October 20, 2006


The Right Stuff

While I’m not one to get all giddy over implements of destruction, I do have an appreciation of fine craftsmanship, and this week I got the opportunity to see it up close in one of those “cool to be in the media” moments.

A North American B-25 Mitchell that was touring the area to promote an upcoming airshow landed at the local airport, and I must say that for something that’s 64 years old it is a fine and functional artifact of military aviation history.

The B-25 is a medium-range bomber named in honor of General Billy Mitchell, an early airpower pioneer and advocate of an independent United States Air Force. It is the only American military aircraft named after a specific person. The plane is most famous for its use in the Doolittle Raid on Japan just six months after Pearl Harbor.

This specimen, named the Pacific Prowler, gained fame after the war in the film Catch-22, and helped film more than 80 Hollywood features including Memphis Belle. During the filming of Catch-22 the removable tailpiece was off for the shoot, and while seeking a better position to shoot from, the cameraman accidently fell to his death.

The Pacific Prowler's chief pilot Jim Terry is a retired Air Force major. His uncle John was an Army Air Forces 1st Lieutenant who flew B-25s in the war. John died in 2001, and in 2003 the Terry family bought this plane for $400,000. They formed a nonprofit foundation dedicated to John and all the men who served as bomber crew during the war. They fly to about 25 air shows each year, and volunteers help pilot and maintain the aircraft, which requires 30 hours of maintenance for every hour it flies. It gets a little better than a mile per each of the 1,075 gallons it carries for its twin 14-cylinder Wright radial engines. Not bad for something that carried a crew of seven and 4,000 lbs. of ordinance.

The original plan was for me to go up in the plane for a jaunt over the town. Unfortunately low clouds that didn’t burn off until mid-afternoon delayed the plane’s arrival, and the schedule had to be rushed. I got some good photos, though, and learned a few things. The promoter gave me passes to the air show, and the pilot said that if he had room then he’d take me up, so Jen and I will probably go.

UPDATE: I got to go up at the air show! Photos added at bottom.

Nailing it on the tricycle-style landing gear

Chief pilot Jim Terry

The B-25 Mitchell's distinctive twin tails

Tailgunner's position

Jim Terry bids farewell

A flyby at full speed - I'm amazed the camera froze the props

View from the tailgunner's position

Looking through the front nose cone

Banking over downtown Rome, Georgia - my old stomping grounds.

A gratuitous "cool photo, Tim" shot. This P-51 Mustang is one fast aeroplane.

Check out more than you could possibly want to know about the B-25 Mitchell.

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Awesome post. Truly a great slice of history. I hope you get to go up in it!
What an excellent experience! Great photojournalism!
I'd love to fly in one of those old warbirds! Have always loved WWII aircraft. The Mustang is unsurpassed in cool factor. Great pics!
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