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B-25H Mitchell Flight!
Gunship!
 

Gunship!

The B-25H Mitchell "Gunship" version

 

I got lucky.

During the summer of 2010 I found myself out in Aurora, Colorado working a contracting gig at Boeing.  This work involved a lot of overtime.  Thus, I had plenty of money coming in and not a whole lot of time to spend it.  That's a good combo.

While this was going on I saw an ad in the local paper about a rather unique opportunity coming to town - the
History of Flight folks were bringing in their B-25H Mitchell in which you could book a flight!

Zounds!

A flight in WWII bomber!  I've long wanted to do this.  Every time the folks over at Gillespie Field have one of their airshows there's usually a couple of Big Iron birds there in which you can book such flights.  The time aloft is usually a mere thirty minutes and you pay dearly for the privilege but, damn!  It's a unique experience!

Back in San Diego I never seemed to have the coin on hand to pay my passage when the birds were on hand.  Out in Aurora, in the summer of 2010, I had that coin and a bird was going to be on hand, and I was going to be gawd damned if I'd let this one slip away!

So, I lit up the History of Flight folks and booked it post-haste.

Come the day, July 4th as it turned out, I turned up at the
Centennial Airport at the appointed time and was soon across the flight line standing outside the plane, the "Barbie III"

The Barbie III

This was a B-25H "Mitchell" medium bomber flown by the USAAF during World War II.  The "H" model is unique as it dispensed with the usual glazed nose and bombardier's position in place of mounting a 75mm cannon.  That's right, 75mm!  That's a field artillery piece up there!  Previously, the heaviest bit of cannon the USAAC flew was its vaunted General Motors 37mm gun.  This thing is twice that caliber! 

During the opening phase of the Pacific War, some Army medium bomber crews were finding themselves doing more flying down on the deck and going after boats and ships rather than cruising in at 20,000 feet on straight and level bombing runs on fixed targets.  As a result they began lashing all the firepower they could into the noses of their birds.  Some even dispensed with having the bombardier along entirely as they stuffed the noses of their Mitchell's with up to eight or ten .50 cal. machine guns.  The concentrated firepower of these would routinely shred all but the most solidly armored targets they found.  When word of these field modifications reached the lads back at North American's factories in Los Angeles, the engineers there put their minds to giving the troops even more bang for the buck. 


75mm cannon

Realizing that they simply couldn't put any more guns in the nose of their plane as there simply wasn't any more room up there the only solution was to go for heavier guns instead of more guns.  Thus was a artillery armed B-25 born.  At 75mm, the gun on this airplane is as big and heavy as the main gun on the US Army's premier World War Two tank, the Sherman.  That's how unbelievably heavy and big this cannon is.

And the thing was absolutely devastating in combat.

Screaming in at but a few feet above the surface, it's eight .50 cals blazing away (four there in the nose and four more hitched to the sides of the fuselage) the machine was devastating enough.  And then, when a juicy enough target was sited, it let loose with that huge cannon fire as well.

This is the only surviving B-25H in the world.  And it's the one I went a flying in.

I picked the option of being up front in the cockpit for the flight.  The other choice was being in back at the Waist Gunners stations.  I'd rather see what was going on during the flight than simply watch it zip past as an after thought.

Installed up front are two jump seats immediately behind the flight crew's seats.  Strapped in, I could look over the pilot's shoulders as he and the co-pilot went through their pre-flight checks and taxied the bird out to the runway.  The left engine was but a few feet away from me as I sat there.  The tips of the left propeller were but a few inches away from as well.  Even with the provided headphones firmly in place the noise was damn near deafening.  I was also impressed, again, by how damn small and cramped such planes are on the inside.


Close quarters up front

These guys are almost rubbing shoulders as they man the controls.  On high altitude missions, with all the crew ensconced in their heavy wool-lined electrically heated flight suits, they would've been rubbing shoulders.

As the engines revved and the plane took off I was struck by how flimsy the whole set up is.  When those big radial engines were spun up, the whole plane shook from their vibration.  All that was between me and that huge whirling prop was panels of aluminum sheet - sheet who's thickness was measured in thousandths of an inch.  In combat, the plane was equipped with bits of armor plate.  Plate just thick enough, usually, to stop machine gun fire and shrapnel.  But not cannon fire.  And all the enemy planes mounted cannons.  And the armor plate was only put in certain locations because it was really heavy even for all its thinness.

The flight that day was as expected.  A nice and easy long loop out and around the airport.  We took off headed north and then did a nice gradual turn to a southerly heading before looping around and coming back to the barn.  Midway through the flight I swapped out my jump seat behind the flight crew for a position further back.  There were three passengers allowed up front and only two seats with the view.  I had had my scenicness on the way up so it was the other guy's turn to get his scenicness on the way down.

Getting back to the flight engineer's / top turret gunner's station also allowed me to squeeze myself up into that
"Martin Electric Upper Deck" turret was another eye opening experience.  In naught but a knit shirt I could barely squeeze myself into the thing.  Having to do so in one of those bulky flight suits and having to stay there, operating the thing for hours on end, would've been out of the question.  Nice view though.

During my time back there I got to interact with the plane's flight engineer.  Not talk, really, as the noise was too great to hold any realistic sort of discussion, but, through pointing and yelling we got something of a conversation going.  At our feet was the breech to that monster cannon.  Aside from being rather obvious, visually, the breech was also obvious for being empty.  The US Government was not too keen on allowing civilians to be toting around a functional piece of heavy cannon.  So, the insisted on retaining the breech plug for the gun.  Kinda hard to fire a shell through it if it lacks that wee little piece.  This also meant that the cannon was open end to end from muzzle to breech.  And that also meant it was functioning as a nice bit of ram air ducting into the flight compartment.  Standing there you realized this as your shins got a nice 150mph breeze upon them.  Realizing that it was open I had a thought to get an image of it. 

I wasn't gonna bend down and stick my face into the thing.  My luck being what it is, I know that it would be at that particular moment that the very first bird to get ingested in flight by the 75mm opening that cannon availed would happen whilst my face was thus in its path.  So, instead, I put my camera down there and snapped away.

Down the barrel

Not bad!

Finally though, the flight came to its end.  The pilots got the bird back in the pattern and made a nice gentle approach to set it down just past the numbers.  The Hula Girl on the dashboard jiggled but a little in response.


Hula Girl

Engines safely shut down, wheels securely chocked, aircraft secured, the flight was officially over.

In that half and hour or so some more cloud cover had rolled in and thus I didn't have the nice hard sunlight of early in which to take my photos.  Still though, the plane looked right smart as it sat there on the flight line.


Mitchell on the flight line

And I was pretty damn pleased with the whole experience.

A good morning indeed!

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Current Location: San Diego, CA
Current Mood: ecstatic ecstatic

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