Ryan Field (KRYN) is a quaint little airfield. Sitting out in the Sonoran desert west of Tucson, AZ, it’s by no means a large airport, although it has a tower, two parallel runways, and lots of occupied hangar space. At 10:30am on Thursday, April 10th, the infamous Tucson heat was already picking up but traffic was remarkably heavy. Several aircraft were flying closed-patterns, including a pair of military-grade transport helicopters practicing steep approaches.
While I am an aviation fan, watching pilots refine their approaches usually isn’t enough to get me to play hookey from my day-job. Today was a special day for me. While flashing my SimHQ badge to get media access to the Davis Monthan Air Force Base Open House on April 12-13, the public relations representative let me know I was selected for a media incentive flight on a B-25 Mitchell bomber! Having never flown on a warbird of any kind, I was thrilled by the opportunity and eagerly accepted.
I wasn’t the only incentivee there, that day. Retired USAF Colonel Richard Bushong, who flew B-17s and B-25s during WWII, was also invited to the event and it was an additional privilege to talk with him. While reviewing his combat records in preparation for this trip, he found out that the day of this flight also marked the 70th anniversary of his 25th combat mission in WWII.
Ninety-one-years young, the Colonel had some great stories to tell, including one about taking friendly “flak” from another bomber in formation in the form of a spent .50 cal shell that punched through their windscreen. The Colonel showed up for his flight in his old flight bag which had last seen sunlight in the early 70s through the cockpit of an F-4 Phantom in Vietnam.
A gaggle of other “guys in bags” showed up as support for the event, including a number of A-10C pilots (yay!). I didn’t get to spend much time speaking with them, but did press the ol’ SimHQ business card into a few hands to try and get some more discussions during the Open House.
After a half-hour of mingling or so, we spot our bird coming in. The B-25 is advertised as loud, and she is: we heard the aircraft before we could see her, but what a sight it was!
Getting To Know Her
Maid In The Shade is a B-25J Mitchell bomber, produced in 1944 and saw action in the Italian theater. You can read more about this fine aircraft on the Arizona Commemorative Air Force’s website. One of the last of her kind, it’s estimated there are fewer than 30 B-25s flying around the world. The volunteers of the CAF put in countless hours keeping their warbirds up in operating condition, not to mention sparkling and shining clean.
After penning through the obligatory mountain of paperwork and a general briefing by Captain Dante Burgoon, we all gathered around our target aircrews and received a specialized safety brief for our aircraft. Our briefing emphasized that although the aircrew was required to tell us that the FAA did not approve of the design and manufacture of our aircraft, that’s only because the FAA didn’t exist when it was designed and manufactured. Don’t worry.
Kickin’ The Tires
We step to the aircraft while the crew is getting her prepared for her tour of tour duty. I take this opportunity to snap a bunch of shots, further cementing my lack of skills as a photographer, and also to bug the crew to install my newly acquired GoPro camera to someplace interesting. The flight engineer, DZ, points me to an already installed mount way up at the nose, but I lift my nose and politely ask if I can install my camera in the cockpit where I can film the pilot and copilot and he happily points me the way.
Although designated as a bomber, just about every variant of the B-25 carried a respectable number of guns, sometimes even a 75mm cannon. This particular aircraft had twelve .50 caliber guns distributed from nose to tail – literally.
The bombardier’s station up front had a pair of .50 cals in addition to the infamous Norden bombsight. The gun mounted at the center of the nose had a swivel joint to allow the gunner to train the weapon on his target of choice.
Four cannons are mounted in fixed side blisters just below and behind the cockpit. These helped make the B-25 a powerful strafing platform as well as a competent bomber.
Twin guns on a swiveling turret on the top of the B-25 was accessed through the forward cabin and could provide defense against airborne threats as well as put additional shells on ground targets while strafing.
Waist guns (one on each side) could be manned by crew in the aft compartment and helped defend the bomber from fighters trying to saddle up on her rear quarters.
A pair of trainable guns poking out the tail end makes an even dozen guns on this gunship. It’s no wonder the B-25 was a success in every theater of WWII.