Flight for the Ages!!

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Zack Aydelette, reporter for the County Compass, in a B-25 bomber Thursday morning — part of the publicity for this weekend’s free Air Show at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station.

By Zack Aydelette

CHERRY POINT MARINE CORPS AIR STATION — Thursday morning, Uncle Sam gave me a free ride on a vintage B-25 bomber — almost identical to one of the original 16 that launched from the flight deck of the USS Hornet on 18 April 1942 — in what has since become known as the ‘Doolittle Raid on Japan.’

One of the original B-25 bombers, before the April 1942 raid on Japan.

My complimentary 30-minute flight was part of the media blitz associated with this weekend’s free Air Show at the sprawling Marine Corps Air Base. And, as I got strapped into my seat, I could see in my mind’s eye those grainy black-and-white images from the early days of World War II — and how important it was for the USA to inflict damage upon the enemy in the months following Pearl Harbor.

Aydelette is seen here, before his flight. The aircraft is nicknamed ‘Miss Mitchell’ to honor Army aviation pioneer Major General William ‘Billy’ Mitchell.

My impression? Speechless! Certainly one for my personal record book! Definitely an experience I can now cross off my ‘Bucket List!’ My thanks to our pilot, Kurt Koukkari, who has been doing this sort of thing since 2002; and, to our co-pilot Dean Butler, with similar duty since 2016.


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JOB WELL DONE!

The original B-25 bombers were equipped with pseudo ‘machine guns’ in the tail — basically painted broomsticks meant to deceive the enemy.

Flight mechanic Joe Siedler helped us get into our seats, located in the middle of the plane — within arm’s length of the aircraft’s machine guns. He showed us how to buckle our WWII-era seat belts for seats with no cushions! And, we all were instructed to don our government-issue headsets, meant to muffle a deafening roar from the bomber’s massive propellers.

Like all of the passengers, flight mechanic Joe Siedler straps himself in prior to takeoff.

During a briefing before takeoff, I asked Koukkari and Butler how many times they had hosted complimentary flights during the days before various air shows.

“So many we can’t remember,” they said.

Machine guns are built into the side of the aircraft

 

Needless to say, the bomber has been well maintained over the past seven-plus decades. Both takeoff and landing were smooth as silk. During the three-day show, the plane will be on display, but will not be flying.

The original B-25 bombers were parked on the flight deck of the USS Hornet — in order of takeoff. During the two weeks’ outward passage, planes received regular maintenance and engine testing to ensure they would be ready. The leading bomber, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, had but a few hundred feet of deck run to reach flying speed, but every subsequent plane had a bit more. Each was helped off by a Navy launching officer, who timed the start of each take-off roll to ensure that plane reached the forward end of the flight deck as the ship pitched up in the heavy seas, thus giving extra lift at a critical instant.

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