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.