B-25s Gather at Doolittle Raiders Reunion
On April 18, 68 years after the Doolittle Raiders flew their historic bombing mission over Japan, 17 North American B-25 Mitchells—probably the largest such gathering since World War II—took part in a spectacular formation flight witnessed by three of the eight surviving Raiders. The 2010 Doo – little Raiders reunion was held at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and featured one more B-25 than took off from USS Hornet on April 18, 1942. The flyover preceded a ceremony at the museum’s Doolittle Raiders Memorial attended by Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and museum director Charles Metcalf.
The two-day reunion brought together the fabled aviators with their fabled machines. Raiders in attendance included Richard Cole, 94, of Comfort, Texas; Thomas Griffin, 92, of the Cincinnati area; and David Thatcher, 88, of Missoula, Mont. Cole was Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s copilot in aircraft no. 1, while Griffin was navigator on no. 9 and Thatcher served as engineer-gunner on no. 7. Robert Hite, who attended the first day’s ceremonies but not the flyover, crash-landed in Japan and spent 40 months as a POW. The Raiders had time alone to inspect the planes on April 17.
Some of the B-25s in the flyover themselves had a World War II service record. Miss Hap was General Hap Arnold’s personal transport, while Maid in the Shade participated in 15 combat sorties against railroad bridges and supply depots in northern Italy (see “Restored,” January 2009 issue). The B-25s came from museums and private collections throughout the United States, representing the best of approximately 45 that are still airworthy. Visitors were offered a chance to fly in a B-25 at Grimes Field in Urbana, the staging area for the bombers before arriving at the Air Force museum.
Secretary Donley reflected on the Raiders’ unprecedented bombing strike, pointing out that “When the United States was on its heels after Pearl Harbor, the concept behind this mission was to take the initiative. And it was an almost impossible mission from the very beginning.”
Aviation Video Websites
Tired of looking at the same blurry YouTube videos of insane jet fighter low passes, dancing crew chiefs and 10 worst airplane crashes (usually the same 10)? Take a look instead at two truly classy aviation video websites.
One is aerocinema.com, a new paid-subscription site: Three months of unlimited viewing costs $19.95, and it’s well worth it. Aerocinema offers a wide variety of docudrama “feature films,” typically 30 minutes in length, plus numerous sets of shorter videos ranging from 10 minutes per subject down to one or two. Many of the films cover World War II topics—development of the push/pull Dornier Do-335 fighter is one of my favorites— though there is plenty of 1950s and ’60s subject matter as well, such as an ode to the butt-ugly but effective Fairey Gannet antisub turboprop. As of midApril, there were 17 features available plus 85 shorter subjects, with 10 more, two of which will be features, added every month.
The Canadians who produce Aerocinema consider themselves aviation preservationists as well as filmmakers, and they travel the world collecting never-before-seen footage as well as interviews with pilots, engineers and historians. (The phenomenally experienced British test pilot Eric “Winkle” Brown figures prominently in many of their current features.) Most of the films are combinations of rare footage, sophisticated computer animation, recreations using actors and on-camera interviews.
For the finest contemporary, high-definition footage ever shot of WWII warbirds, take a look at some of the videos on asb.tv (short for Air Show Buzz). It’s an all-purpose website for airshow fans— forums, gossip, viewer-posted videos and photos, airshow schedules—but for warbird enthusiasts the best part will be the professional videos produced by the site’s several sponsors. Many of them involve the training, practice, horseplay and formation aerobatics of The Horsemen, a three-airplane airshow group that usually flies P-51s but also has performed in F8F Bearcats; other warbirds, notably a Griffon-engine Mk. XIV Spitfire, star as well.
Much of the spectacular footage is filmed by in-cockpit cameras as well as a helicopter. Some of it looks so extreme, particularly formation takeoffs and landings, that you’ll swear it’s computer-generated, but it’s actually the product of a sophisticated helicopter camera mount and some very sporty fling-wing flying. If you don’t have a P-51 of your own, asb.tv is the next best thing.
Save the Trident
When Hawker-Siddeley HS.121 Trident 1C G-ARPH was scrapped at RAF Cosford late last year, Trident enthusiasts realized only one 1C was left—G-ARPO, which for 27 years has sat on the runway at Durham Tees Valley Airport in northeast England. Enter Save the Trident, an ad hoc group with plans to transport the airliner to the North East Aircraft Museum in Sunderland, where a team of Trident experts will restore the cabin and repaint the exterior.
G-ARPO, which flew for British European Airways (later British Airways) starting in 1965, has seen plenty of wear and tear since its final flight in 1983. While serving as a guinea pig at the airportʼs International Fire Training Center, it suffered extensive smoke damage. Yet Save the Trident is confident it can raise the roughly £30,000 needed to move the airliner and restore it, hopefully by 2012. The Trident “pioneered the tri-jet configuration, and inspired the Boeing 727,” says Matt Falcus, who maintains the Save the Trident website. “Specifically, the Trident 1C was the first airliner capable of auto-land, allowing it to land safely in low-visibility weather.” For more on the project, visit savethetrident.org.
Mid America Museum Reborn
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation was forced to shut its doors because it was too close to the Iowa Air National Guard base and its F-16s at Sioux City, Iowa. Its aircraft and artifacts languished in storage for nine years. Now, thanks to the hard work of board members and volunteers, a new 31,000-square-foot, $1.7 million facility adjacent to the Sioux Gateway Airport is slated to open on July 31.
Executive director Larry Finley emphasizes that the new building would not have been possible without the unpaid helpers: “Those volunteers packed up the original museum and put it in storage. Those same volunteers and others worked on fundraising for our new building. There is no way we could have been able to open again without our volunteers.” The new museum is located at Discovery Blvd. and Harbor Dr. Visit matamuseum.org or call 712-252-5300.
Curtiss Flying Boat Nets Half a Million
On April 13 a 1917 Curtiss MF Seagull flying boat sold for $506,000 to an unknown buyer at a Bonhams auction in New York City. That price may seem steep for an all-wood biplane that can no longer fly— and which, even when it could, had a top speed of only 76 mph—but not when one considers the pedigree of this vintage seaplane. Glenn Curtiss’ innovative “aerial yacht,” developed in 1911 when he attached a boat hull to a pusher plane, was the first airplane the U.S. military flew in combat (scouting over Veracruz in 1914), and one of the few American-designed planes to see service in World War I. Howard Hughes took his first flight in a Curtiss Seagull, during the 1926 Harvard-Yale boat races, and naval aviator Paul “Pappy” Gunn bought and refurbished one in the early 1920s. Going for $6,000 new, Seagulls saw service as personal taxis, commercial transports, mail carriers and even liquor smugglers during Prohibition.
The auctioned plane, serial no. A- 5543, was one of 80 Navy MF flying boats produced by the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1917-18. (The MF had several upgrades from the F model: ailerons incorporated into the upper wing, sponsons on the side of the hull for added buoyancy and a 100-hp Curtiss OXX6 engine.) Though the plane has no logbook or service record, it entered Navy service after the war and served at a naval aviation training station.
The government sold the flying boat in 1923 or ’24 to William H. Long, who owned and operated the airport in Lorain, Ohio. In 1945 he refurbished the Seagull (as civilian MFs were known) with new wing fabric and hull varnish, then donated it to what became the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum. The Crawford displayed it until 1999, when limited floor space resulted in its storage, and eventually the sale.
With luck the new owner will again display the flying boat—with its original structural wiring, fasteners, wing struts, cockpit instrumentation and Curtiss numbering stamped into the wood— though Rupert Banner of Bonhams speculated that it could fly again. “We see it not as an artifact per se,” he told Forbes magazine, “but as something that could be restored and used.”
Boeing’s Newest, Oldest Fly Together
Mike Carriker, chief test pilot for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, took a break from his usual duties in early May for a photo opportunity with the oldest flying Boeing airplane, the Model 40C. While the 1928 open-cockpit biplane pushed itself to a maximum speed of approximately 120 mph, the new airliner slowed down just long enough for a photographer in a third plane to shoot a series of images of the planes flying in “formation.” The two commercial airliners—the Model 40 was the first Boeing plane designed to carry paying passengers—were flying near Mt. Rainier, southeast of Seattle.
Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.