Tag Archives: WWII Aviation

My Ride In Yankee Air Museum’s B-25D Mitchell “Yankee Warrior”

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.

B-25D Mitchell “Yankee Warrior” at the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s WWII Weekend Airshow

Aircraft History

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”.

Flight

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.

Safety Briefing under the wing. Photo by Kerry J. Newstead

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.

Samantha is ready to go!

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.

The B-25’s fuselage is very narrow, and is obstructed inside by the Top Turret gunner’s position.
The bomb bay tunnel. The pull bars are on the ceiling and the narrow size is obvious. The tunnel looks short, but is actually about 10 feet long.

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.

View from the Bombardier’s position in the B-25. Photo by Samantha Yost

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.

Author with daughter, Samantha. Photo by Kerry J. Newstead

2018 TBM Avenger Reunion

The third annual TBM Avenger Reunion took place on May 19, 2018 at the Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru, Illinois. The event is hosted and organized by TBM owner, Brad Deckert. What started out in 2016 as an Avenger fly-in and workshop has morphed into a first class warbird airshow that retains a fly-in style vibe.

On the surface, it seems as though the name would suggest strictly TBM Avengers, but that is not the case. The show includes numerous other aircraft from World War II, Korea and Vietnam wars. The ramp area is wide open allowing spectators to get up close and personal with the aircraft. The aircraft owners and support crew are usually right alongside to answer questions about the aircraft or the type’s history.

All throughout the day, aircraft of all types arrive for the fly-in or to participate in the flying portion of the show. While not looking skyward, reasonably priced vendors are available for meals and souvenirs. Fixed wing aircraft and helicopter rides are available onsite as well.

Housekeeping: The Avenger is a Grumman plane, and is known as a “TBF.” Why is this a “TBM” Reunion?

The Avenger was originally designed and manufactured by Grumman. Grumman built Avengers were designated the TBF. When the successor fighter to the F4F Wildcat was designed by Grumman, the F6F Hellcat, the Navy immediately placed an order for them. Since Grumman could not produce both the Avenger and Hellcat simultaneously, General Motors Eastern Division began production of the Avengers. These GM-built Avengers were designated “TBM”. General Motors went on to produce 7,546 Avengers, with the most prominent version being the TBM-3E variant.

All of the aircraft that participated in the reunion were TBM built aircraft, and I believe all of the flying Avengers world wide are also currently TBM versions. Hence the logical connection to call the event a TBM Reunion/Gathering.

The Main Event: Eleven Avengers!

Brad Deckert has devoted his passion and resources into his TBM. Brad started the annual “gathering” (now known as the “reunion”)as a way for the Avenger community to come together. The owners can swap information and knowledge with each other, and the airshow allows them to show off their aircraft. The show is also a fantastic tribute to all of the local veterans.

Any event that gathers eleven of the same type of warbird aircraft is going to be impressive! The event brought together TBMs that are frequently seen on the airshow circuit and several that are more uncommon at public events.

I have done my best to list the owner’s name and somehow identify each individual participating TBM. If I have something wrong, please send me a note and I will correct it!

Darrel Berry’s “Tennessee Ridge Runner II” – NL325GT

“CC” – NL293E

“96” – N5260V

Tim Savage’s North Atlantic Scheme – N4171A

Perhaps one of the most under represented contributions of WWII is the role of the escort carriers. These smaller carriers traveled with the convoys to protect them from air, surface and submarine threats.

The Avenger played a huge role in the large and small naval battles, including the incredibly important battle for the North Atlantic. Convoys of allied ships shuttled supplies and troops from North America to allied ports in England and continental Europe. These convoys were targeted by German U-Boat submarines and losses were running up quickly due to the wolf pack hunting style of the subs. If the convoys could not get supplies to Europe, the fate of the ETO may have been different. The escort carriers equipped with Avengers played a vital role in the success of the battle for the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic.

Tim Savage’s TBM is painted in the scheme worn by allied aircraft used in the North Atlantic region. The effectiveness of the paint scheme is easy to appreciate and see. Ultimately, the Avenger dropped more tonnage than any other naval aircraft, and sank numerous surface ships and is credited with 30 enemy submarines.

Brad & Jane Deckert’s “T83” – NL81865

The Deckert’s TBM saw combat in World War II during the Okinawa campaign with the Marines of VMTB-34, flying off the carrier USS Vella Gulf. She served with the Navy until 1956 and was subsequently used to fight forest fires in Canada. More information, including flights and appearances can be found on their website.

Charlie Cartledge’s “Delta 95” – NL436GM

Lake Erie Warbirds‘s TBM-3E rolled off the assembly line in Trenton, NJ in August, 1945. However, the aircraft never saw service during WWII. She was stricken from the Navy’s records in 1956 and subsequently used as a fire bomber until the 1960s. Her original flying career ended for awhile, being used for spare parts and as a wind machine for product testing. Thankfully, she was spared additional “abuse” and flying restoration began in 1985.

Tom Buck’s “George Bush” – NL683G

Tom Buck, a member of EAA Warbird Squadron 4, brought his TBM painted in the livery of President George HW Bush’s Avenger. Then Lt. Bush was flying for VT-51. On September 2, 1944, Lt. Bush’s Avenger was badly damaged while on a mission, and was forced to bailout near Chichi Jima. He was rescued and went on to received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Michael Kopp’s “Ida Red” – NL9584Z

Ida Red is another example of a North Atlantic paint scheme. Ida is a TBM-3E variant and was number 2701 off of the assembly line. After her US Navy service, she was sold and used on the west coast as a fire bomber. Around 1996 she was purchased by David Tinker and relocated to Michigan where she frequently participated in airshows around the Midwest. Ida had been absent from events for several years, and it was great to see this familiar air frame back in the air.

Commemorative Air Force – Missouri Wing’s “VT-87”- N5264V

Commemorative Air Force Missouri Wing‘s TBM was received by the Navy in May, 1945. She later served as a trainer during the Korean War with VS-27. After she was declared surplus, she was used as a fire bomber until 1977. The Missouri Wing obtained the aircraft in 2000 from a private owner in Florida.

Heritage Flight Foundation’s “IBM” – N85650

The Heritage Flight Foundation operates out of Westerly, Rhode Island and operates a distinct model of the TBM compared to the others in attendance. Their Avenger has the tail configured for radar operations.

“What is that Turkey all about?”

The Avenger is affectionately known in the Navy as the “Turkey”! Like all nicknames, the true origin is never completely known. Here are the two that I have found:

  1. On carriers that operated both the F4F Wildcat and TBF Avenger, the performance difference between these two aircraft is quite significant. Some say the nickname comes from the size and maneuverability difference of the Avenger while landing. When the gear and flaps were down to land, an Avenger was much like a real life flying turkey, ungainly and awkward.
  2. The second explanation is much simpler. The Avenger is powered by a Curtiss-Wright R-2600, a very large 14-cylinder radial engine. A radial engine is cooled via airflow of the engine while in flight. However, when on the ground, the engine cowling has large flaps that can be extended to help vent some of the hot air. When open, these flaps look like a turkey’s tail feathers.

    Both origin stories seem accurate. I will leave it to you to decide which is correct!

Commemorative Air Force – Rocky Mountain Wing’s “309” – NL53503

Commemorative Air Force Rocky Mountain Wing brought their TBM-3E

MiG Alley Airshows – F-86 & MIG-17

Paul Keppler and Jeff Kaney displayed their aircraft and performed a short dogfight demo. Paul’s F-86 Sabre is painted in the livery of James Jabara, the first Korean War ace and first USAF ace.

Jeff Kaney’s MIG-17 is painted in an artic splinter type scheme and is quite distinctive.

Wings of the North’s F4U-4 Corsair

Wings of the North brought their beautiful F4U-4 down to the event and made several notable photo passes. Arguably, the Corsair is one of the most iconic American fighter aircraft of the WWII era, and is beloved in the warbird community. The display also included some aerobatic maneuvers. There is just something special about the sound of the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine!

Tim Savage’s A-26 Invader “Silver Dragon” – NL99420

Tim Savage brought two of his aircraft to the event. Certainly the most colorful aircraft on the field, his beautiful A-26B Invader, “Silver Dragon”. This particular A-26 is configured with six .50 caliber machine guns in the nose for assault/strafing missions.

Although not as immediately recognized as the B-25, a similar mission aircraft, the Invader continued to serve the USAF in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The A-26 is starting to become more popular in the warbird collector community with greater numbers of flyable air frames returning to flight status.

Tim, and now his son Job, are well known in the warbird community and their passion for warbirds is contagious.

John O’Connors AU-1 Corsair – N965CV

John O’Connor surprised the crowd with several passes of his newly restored AU-1 Corsair (actually an F4U-7). The AU-1 variant of the Corsair was designed to serve as a low-level fighter-bomber, and had additional weapons hard-points added. A fully loaded AU-1 weighed approximately 20% more than an F4U-4 variant!

Sadly, the aircraft is now back in the repair shop after an accident on takeoff a few months after this event. Fingers are crossed to see her in the air again soon.

Michael Gillian’s FM-2 Wildcat – N909WJ

Mike Gillian’s FM-2 (a GM built version of the Grumman designed Wildcat) is an example of an aircraft that attends many smaller airshows and fly-in style gatherings. His aircraft is in beautiful condition and is a prime example of the early US Navy and Marine fighter aircraft of early WWII.

The Wildcat was considered inferior to the Japanese Zero at the start of the war. However, aerial tactics improved as did the skill of the Aviators and soon there after, the Wildcat could effectively fly and defeat the Zero. Grumman later improved the design and the mighty F6F Hellcat was born. The Wildcat held the line while American designers and manufacturers made fighters that could meet or exceed the performance of the Zero. The Wildcat is a a fairly rare breed these days, and it is a treat to see this Naval Aviation icon.

T-6 Texan & SNJs

T-34 Mentors

Around the field

Usually, general aviation aircraft do not interest me much unless I am going flying. However, this Cessna 195 is one sharp bird!

1952 Cessna 195B

You just never know what will show up…!

A pleasant and unexpected surprise to see was this lovely F-86 on static display. Having two F-86s at a show is amazing these days, and this one is extra special. This is the oldest flying F-86 in the world, and may be the oldest jet currently flying in the world (this is always debated, hence the emphasis on “may be”).

This is an early F-86A Sabre, and was the 5th off North American’s Inglewood, California assembly line. The aircraft, formerly serial number 48-178, served with the US Air Force and was destined to become a “gate guard” to end her flying days. Instead, she was sold in 1970 and made airworthy again using parts from several other F-86A air frames. She was a regular on the US airshow circuit until 1990, when the aircraft was again sold and exported to England. There, she continued airshow flight demonstrations until around 2015 when she was sold again and returned to the United States.

Recently, the jet was acquired by Heritage Aero, Inc. and returned to flight worthy status again for a collector client. The first flight back in the US occurred in October, 2015 in Rockford, IL.

What a fantastic, and unexpected treat to see this piece of FLYING history! Sadly, she did not participate in the flying portion of the show, but it was still exhilarating to see an aircraft of some historic magnitude on the ramp. Hopefully the next time is in the air!

The End!

This is gathering and reunion a truly unique experience these days. If you are a warbird fan, this is an event you should not miss. Details for the next Avenger Reunion can be found on the web at https://tbmreunion.org/

2019 National Warplane Museum Airshow – “The Greatest Show on Turf”

The 2019 National Warplane Museum Airshow took place on July 12 – 14th and brought in a nice selection of warbird aircraft . Featured performers included the USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II demo, Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team and the Alabama Boys comedy routine by the talented Greg Koontz.

B-17 Flying Fortress “Movie Memphis Belle”

The National Warplane Museum leased the B-17 Flying Fortress “Movie Memphis Belle” to take to events and for riders to purchase flight experiences. She is a replica copy of the first 8th AF Bomber crew to complete their tour of 25 missions. The aircraft starred in the movie “The Memphis Belle” and has been a huge hit on the airshow scene for a number of years. She looks “rough” but that is part of her appeal. She looks like a B-17 used almost daily during the 8th AF bombing campaign. The Movie Belle is nearly a visual replica of the original, but there are two main differences. Can you spot the differences? If so, drop me a note…I know ’em!

Canadian Harvard Formation Team

The Canadian Harvard Formation Team performed their routine. Looking as sharp as ever, the yellow Harvard aircraft put on a routine that is impressive considering how demanding the aircraft is to fly. Pilots always said that if you can handle a Harvard (Texan in America), you can handle any of the fighter aircraft of the era.

C-47 Skytrains / C-53 Skytrooper

The National Warplane Museum’s own C-47 “Whiskey 7” led a handful of C-47s and a C-53 in a tribute to the 75th Anniversary of the D-day Invasion. Several of the aircraft were on the return leg of their trip back from recent festivities at Normandy Beach in France. Several on display were nice to see and a total surprise to see them.

B-25 Mitchells “Champaign Gal” and “Miss Hap”

Two B-25s were in attendance, “Champaign Gal” from the Champaign Aviation Museum and “Miss Hap” from the American Airpower Museum. Miss Hap was the fourth B-25 off of the assembly line and is the oldest surviving B-25. Another notable is that the airframe was the personal transport of General Hap Arnold.

P-40 Warhawk “American Dream”

The TP-40N Warhawk “American Dream” from Warbird Adventures was the lone P-40 present. The P-40 has a strong history in the western New York area since they were designed and built by Curtiss-Wright, with the factory located in Buffalo, NY. “American Dream” has been modified with dual controls, which allows for a passenger and the ability for the passenger to pilot the aircraft. This configuration is extremely rare and is the only commercially available P-40 for dual instruction.

F4U/FG-1D Corsair “GodSpeed”

Goodyear built Corsair “GodSpeed” is painted in tribute to Marine Aviator, John Glenn. Charlie Lynch was at the controls both days and performed an excellent aerobatic demonstration of the Corsair’s abilities.

P-40 & Corsair Formation

Charlie Lynch and Thom Richards joined up for several fantastic photo passes in the P-40 & Corsair.

P-51 Mustangs “Swamp Fox” and “Mad Max”

Two P-51 Mustangs were on hand for Geneseo 2019. P-51D “Swamp Fox” owned and operated by RT Dickson and TF-51D “Mad Max” owned and operated by Louis Horschel.

Around the field

If you have never experienced the Geneseo show, it is a must for Warbird enthusiasts and is an amazing experience. To see aircraft on the grass as they would have been in the 1930s and 1940s is just special. Geneseo also seems to be full of surprises and acts you would not expect at a Warbird show. Pictured below are a Beech Staggerwing, TBM Avenger, Stearman, A-10C from the USAF A-10 Demo Team, and the ever entertaining Greg Koontz.

Thanks for a great time Geneseo, hopefully see you in 2020!

2018 Planes of Fame Airshow

The 2018 Planes of Fame Airshow was held May 4 – 6, at the airport in Chino, California. This year’s theme aircraft was P-38 Lightnings and had four flyable examples on hand. Another surprise was Yanks Air Museum pulled out their F-5G Lightning, a photo reconnaissance version of the P-38L, and placed it on static display. Unfortunately, P-38 “Lightning 33” had issues with an alternator and was unable to participate in the flying portion of the show. It was still mighty impressive to see three P-38s in formation at one time! A P-38 also participated in the USAF Heritage Flight.

P-38 LIGHTNINGS

AIR RACING

This years event also included a segment on air racing, which featured passes by highly modified P-51 Mustangs air racers named “Strega” and “Voodoo”. Voodoo currently holds world’s record as the fastest piston powered aircraft at 531.64 mph.

P-47 THUNDERBOLTS

A recently restored P-47D Thunderbolt “Dottie Mae” made her airshow debut at PoF, and she was absolutely beautiful. Dottie Mae is a later model bubble top variant of the Thunderbolt. Originally, the Thunderbolt had a razorback style aft of the cockpit. Planes of Fame’s P-47 is a razorback style and flew in formation with Dottie Mae. The bubble top shows the greatly improved reward vision.

THE PLANES OF FAME COLLECTION

Nearly all of the flyable aircraft in the Planes of Fame inventory participate in the annual airshow. Their collection of aircraft is impressive and contains rare birds like the P-47 razorback variant of the Thunderbolt, P-51A Mustang and the only flying examples of the P-26 Peashooter and N9M Flying Wing. The diverse collection contains US Navy aircraft from WWII such as the SBD Dauntless and TBF Avenger, well as classics such as the P-51 Mustang and P-40. Planes of Fame also has flying examples from the Korean War era such as the Yak-9, F-86 and MiG-15. The collection also includes a Vietnam era A-1 Skyraider.

COLLABORATIONS WITH OTHER MUSEUMS

Another reason why this show is special is that many of the nearby Museums share their aircraft which allows for many other aircraft variants to be viewed. Museums include:

The Lyon Air Museum
CAF – SoCal Wing
Palm Springs Air Museum
Warhawk Air Museum
Lewis Air Legends
GossHawk Unlimted, Inc.
Sanders Family
Yanks Air Museum

These museums bring aircraft like the P-51B Mustang, PBY4 Privateer, F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat, F7F Tigercat, P-51D Mustangs, Spitfires, P-63 King Cobra, P-40 Warhawks, C-47 Skytains.

Many other individual warbird owners also bring their aircraft, which also adds to the overall aircraft list.

The show also attracts demos from the USAF (this year the A-10 Warthog) and civilians such as Greg Colyer in his T-33 Shooting Star.

The lineup of aircraft below is just one of several, and by this view alone you can tell just how special this show really is. In my opinion, if you are a warbird fanatic like me, this is the ultimate warbird airshow to attend in the United States.