WWII bomber takes to the Rawlins skies
By David Louis
RAWLINS — A relic of World War II, a B-25 “Mitchell” bomber landed at Harvey Field in Rawlins Monday for a weeklong stopover during the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) 2016 Flying Legends of Victory Tour.
CAF Pilot Matt Conrad said he loves flying Maid in the Shade, something other pilots have called the “Corvette” of bombers.
“It’s pretty amazing. It’s such a great airplane to fly around,” he said.
“The airplanes back then are much different than now. You really have to get used to a lot of manual things, but once you get used to it, it’s pretty easy to fly. Still there is a lot going on. There are a lot of levers in there, there’s a lot of buttons. Although it’s easy to fly it’s a pretty heavy yoke especially during take of and landing.”
As it would have begun then for its flight crew on Nov. 4, 1944 during a bombing run on the Piazzola Railroad Bridge, Italy, it began yesterday for one intrepid member from the Rawlins Daily Times taking to the air on Maid in the Shade.
0800 Hours — After a fitful night, thinking about the what-ifs and the what-could-bes — after all this is a 72-year-old plane — I awoke to the reveille of my four-legged feline friend, Maxine.
Although Maid in the Shade’s WWII flight crew would have donned their flight suits and hit the chow hall much earlier, they would have shared many of the same concerns.
On average, 6,600 American service men died each month in the combined theaters of operation during WWII — about 220 a day.
By the end of the war, over 40,000 airmen were killed in combat theatres and another 18,000 wounded. Some 12,000 missing men were declared dead following war’s end on Sept. 2, 1945.
“These airplanes were such a huge part of the war,” Conrad said. “They remind us of the sacrifice of the lives lost for our freedom. To keep telling this story is so important. Some of the youth today don’t understand what this plane represented, and that’s part of our mission.”
More than 9,800 B-25s were built during WWII. Basically, it is a twin-tail, mid-wing land monoplane with a ceiling of 25,000 and a max cruising speed of 320 mph.
Some versions carried 75 mm cannon machine guns and added firepower of 13 .50-caliber guns in the conventional bombardier’s compartment. One version carried eight .50-caliber guns in the nose in an arrangement that provided 14 forward-firing guns.
This plane was manufactured at the North American Aviation plant in Kansas City and was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force on June 9, 1944 for deployment to the Mediterranean Theatre of Operation and its base of operation on the island of Corsica.
“The B-25 is a very versatile airplane,” Conrad said. “It was a great bomber, but it was also a lethal strafe. There are a dozen .50 caliber machine guns and they tore some stuff up.”
1100 Hours — Arrived at the aerodrome — Harvey Field — and watched intently as the modern day flight crew readied this magnificent Mitchell for flight.
Named after Gen. Billy Mitchell, the Army Air Corps’ most famous figure of the 1920s and 1930s, the North American B-25 proved to be one of the best American weapons of World War II.
1215 Hours — Taxied for take off during the 25-minute flight around Rawlins.
Surprisingly cramped inside the fuselage, the flight crew, then and as now, strapped in for what could, and did, turnout to be a white-knuckle rollercoaster of a ride —bucking in Monday’s 16 mpg wind gusts that tossed the 20,300-pound plane around quite a bit.
As the pilots took the Mitchell’s two Wright R-2600 “Cyclone” radials up to max horsepower for take off, the plane shook to life and roared down the 7,008-foot runway.
Gears up and Rawlins joined a piece of history.
The B-25 was made immortal on April 18, 1942, when it became the first aircraft to take the fight to the Japanese and bomb that nation’s mainland.
Commanded by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, 16 Mitchells took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet for the 800-mile flight to Japan, where the B-25s attacked their targets. Running out of fuel, most made forced landings in China.
They were the heaviest aircraft at the time to be flown from a ship at sea.
While not part of the Doolittle raid, Maid in the Shade did see combat, logging 15 missions in Italy.
The two-hour flight to the start of the bomb run would have been harrowing.
The B-25 would have first had to fend off Messerschmitt 109s and Focke Wulf 190s before running the gauntlet of flack guns seeking the million dollar shot to bring the bomber down.
To say the plane’s crew was hardcore is an understatement, Conrad said.
“It shakes, it smells — they put their life on the line each combat mission — but I love flying this plane,” he said.
1240 Hours — Rolling in for landing, the audible sound of wheels down signaled the end of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Tours of combat air-vet are being offered between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. through Sunday with a $5 donation requested.
For the more adventurous — those who have dreamed of strapping in and taking to flight in a vintage bomber — tickets are available to live the dream. The cost for the once-in-a-lifetime chance of riding along in a B-25 is $395 or $650. Tickets for the living history flights can be pre-booked at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the plane during tour hours.