Mt. Vernon Register-News

September 4, 2013

28 years to restore

The Register-News

---- — MT. VERNON — Known for its versatility to be used as both a medium-level bomber and low-level attack bomber, the B-25 Mitchell bomber “Maid in the Shade” is taking front and center at the Mt. Vernon Airport this week.

The World War II bomber is on display during the Midwest LSA Expo, which begins Thursday and continues through Saturday.

“This is a B-25 J model, and it was built in 1943 in Kansas City, Mo. It went overseas in 1944, and flew 15 combat missions at Serraggia, in Italy and the Yugoslavia area,” explained Crew Chief Jim Martin.

Serragia Airfield is an abandoned military airfield in France, located west-southwest of Porto-Vecchio on Corsica. Its last known use was by the United States Army’s 12th Air Force in 1944.

Martin said the aircraft was phased out and went to civilian life, spraying red ants in Texas.

“It wound up in a scrap heap in Tucson in a bone yard, and a gentleman bought it and donated it to the Commemorative Air Force,” he continued, noting the aircraft was purchased for about $1,500. “It came to the Airzona wing and we restored it, taking 28 years for its restoration.” The price tag for restorations reached $1.5 million.

Three years ago, “Maid in the Shade” made its voyage mission three years ago on May 29, and has been flying ever since.

Martin said the engines have about 340 hours and the aircraft itself has about 5,600 hours of use. The plane is equipped with 12 50-caliber machine guns and it carry a bomb load of 3,000 pounds. The plane’s top speed is about 325 knots.

“Our economy cruise is about 200 miles per hour. We kind of baby it because we want it to last,” Martin. “It’s just a nice, fast airplane. It was as fast as the fighters of that day. It’s just an all around good airplane,” he said.

Martin said the plane has two right cyclone engines that require regular maintenance.

“They are R2600’s, and they develop 1,700 horsepower each. We’ve had good luck with it. We had to have and engine change and take the bugs out of it when we first started flying it, but it’s been a good flier,” said Martin, who added it has a 670-gallon fuel capacity and the empty weight is about 18,000 pounds.

“What it was used for is low altitude bombing. When you look at the missions it was on, it was mostly bridges and that type of thing that it bombed. It flew so low that the bombs were equipped with parachutes so the bombs would go down slow and give them time to get out of the way before the bombs exploded,” Martin said.

“Maid in the Shade” flies a crew of our, including pilot Spike McLane, co-pilot Ron Smith, load master Jay Calchera and Martin. The load master sits in the back of the plane.

“The reason for that you can’t see the back of the engines or the back of the airplane. He’s there for safety. You could have something spewing out and you wouldn’t know it. He also takes care of passengers. It will haul seven passengers, three in the front and four in the back,” Martin said.

“Maid in the Shade” will be joined by the Dixie Wing Commemorative Air Force’s Red Nose P-51D later this week.

Martin said this is his first visit to Mt. Vernon, and so far, he likes what he sees.

“I love it. It’s clean and the people are great. It’s a nice place; I like it here,” he said.

The Commemorative Air Force is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to the preservation of the great warplanes from World War II through Vietnam. The Airzona Wing has entrusted with the restoration of the “Maid in the Shade,” “Sentimental Journey,” and other warbirds.