The only B-25 bomber of its kind -- to have seen combat and still be able to fly -- was honored with a 75th birthday party Saturday at the Yankee Air Museum in Willow Run Airport, the plane's home for over 30 years.
The North American B-25D -- whose wartime name is unknown but the museum refers to as the "Yankee Warrior" -- fought in the Mediterranean theater of World War II. It was built in December 1943 in Kansas City, Mo. and flew eight missions in Italy in 1944, said Yankee Warrior crew member and museum spokesperson Jerry Lester.
"It's an honor and a privilege to have this B-25 right here in Michigan and in the Yankee Air Museum," said Yankee Warrior Capt. Delane Buttacavoli.
Lester said the B-25D is unique from other variants of the North American B-25 Mitchell bomber because of its speed and maneuverability.
"This thing can fly low and fast, and it's highly maneuverable compared to other bombers. It has over 3,400 horsepower -- so much thrust when it takes off," Lester said. "The plane would actually fly so low, (the military) attached parachutes to the bombs they dropped so that the plane could get away before the bomb exploded."
However, this B-25's agility comes with a price, as it is more susceptible to damage than other bombers, Lester said.
"Flying the B-25 is magical. When I sit in it, I can feel the history around me," Buttacavoli said. "It can be challenging flying it at times -- the plane keeps you honest. If you make a mistake, she'll let you know.
"But, you feel confident when you're in it. The quality and workmanship behind the (B-25D) is unmatched."
Keep history flying
After returning to the United States from the Mediterranean, the Yankee Warrior was sent to Canada's Royal Air Force in October 1944 as part of a lend-lease program, Lester said. The Canadians used it for training.
The Yankee Warrior was then sold to a private corporation and then a private party before Yankee Air Museum purchased the warplane in 1988.
"It took us five years to restore it," Lester said. "All of the military stuff -- the guns and the turret -- were taken off since the Canadians were just using it for training. We had to find those things and redo the inside of it. It's an expensive and lengthy process."
Yankee Air Museum workers are all volunteers, Lester said.
"This is a passion, and we do it to keep history flying," he said. "We all have different areas of expertise, and each museum member brings something unique to the table."
Lester said veterans form special bonds with the planes they fought in and that it's amazing to see how veterans react when they see the planes later in life.
"(Veterans) made a lot of memories in those things, and they become attached to them," Lester said. "One veteran, who had stage 4 cancer and a few hours to live, told us he would love to hear the sound of a B-25 one more time. We did a flyover above his home and it was one of the last things he ever heard.
"I think that (story) goes to show how important these planes are to the people who once flew in them."
Buttacavoli said she is one of fewer than five female B-25 pilots in the country.
"It's an honor being one of such few women who get to do this. At the end of the day, the plane doesn't know or care who's flying it," she said, "I wish that I was born during the war so I could have been a Women Air Force Service Pilot. That would have been my dream."
Facts about the North American B-25D, according to the Yankee Air Museum:
* The plane has a turret that rotates 360 degrees, two machine guns on each side and 2 machine guns in the front.
* It can hold 3,000 pounds in bombs, but Yankee Warrior carried 4,000 pounds of bombs on its last mission.
* It can hold 900 gallons of fuel.
* Burns through 150 gallons of fuel per hour.
* Fits a crew of six.
* B-25D bombers were built in Kansas City. B-25C bombers are identical to the D models, except for where they were built. B-25C models were built in California, and the reason the government spread out the plants was in case the Japanese military bombed one of them.
* B-25s are loud. The pilots often had left-ear hearing loss, and the co-pilots often had right-ear hearing loss.
This article is written by Omar Abdel Baqui from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.