, in Westover, Massachusetts. Several of the jerseys were taken aloft for a flight in the unit’s F-15 Eagles. (Photos of the players and the F-15 pilots were obtained via the team’s website and/or social media pages.)
Game Day and Beyond!
As this game approached I was hoping for a bunch of merchandise to be introduced at the team store. As soon as I saw the official replica jersey for sale, I bought one. It was customizable, so I picked the number and used my last name. I specifically asked for the number 5, and that it be purposely be sewn on upside down, which was my tribute to the USAF Thunderbirds. To my surprise, when the team came out onto the ice on the night of the game, Tyler Tucker also had his number 5 upside down! The team or Matt McElroy even used that little detail when they designed the sweater, and I was just elated. My jersey did not arrive until mid-April, but I was thrilled to see it in person.
The team also used the jerseys for a good cause. The team has several alternate jerseys each year. 2022 included a throwback night to when the were the “Falcons”, a special “Pink the Rink” tribute to cancer survivors, a Simpsons themed jersey and the Military Appreciation Night. After each of these special jersey games, the team auctions them off with the proceeds going to the various charities the Springfield Thunderbirds support. The Military Appreciation Night jersey auction raised $28,575!
(Game photos above are from the team’s website and/or social media.)
My Military Appreciation Night Merchandise
I took full advantage of all of the great merchandise the team put out with the jet team themed merchandise.
We really enjoyed the game, and the win sealed the evening as one I will not forget for a long time!
During the 2019 Thunder Over Michigan Airshow, I had the opportunity to fly in Yankee Air Museum’s original aircraft, their C-47D Skytrain named “Hairless Joe”.
The C-47 is easily one of the most iconic allied aircraft of World War Two. General Eisenhower named the C-47 as one of the weapons that enabled victory for the Allies. Although the C-47 served in every theatre of operations, it is likely best known to most as the main jump platform for paratroopers participating in the D-Day invasion of France in June, 1944. When the museum made the decision to change the paint scheme of their C-47, they looked at a number of options. With many aircraft already paying tribute to C-47s from the European Theatre of Operations, Yankee Air Museum decided on an aircraft from the China-Burma theatre. Specifically, “Hairless Joe” from the 319th Troop Carrier Squadron, a part of the 1st Air Commando Unit. Hairless Joe was the aircraft piloted by then Maj. Richard “Dick” Cole, more well known as being the co-pilot to General Jimmy Doolittle in aircraft 1 of the April, 1942 raid on Tokyo. The freshly painted aircraft was unveiled at the 2018 Oshkosh show, with Mr. Cole in attendance.
The ride commenced with a short safety briefing outside the aircraft, and included use of safety belts and escape procedures. Riders boarded via a step ladder and were seated paratrooper style in the spacious cargo cabin of the aircraft. The door was closed, and the engines coughed to life. Internal temperatures inside the aircraft quickly rose due to outside temperatures combined with the P dark green color. We quickly taxied to the runway and the rush of air cooled the inside. The engines came up to full power and the tail quickly rose up to level the aircraft. We climbed briefly and the word was given that we could move about the aircraft.
Riders were able to view outside via the cargo the windows and then move forward to sit in the radio and navigator positions. Riders also had the opportunity to stand just behind the pilot and co-pilot positions. It was magical to be flying along in a historic aircraft such as the C-47. It was extra special for me since I had previously met Mr. Cole, and now had a second connection to his service life. I could also vaguely imagine standing up and clicking my parachute release to the static line like one of the brave men during D-Day.
The time passed quickly and the crew informed us to get buckled back into our seats for landing. Shortly thereafter the aircraft slowed as the main landing gear extended and eventually made connection with the runway. We briefly taxied back into the area we loaded and de-planed.
Although my flight was brief, the experience will last with me for a lifetime. I wish to thank the Yankee Air Museum and Executive Director, Kevin Walsh, for the opportunity as well as World Airshow News’ Canadian Editor, Kerry Newstead. For more information about the Yankee Air Museum or purchasing a ride in one of their historic aircraft, visit their website at http://www.yankeeairmuseum.org.
My article originally appeared in World Airshow News. I have added additional supporting photos.
With the war in Europe over in May, 1945 the focus shifted to conclude the fighting in the Pacific. The island hoping campaign brought the fight to Okinawa in April, 1945. For two months the battle raged on with the end result being airfields to use to bring the 4-engine B-29 Super Fortress fleet over Japan. If this tactic failed, the Allies were set to invade Japan. Luckily, the B-29s were successful in bringing the Japanese to accept the surrender demands set forth by the Potsdam Conference of “Unconditional Surrender”. On August 15, 1945 the Japanese verbally accepted the terms of surrender, but no formal documents were yet signed.
On August 19, 1945 the Japanese surrender delegation of twelve officials was set to arrive at the airfield at Le Shima, Okinawa. Upon landing they would board a large American transport aircraft for the final flight the Philippines to sign the initial surrender documents. Although the surrender was ordered and announced by the Emperor of Japan, some radical military leaders still sought to fight to the bitter end. These radicals ordered what remained of the Japanese Air Force to shoot down any aircraft attempting to surrender. In light of this, the American’s ordered an escort and fighter protection (twelve P-38 Lightnings) set up for the two Japanese aircraft to ensure their arrival. The Japanese surrender delegation were sent in two unarmed G4M “Betty” medium bombers. The Japanese aircraft were ordered to be painted all white with green crosses to prevent confusion and signify the party as surrender delegates. The delegates landed at Le Shima and were immediately transferred to two awaiting C-54 transports to take them to the Philippines to sign the documents.
The American escort group was made up of six aircraft, with two being B-25 Mitchells from the “Air Apaches” of the 345th Bombardment Group based at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. The Air Apaches were selected specifically due to the large contributions the unit made to the overall Allied victory. It has been suggested, but unconfirmed, that the B-25 was selected as the main escort aircraft in tribute to the Doolittle Raiders.
One of those escort B-25s was named “Betty’s Dream”, serial number 44-30934 from the 499th Bombardment Squadron “Bats Outta Hell”. She was a B-25J gunship model with a solid nose that housed eight .50 Caliber machine guns. About 800 of the gunship variants were produced and used to fly missions at tree-top level against shipping, airfields, troop concentrations and fuel dumps. It is believed that the “Bats Outta Hell” were selected as an intimidation tactic due to the fearsome angry bat painted on the nose of all of the squadron’s aircraft in combination with the guns pointing out of the nose. The other B-25 was from the 498th Bombardment Squadron “Falcons” – also part of the Air Apaches.
Betty was assigned to pilot Capt. Charles “Pop” Rice, the Operations Officer of the 499th and co-pilot Capt. Victor Tatelman in June, 1945. At the time of the surrender escort, she had 22 mission markings and two ship silhouettes, which represented two sunken Japanese ships. However, the surrender escort mission was flown by Maj. Wendell D. Decker. Capt. Tatelman was pilot in command of Betty’s Dream when the Japanese envoys returned to Japan. This return mission was of the utmost importance considering the Japanese only had one copy of the official and executed surrender documents.
By signing the initial surrender, the formal end to WWII was set. Betty’s Dream flew her last combat missions. It would take several weeks for the occupation and final surrender ceremony to be worked out. The formal Japanese surrender took place on September 2, 1945 onboard the Battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo harbor.
The fate of the original Betty’s Dream is unknown. It is highly likely she ended up in a smelter’s pit. Thankfully, history has been kept alive with the current representation of her. The current airframe was produced in August of 1945 as serial 45-8835. It served in Arkansas until written off and sold as surplus in 1946. It served as a civilian testbed until 1972 when it was sold and used as a fire bomber in Canada. In 1993 she returned to the United States and the restoration back to its bomber configuration began. In March, 1999 she returned to the skies as “Betty’s Dream”.
I fell in love with Betty’s Dream at the 2004 Thunder Over Michigan airshow. It was the first time I saw her and she was memorable. What stood out to me was the gunship configuration and the menacing angry bat nose art. At the time, most B-25s flying used the greenhouse bomber nose. I always hoped that the next year would bring her back to the Midwest where I attended most of my airshows at that time.
I had to wait until 2016 to see her again, this time at the Planes of Fame airshow in Chino, California. She is easily one of the most impressive and memorable of the current flying B-25 restorations. I hope the livery continues for years to come – and I do not have to wait as long to see her again!
Although not the original aircraft, the current representation of Betty’s Dream is amazing. As I said, what made her my favorite was the nose art. I did not learn of the historical significance of the markings until I started doing some research. History is literally right in front of you sometimes. Now you know some of the story of Betty’s Dream.
“Dotttie Mae” has a story to her with a touch of history to go along with it. She is a P-47D Thunderbolt (P47D-28-RA), serial number 42-29150, and manufactured in 1944 at the Republic factory in Evansville, Indiana. She was assigned to the USAAF’s 9th Air Force on December 16, 1944, and served with the 405th Fighter Group, 511th Fighter Squadron.
Lt. Lawrence Kuhl had 17 combat missions in his log book when he was assigned a new P-47 airframe. To honor his wife, he named the plane “Dottie Mae” and had the Roberto Vargas pin up calendar artwork piece titled “Santa’s Little Helper” painted on the side.
After flying in 90 combat missions, Dottie’s flying career came to an end on May 8, 1945 when she crashed into a lake near Ebensee, Austria. Sadly, the incident was not related to combat, but instead as a celebration. The pilot that day, Lt. Henry Mohr, was flying low over a recently liberated concentration camp to boost the morale of the prisoners. However, he came down too low and the propeller blades clipped the water causing the aircraft to crash into the lake. The airframe sank, but luckily Lt. Mohr survived the incident and exited the aircraft. Dottie remained at the bottom of the lake for over 60 years. With the crash, Dottie Mae made history as the last USAAF aircraft lost “in action” in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) during World War II.
In the summer of 2005, Dottie was raised from the lake in Austria, and in 2010 she brought to Idaho for restoration by Vintage Airframes, LLC. Surprisingly, she was reported to be in good shape considering she was in water for over six decades. Some of her original paint still remained including her name and nose art. The aircraft flipped over when she sank. The depth of the water, combined with the silt that collected over her underside surfaces preserved the aircraft nicely. The preservation is similar to the US Navy aircraft that sank in the Great Lakes during WWII.
The team at Vintage Airframes used original wartime design documents to make repairs and components. The owner spared no expense in restoring the aircraft to a “factory new” condition and the results are easily apparent. The preference was to use original parts if possible, then using new old stock or fabrication as a last resort. Dottie returned to the sky on her first post-restoration flight on June 23, 2017.
The aircraft is now owned by the “Allied Fighters” organization, which is based at the Chino, California airport. An excellent area for warbirds considering Planes of Fame Museum and Yank’s Air Museum are also located at the airport.
The return to flight is not the only bright spot in the story. When the restored Dottie was unveiled, three of her former crew were there to see her. Pilots Larry Kuhl (the one that named her) and Ralph Vanderkove were in the audience as well as one of her armorer’s, Leonard Hitchman.
After the war ended, many of the P-47s were scrapped rather than flown back or transported back to the United States. Of the approximately 15,000 P-47s built, Dottie is the only known combat veteran of either the 8th or 9th Air Force ETO area of operations with a combat history.
Dorie now makes many regular appearances at airshows on the West Coast. The casual person may identify the aircraft as a P-47, but few people know her place in history. She is a beautiful aircraft and it has been fun seeing her in her glory.
On May 27, 2021, the Connecticut Air & Space Museum held a ribbon cutting ceremony to announce their Blue Hangar grand opening. Since 1998, the Connecticut Air & Space Museum was located at the nearby Stratford Army Engine Plant. The Army Engine Plant was formerly owned by the Chance-Vought Company, the primary manufacturer of historic aircraft such as the F4U Corsair and OS2U Kingfisher. The area was also originally home to Sikorsky and numerous seaplanes were built there along with early development of the helicopter was conducted on the historic airfield. Although the Army Engine Plant has strong historical roots, the space was not ideal for a public museum since age restrictions prohibited visitors younger than 18-years of age. The new museum location will allow for visitors of all ages to attend, greatly enhancing the museum’s outreach.
In 2015, the Museum was able to obtain a 98-year lease of the two hangars formerly occupied by the Curtiss Flight School. Founded by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss, the Curtiss Flight School taught people how to fly and was in direct competition with the Wright Brothers. A hurricane in the area and eventually World War II ended the flight school’s tenure. After several years of fund raising and hard work, the restoration of the “Blue Hangar” is mostly completed and is now ready to be occupied.
For the time being, the Blue Hangar will house the gift shop and some of the display cases as well as the FG-1 Corsair, currently under restoration. Several completely restored helicopters will also be placed into the Blue Hangar, which include the OH-6 Cayuse and Sikorsky S-52 / Ho5S.
The museum’s goal is to eventually restore the larger hangar, and it will serve as the museum’s annex and display area for other restored aircraft or those currently under restoration.
The Museum’s formal grand opening is scheduled for May 29-30, 2021 and is located at 225B Main Street in Stratford (next door to the Windsock Restaurant). Formal information can be found at the Connecticut Air & Space Museum’s website.
On May 2, 2021, the New England Air Museum held an invitation only event to unveil the plans for their future exhibit titled “The Kościuszko Squadron : Defenders of Freedom”. The museum’s newest exhibit is designed to honor the heroism of the Kościuszko Squadron and the Polish 303 Squadron of the RAF.
The Kościuszko Squadron was originally formed in 1919 shortly after Poland regained their independence after World War One. The squadron consisted of American pilots recruited to help the Polish during the Russian-Polish War. During World War Two, Poland was invaded by Germany in the early stages of the war. In the spirit of the early Kościuszko Squadron, many of the Polish pilots that managed to escape capture fled to England. The RAF formed the 303 Squadron with these pilots. The unit served with great distinction during the Battle of Britain and is credited with the most aerial victories during the battle.
The New England Air Museum (NEAM) has partnered with Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) to develop the exhibit. CCSU is well qualified for such a task. CCSU has an internationally acclaimed Polish Studies Program and is leading the informational development of the exhibit.
The exhibit will be permanently displayed at the New England Air Museum (NEAM) in freshly renovated space leading to the civilian hangar of the NEAM display floor. The proposed location is ideal for a large display and a high volume of foot traffic is expected.
The current plans indicate a number of different multi-media exhibits to showcase a number of different artifacts and photos. Several items on early display include a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and several Polish military uniforms. Plans also include additional photos, various plastic model aircraft and other artifacts. Donations are still being accepted, which means the final display items are still being determined. No doubt that these items will produce a world class exhibit once the time to display them is upon us.
The full Kościuszko Squadron exhibit is scheduled for full public display on November 11, 2021 but may vary depending on financial ability and nature of the artifacts available.
After the event, Ron Katz sent the following in an email. “As you heard in my appeal last night, we seriously need your help to complete this exhibit. If this subject is important to you, if you believe that the heroism of the Kosciuszko Squadron has been hidden for too long, then please make your donation today. If you have already made a donation we sincerely thank you for your support. If not, you can make a donation securely online at https://ccsu.networkforgood.com/causes/17039-the-kosciuszko-squadron. All gifts are very much appreciated. For your gift of $1,000 or more you will be permanently recognized in the exhibit space, and will receive one of our special commemorative Kosciuszko Squadron coins. A list of benefits for all donation levels is attached.
If you wish to support the project but prefer not to make a donation online, you can send a check payable to the CCSU Foundation, and mail it to PO Box 612, New Britain, CT 06050-0612 and make a notation: “For the Kosciuszko Squadron.””
Other Special Guests
The United States has always had strong ties to Poland. Even today, Poland is considered one of America’s strongest allies. The large Polish population in the New England area makes logical sense for a display such as this. The proposed NEAM exhibit will be larger than a similar display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
Presentation of Exhibit Design Guests
This is a brief glimpse of the exciting things planned for this exhibit. Based on this small sneak peak, I am eager to see the final results in a few short months.
The image above is the US Navy’s Legacy Flight from the 2017 Cleveland National Air Show. CAF Dixie Wing’s FG-1D Corsair leads a F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators. Traditionally, this is always a highlight of an airshow for me when a warbird flies formation with a current military aircraft. I was exhilarated at the time since the combination of a Corsair and Super Hornet was something I rarely witnessed – along with the fact that two of my favorite aircraft were together. What I failed to recognize when I took this image is the history it captures. At the time, this photo represented the US Navy’s first strike-fighter, the Corsair, and their current strike-fighter, the Super Hornet.
What is a strike-fighter? Some official definition may exist, but the general idea is that a strike-fighter is an aircraft primarily designed for fighting other aircraft in air-to-air combat but also has the ability to deliver air-to-ground ordinance such as bombs, rockets or other munitions when needed.
The genesis of the strike-fighter idea was born out of boredom and necessity. The VF-17 “Jolly Rogers” were a land based F4U Corsair unit deployed to the Solomon Islands. The Jolly Rogers led by Lt. Commander Tom Blackburn along with sister USMC F4U squadrons, RNZAF P-40s and USAAF P-38s eliminated the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy aircraft. The Japanese realized the Solomon Islands were lost and pulled what remained of the air fleet back to defend mainland Japan. With no aerial opposition, the fighter sweeps became hours of boredom for the fighter pilots. However, the ground battle still was long from over. Since a fighter plane escort of bomber aircraft was no longer required, Blackburn along with other members of VF-17 came up with a plan…carry a bomb and help the guys on the ground.
At the time, this was a radical idea. Aircraft were designed for a specific purpose – fighter, dive-bomber, torpedo and bomber. The aircraft did not have wiring for wing or fuselage mounted ordinance. Work was initiated and a rough bomb rack and cockpit wiring were installed. After a few modifications, a bomb rack that could safely carry and deliver a bomb was complete. Blackburn sold the idea to his superiors and the idea was tested out operationally.
This innovation and idea was eventually approved for all Corsair units. Engineering from the original VF-17 design was modified and incorporated into manufacturing at Chance-Vought and Goodyear. These modifications included permanent wing and fuselage wiring to allow external ordinance.
Ultimately, that decision to allow a fighter to carry bombs has permanently changed Naval Aviation. In the immediate future, F6F Hellcats were modified to carry bombs and rockets similar to the F4U-1/FG-1 Corsairs. Nearly every Navy/USMC fighter aircraft since has the ability to deliver air-to-ground ordinance.
The fleet is now beginning to deploy the F-35C along with the USMC F-35B, the next generation of strike-fighters. The F/A-18 and F-35 will continue the strike-fighter duties for the next several decades.
Only about 45 years separate the Corsair and Super Hornet.
On December 7, 2020 the aviation community lost a legend of the industry. Chuck Yeager was an Ace fighter pilot in World War II, a historic test pilot, author and even had some acting experience in movies and TV commercials. When I was growing up, I idolized Mr. Yeager. He was larger than life and was the hero type for an airplane obsessed kid like me growing up in the 1970s and 80s. I read his two autobiography books, I clipped out his advertisements for AC Delco and the F-20 that were in the magazines. He had done it all in the aviation world and was the coolest pilot in the world in my eyes.
I always said if I ever had the chance to meet him, I would do so. I finally had the opportunity to meet him on August 9, 2003. At the time, the Thunder Over Michigan airshow was in its infancy. It was primarily a warbird airshow and would bring in a number of special guests to attract visitors. In 2003, amongst the special guests was Charles “Chuck” Yeager. It was announced that Mr. Yeager would be signing autographs during the Sunday show. I got in line to wait for my turn to meet my childhood hero.
Up to this point, I had never met any of my person celebrity icons. I had mixed feelings about doing so. I was always afraid that I would make a fool of myself, fumbling for something to say or that the celebrity would be rude or different than I expected. My brush with Mr. Yeager confirmed my fears!
In short, Mr. Yeager was rude to me and his personality was not what I had hoped for in meeting my aviation icon. However, I believe that there is an explanation for his actions. While in line, the guy in front of me had a HUGE bag of items. He clearly was at the show for the autographs. As we drew closer to our turn, he started grabbing out his items. A photo, a couple magazine ads, a X-1 die cast plane, etc. Meanwhile, I was in awe seeing the legend in front of me smiling and speaking with the people in front of him. Fast forward a few minutes and I was next in line. I get my item to be signed ready, confirm my camera is working and anxiously wait my turn.
Then the trouble started. I was watching the guy that was in front of me at the table. He started talking to Mr. Yeager and pointing for him to sign this and that. Also do not sign here or put his hand there while signing. Finally, Mr. Yeager yelled at him “stop barking orders and this is the last thing I am signing for you!” The guy packed his items and Mr. Yeager’s assistant asked me to step up. Mr. Yeager was now visually upset.
I handed over my photo and Mr. Yeager asked my name to personalize the photo. “It is an honor to meet you Mr. Yeager” I said. “You are my childhood hero.” Mr. Yeager grunted as a response and personalized my photo. He shook my hand and brushed my photo to the side quickly to move onto the next person. I was terribly disappointed with the experience. Crap…that was not how I wanted my time to go with him. I was in shock at that point. Excited to have met a historical figure, but disappointed.
After time has passed, my feelings have changed about the matter. Many of my aviation friends and colleagues have met Mr. Yeager and expressed their opinion about him. Some positive, some have been negative. I chose to think that the guy in front of me tarnished the experience. He upset Mr. Yeager with his demands and bossy demeanor. Mr. Yeager did not have time to “shake it off” and get back to his normal self. Like I mentioned, most of the people before me were treated friendly and given some time with him. I wish my interaction with him was different, but I consider myself fortunate to have had the experience.
Although my time with Mr. Yeager was brief, I accomplished my goal of meeting him and shook the man’s hand. I still believe him to be an icon of the modern aviation era, and he is still one of my heroes!
In August, 2018 I had the opportunity to take a ride on the Yankee Air Museum’s B-25D Mitchell. This ride was special in several ways, and it was something I had been dreaming about doing since I was a kid. This specific aircraft was likely the first flying “warbird” I ever encountered. I first saw “Yankee Warrior” back in the mid-1980s at the local Muskegon Air Fair, the main airshow near my home town. Although at the time it was known as “Gallant Warrior”. Every year it seemed to be there, and it was always one I snapped a quick photo of the nose art using my Kodak 110 camera. As my knowledge of WWII history and the B-25’s importance to the war effort increased, so did my desire to fly in one. The dream has finally come true.
Unlike many of the other flying B-25s, this is an early D model. The difference between the early and late models is easily distinguished. On the earlier models, like “Yankee Warrior”, the top turret is located in the rear third of the fuselage, and the tail gun station is merely an observation bubble with a single machine gun. On later models, the turret was moved to just behind the cockpit to allow for waist gunners, and a formal tail gunner’s position was created.
The B-25 was made famous by the “Doolittle Raid” of April, 1942. Sixteen B-25s took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and made the first strikes against mainland Japan. Although the strikes did minimal damage, the impact to the Japanese defense strategy was immense. Additionally, the raid provided a much-needed boost to the morale of the American public.
Yankee Warrior was produced by the North American plant on December 15, 1943 as serial number 43-3634 and was originally destined to be a part of the Royal Air Force (RAF) lend-lease program. Instead the USAAF took possession and assigned it to the 12th Air Force in Corsica, Italy. The aircraft was assigned to the 57th Bomber Wing, 340th Bomber Group, and flew eight combat missions between April and May 1944. The journey to the RAF began on May 12, 1944 when the aircraft was flown back to the United States. The RAF took possession of the aircraft in October 1944 and assigned the airframe to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Vancouver, British Columbia as a multi-engine trainer. The airframe remained in RCAF service until 1962, and was sold as surplus. After briefly flying in Canadian civil registry, the aircraft was sold to an American and brought to Ohio. Glen Lamont purchased the aircraft from the owner in Ohio in July of 1968 and the registered the aircraft as N3774 with the FAA, the code which remains today. Mr. Gallant had the nose art painted and the aircraft became known as “Gallant Warrior”. In 1988, the fledgling Yankee Air Force (now known as the Yankee Air Museum) purchased the B-25 to add to the museum’s flying collection. The aircraft was later renamed to “Yankee Warrior”.
The day of my flight was warm with minimal overcast skies. My partner for the ride was my daughter, Samantha, along with three other passengers. We were shuttled out to the active side of the airport and given a planeside safety briefing. The briefing was short yet provided all of the safety needs for the aircraft. Me, Samantha and one other passenger were assigned to start the flight in the aft section of the aircraft. Sammy and I took position near the waist windows while the other fella took the tail gunners seat in the very aft of the aircraft behind the top turret. The other two riders started out in the radio operator and bombardier positions in the front of the aircraft.
Once everyone was seated and the safety belts were inspected, the all clear signal was given and the two large R-2600 Double Cyclone radial engines coughed to life. As the engines warmed up, the loud backfires could be heard and felt. The B-25 has a reputation as being a very loud aircraft inside, and it is one I can confirm! The engines are mounted close to the fuselage and have a “short stack” exhaust system. The minimal sound muffling of the engine exhaust lead to many of the aircrews having some degree of hearing loss after numerous flights on the aircraft. Although loud, I loved it. Reluctantly, we placed the ear protection over our ears and waited to taxi for takeoff. After a brief taxi, we were ready to go. The engines were run up to full power and the brakes were released. The Mitchell began to climb as the wheels retracted into the gear nacelles behind the engines. We leveled off and were cleared to explore the other aircrew positions. The fuselage in the Mitchell is narrow, with little room to move easily about.
The real challenge was to move into the forward compartments or stay put. Between the forward cabin and the rear is the bomb bay. The only way between is a small rectangular tunnel that can only be traversed while on your back. I am a big guy, so there was no way I was going to risk getting stuck. However, Sammy swallowed deep and decided to go for it. She climbed up and a few seconds later was into the forward crew compartments. She climbed down into the cockpit area and between the pilot and co-pilot into the bombardier’s position in the glass nose. Also known as the best seat in the house! Meanwhile, I checked out the top turret and went as far as I could to check out the tail gunner area. The other passenger from the front came back and checked out the gunners’ positions while Sammy was up front.
After a few amazing minutes, I got the signal that Sammy was coming back. She arrived fine and had an enormous smile on her face. “Dad is was awesome” she exclaimed with an equally satisfying smile. We tried to talk about her experience, but the interior noise just did not allow for easy conversation.
The signal was sent to get back into our seats and buckle in for landing. A few brief moments later, we touched back down at Willow Run Airport. We pulled back into our parking position and the engines were shut down. A brief calm encapsulated the aircraft. The crew door was opened and we climbed down. There was no doubt that all five passengers were in awe of our experience. Handshakes were exchanged between passengers and crew. Our time with a living piece of history was nearly over.
We took a quick walk around the aircraft for an up-close final inspection. The engines pinged and popped as they cooled. Traces of oil were evident on the engine cowlings, a normal event with radial style engines. We got back on the golf cart and were driven to the inactive area of the airport.
I was quiet. I wanted to listen to Samantha as she told me all about her experience up front. This was her first time in a warbird. It was our first time doing something like this together. It was a special occurrence we shared. We had different experiences. She was awed by the flight and the view. I was transported in time to the 1940s, imagining myself being flown on an important mission. Did I have the guts to do my job, or was this my final flight? Would I get back okay or would I be hurt by enemy gunfire or flak? It is surreal for me to think that these were daily occurrences during the Second World War.
Our ride was arranged by our dear friend and colleague, Kerry J. Newstead, the Canadian Editor of World Airshow News. Although he was originally supposed to be my ride companion, he sacrificed his spot to allow Samantha to experience it with me. Her ride experience ultimately resulted in a published article in World Airshow News. A huge debt of gratitude must also go out to Kevin Walsh, the Executive Director of the Yankee Air Museum, for the amazing support and generous opportunity. I had to wait a number of years to live my dream in a B-25. It was an experience that I will cherish my entire life, and it thrills me that I shared it with my daughter. It was drastically different than I envisioned as a kid, but it was such a fantastic experience. Of the approximately 10,000 B-25s produced, there are only about 100 airframes left, and of those remaining, about 45 are capable of flying. If you’d like to experience a flight in the Yankee Warrior (or one of their other aircraft), check out the Yankee Air Museum’s website for details on how to book a ride for yourself. Take the opportunity if you can, it is an experience that does not disappoint.
In the air, a squadron can be identified by the type of aircraft being flown and squadron logo or tail codes. On the ground, a squadron’s identity is reflected in their vehicle. For semi-truck drivers, wood in the cab is the decor of choice while chrome is king for most “hot rods”. In a squadron vehicles, anything goes. The more gaudy and outrageous the better! Everything from wild paint schemes to spare aircraft parts can be seen on what has become the squadron’s ultimate alter ego.
The tradition appears to have started with the Navy. According to lore, official transportation was generally unavailable to squadrons that were deployed or on training detachments. Accordingly, the squadron car was born out of necessity. Several members would chip in a few dollars and buy a cheap vehicle to get around. Usually, the junior officers were tasked with driving the senior officers around to the base functions and parties.
The original squadron cars were plain and simple, what my generation would call a “beater” – cheap and usually in need of some sort of repair. Over time, the cars started to get custom paint jobs that reflected persona of the squadron. Standard cars morphed into retired limos. Not to be outdone, limousines transformed into old school buses and RVs. As the type of vehicle changed, so did the exterior details. Modern squadron vehicles are adorned with anything and everything to make their ground transportation match their aerial rides. Retired tails are mounted, maybe a refueling boom or perhaps simulated missiles/guns. Basically, the rule of thumb is this: it has to be bigger, wilder and more flashy than the other squadron’s ride yet, reflect the squadron’s history and culture. The early cars were very politically incorrect and crass. When ladies began to incorporate into the flying units, the crude references were mostly stricken. However, a few may still have a reference or two if you look close enough.
Ultimately, the squadron car is a symbol of pride for the unit. It gives the men and now women a fun diversion from the everyday routine and shows the wild imagination and creativity these people have. While the members of the squadron may rotate, the squadron vehicle passes to each successive generation to modify and carry on the tradition. The legacy builds as more customization or modifications are completed.
The “squadron car” has become such a legend that the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida displays the Lincoln Continental limo formerly of VAQ-134. The automobile was driven all the way from NAS Whidbey Island to NAS Pensacola to be put on display in 2003!
Next time you are at an airshow or open house at the local military base, keep an eye out for the unique and imaginative works of art from the Navy, Marine and USAF/ANG units.