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My Events

B-24 Flight
B-17 Flight
B-25 Flight

Wings Of Freedom

My private B-25 Mitchell Flight

Photo Credits: Mine, Mary, and Lexie
The B-25 "Tondelayo" taxis over to the flight line
The B-25 Mitchell called "Tondelayo" taxis towards the flight line after its first flight of the day.
The B-25 prepares to turn
The Tondelayo prepares to turn
The B-25 turning
Executing the turn
A front perspective of the B-25
A front perspective of the B-25 Mitchell
The starboard side of Tondelayo
The starboard side of Tondelayo
The completion of the first flight of the morning for the B-25
The completion of the first flight of the day
A puff of blue smoke emerges when firing up the engines for the second flight of the day
A puff of blue smoke emerges when firing up the engines for the second flight of the day
A closer view of the Tondelayo
A closer view of the Tondelayo (note the Plexiglas green house at the front of the aircraft
The Tondelayo heads out for its second mission of the morning
The Tondelayo heads out for its second mission of the morning
Taxing back down to the start of the runway
Taxiing back down to the start of the runway
The Tondelayo takes flight
The Tondelayo B-25 takes flight
The B-25 starts to bank
The B-25 begins to bank
Into the wild gray yonder
Into the wild gray yonder
A view looking up to the cockpit from the belly hatch
A view looking up to the B-25 cockpit from the belly hatch
The pilot and student co-pilot on my B-25 flight
The pilot and student co-pilot on my B-25 flight
Bill looks outside the window
Bill looks outside the B-25 window
The view of the narrow tunnel under the cockpit leading to the green house
 A view inside the tiny tunnel under the cockpit leading to the green house
A self portrait inside of the green house
The view outside of the green house
A self portrait inside of the B-25 green house
The view outside of the green house
Another perspective of me in the green house
My aerial view of a power plant
A different perspective of me in the green house
My aerial view of a power plant
The view from the nose of the green house
Looking down from the front of the green house
The view from the front of the green house
Looking down from the front of the green house
The bomb site on the B-25 Mitchell
An aerial view of houses along our flight path
The bomb site on our B-25 Mitchell
Rows of houses along our flight path
Looking forward through the green house
Looking forward through the green house
A view of the starboard engine
A view of the starboard engine (note the weird effect of the camera shutter on the prop blades)
A view of Bill's feet from the tunnel
A view of the tail section of the B-25
A view of Bill's feet at the end of the tunnel
A view of the tail section of the B-25 Mitchell
I'm standing in front of the Tondelayo's Nose
I'm standing by the nose art of the Tondelayo
I walked over to the gate by the fence. It was not immediately obvious who I should talk to about the B-25 flight. Mary came over and I told her about the difficulty with the camera. I switched lenses in the hope that it would clear the situation. It did not.

As I was kneeling there someone from the Collings Foundation came over to me. He said that they were ready for my B-25 flight. They were looking for just one other guy. If I was ready I could walk back out to the B-25. The man headed over to the B-25. I followed behind him by about ten feet. It was a strange feeling walking out there without the supervision of an escort. It was like I was part of the operation now. The man stopped at the B-25 and turned around. It became clear that he was the pilot for this flight.

He told me that I could go underneath the aircraft, climb up the drop down stairs, and grab a seat behind the cockpit. Nobody else was on board the aircraft at this time. I pulled myself up into the seating area. It was a lot smaller in this aircraft than the previous two. There were two yellow padded seats behind the cockpit. One of them was mine. I assumed the other was for another passenger.

I heard the pilot instruct a second person to climb on board. He warned the person to grab the yellow handle for leverage and not the red one. He came on board and without turning to look at me was going to sit in the cockpit. I thought he was confused so I told him that his seat was in back with me.

He said I’m sorry I thought I was getting flight training in the right hand seat on this flight. It was my mistake! I apologized for my confusion. This was another paying customer but he paid to fly and not to ride. I had learned earlier in the day that for a larger fee you could actually fly the B-25! That was under pilot supervision of course. I’m not sure what other restrictions there were.

The pilot came on board followed by another volunteer worker from the Collings foundation. That was it for people in the front of the aircraft. There was a back section of the aircraft where four other passengers could sit. You could not really access nor see the back section from the front of the aircraft very well. I assumed that we had the full complement of passengers. I was wrong. Mary told me later that it was only the four of us in front who were on board the aircraft for the flight!

The Collings Foundation volunteer was seated next to me. He introduced himself and his name was Bill. He showed me how to deploy the footrest for my seat. Bill knew that I had flown on the B-17 previously. I told him that this was actually my third flight of the morning. I had also flown the B-24 earlier. I explained to him that I wanted to fly on all three to make a comparison of what it was like to fly on them. Bill asked me if I was a pilot. I told him that I was not. He expressed real shock in that. He said, “So you’re just interested in airplanes?” Yes, I guess that sums it up.

I also learned that the person in the right hand seat who was getting flying instruction was a pilot. His experience though only covered single engine aircraft. I did not have any fear about a novice flying the aircraft I was on. I knew the Collings Foundation pilot was proficient and that he would not allow us to get into any precarious situations.

Before the engines were fired up, Bill pointed to the hearing protector ear muffs next to my seat. He said you are going to need them. He also me if I had been given the pre-flight briefing. I said that I was on the other aircraft, but not on this one.

He told me that as soon as the landing gear was up, I was free to unstrap. I could then crawl through the narrow tunnel under the cockpit to access the in the nose which is called the “green house”. He said that I could stay there as long as I wanted to. All I needed to do was come back to my seat when the landing gear went back down for landing. Wow, there was so much unsupervised freedom on these flights, it was amazing.

The engines were started and as they revved up, I could tell that Bill was right. This would definitely be the loudest of the three aircraft that I flew on that day. Even with the hearing protectors it was loud. It was cool to get a pilot’s eye view of the runway during takeoff.

The gear came up and Bill signaled that I could unstrap. He held my camera as I got down to the area in front of the tunnel. The tunnel looked like it was going to be a tight fit. It was advertised at 18 X 24 inches but I was not convinced that it was that big. I crawled along on my elbows and knees pushing the camera ahead of me. The floor was plywood and it did not help my sore knee. I gutted it out along the six foot length of the tunnel.

I was relieved when I reached the green house. It was not the narrow tunnel that bothered me, just the pain from my sore knee. The greenhouse area of the aircraft was really neat. The top half of the fuselage area that I was in was covered in panes of Plexiglas. It was a most amazing view. What was probably more amazing was that I was the only one that had this view. Nobody else would share it on this flight. I could not see the pilot and co-pilot seated in the cockpit above me and they could not see me. If I looked back down the tunnel, all that I could see was Bill’s feet at the end.

In the green house there was the bomb site for the airplane along with a pair of machine guns. On the walls of the fuselage were a few instruments. There was what appeared to be an electrical plug in. From what I could decipher this plug in was used to heat the flight suit of the occupant in the green house. No heat was needed at the low altitude which we were flying. At 20,000 feet that would be a different matter.

I could tell when the student pilot took control. He did really well, but I could detect some wiggling of the wings. We were not flying with the same precision as before. I knew that was the student pilot getting used to the controls.

Since my main camera was not working, I had to fall back to using my cell phone camera. A cell phone with a camera was new to me. Thankfully, I had just upgraded my cell phone a couple of days before. My old cell phone had died. I guess it was not a very good week for electronics for me.

The resolution of the cell phone camera was only 2 mega pixels. I figured that it would still give me adequate photos for posting on my website. My main photographic system had failed, but thank goodness for redundant systems.

I had a great view of the engines from my vantage point. I snapped some photos of the turning propellers and noticed an interesting effect with the camera. The blades of the propellers became curved lines that stretched across the frame. It must have been some interaction with the shutter speed and the speed of the propellers.

I had a great view of a power plant on a small lake. It was not hard to imagine Doolittle’s Raiders flying over a similar scene in Japan on April 18, 1942 and dropping their payload of bombs. The bomb sight in front of me would have no doubt been an integral part of that operation.

Speaking of the Doolittle Raiders, just the day before my flight, the co-pilot of Jimmy Doolittle’s aircraft during the raid on Tokyo took a ride on this very Collings Foundation B-25. His name is Dick Cole and he is 95 years old now. The Collings foundation gave him a free ride in the right hand seat. He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel.

As the flight went on I began to feel more alone in the green house. What it must have been like for the airmen during the raid on Tokyo. The people who served our nation during World War II were indeed an amazing group. They exhibited such courage and bravery. We should thank them every day for the freedom that we enjoy. Far too many people take that freedom for granted.

I was a little nervous that I would miss the sound of the landing gear descending. Since I was the only passenger on this flight, I did not want to screw up. I looked back in the tunnel to see if Bill was motioning for me to come back yet. He was not and his feet were still standing there as they were before. I waited a few minutes and then I looked back again. Bill’s feet had not moved.

I noticed at this point that we were flying over Southern Methodist University. I could read the school logo in the end zones of the football stadium. I figured this was close enough to the airport and that I should make my way back down the tunnel. I waited until Bill’s feet moved to the side and I made my way back down the tunnel. Bill helped me again by holding my camera. I stood up and retook my seat and strapped in.

I probably could have stayed out of the seat longer, but there was not any real need for me to do that. I was content with the sights and sounds that I had already experienced. I looked up at the instrument panel and noticed that the indicators for the landing gear glowed red. That indicated that the landing gear were not in a safe and locked position. A few seconds elapsed and I was relieved to see the indicators switch to blue.

Before long Bill was back in his seat. I noticed the smell of hydraulic fluid from where I was sitting. I turned around and their was a large hydraulic fluid reservoir directly behind me. It had on it a sight glass so that you could read the fluid level.

Before I knew it we touched down on the runway. This landing also was fairly gentle. My private flight in a B-25 was over. I call it a private flight, because I was the only on board who did not fly the plane or work on the plane as a crewman.

The jacket that I wore made me fairly warm at this point. I had expected the aircraft to be much colder. I imagine that the low cloud ceiling which limited our altitude affected the temperature inside of the aircraft.

Bill dropped down out of his seat and asked the pilot how to open the hatch in the floor. I don’t think Bill was used to flying on the B-25 either.

I asked the student pilot if he thought flying the B-25 was as great as he had imagined. He said that it certainly was. He also said that his father-in-law flew B-25s in the war and that he would get a real kick out of the story.

I thanked the Collings Foundation people for the experience and exited the aircraft. Since I was warm I proceeded directly over to the fence to remove my pullover jacket. I exited the gate to rejoin my patient family. While I was toasty hot in the plane because of my jacket, my family was freezing their collective butts off.

To summarize the flying experiences on the three aircraft, they certainly were all different. Even with their differences they shared some similarities in sights, sounds, and smells.

The aroma of airplane fuel, hydraulic fluid, and hot rubber made me miss the days of my youth when I drove a tractor around on our farm. I never would have guessed how close driving the combine and harvesting corn was to the feeling of flying in a B-24 Liberator.

If I had to pick a favorite flight out of the day, I guess it would be the B-24 with all of its harnessed violence. Standing next to an open machine gun emplacement at a few thousand feet is something that I’ll never forget.

It was so great of Mary to indulge me in my day of flying adventures. On the day of our wedding, I told our guests that Mary was the best wife that anyone could have.  I still stand by that statement.

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UPDATED : June 11, 2008
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