B-25 Mitchell "Yankee Warrior"
My Flight Back in Time
by Steven "Modeldad" Eisenman
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As a father I
was quite sad when my daughter decided to stay and work in Ann Arbor, Michigan
after she completed graduate school at U Mich. But, as a modeler and aviation
enthusiast, I was happy as a ….. Let’s just say I was happy.
more than 20 minutes from her apartment is the
Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Michigan. About half-way between Ann Arbor
and Detroit. It is located at Willow Run Airport. Remember Willow Run? The
home of the Henry Ford built Model-T B-24’s. In fact, the Museum is located in
the last of the original hangers.
discovered the Museum when I went to visit my daughter a couple of years ago.
Driving to Ann Arbor from the Detroit Airport, we passed a sign for the museum.
When she asked what I’d like to do the next day, there was no question I wanted
to check this place out. How bad could it be? (Pictures
from my first visit can be seen here)
Getting out of
the car we walked into the entrance which immediately put you in the gift shop.
We paid the admission and walked up stairs to the Museum start point (I missed
the sign over a door that said to the hanger). When we got to the top of the
stairs there was a window that looked down into the hanger. There before me was
a B-25 D undergoing restoration, a YOV-10 Bronco in pristine condition and a
Lockheed Loadstar also undergoing restoration.
We continued our
walk through the historic displays, which had a good amount of information on
the B-24s from Willow Run and a very interesting collection of WW-2 artifacts.
Going down the back stairs we entered the hanger area.
I walked out of
the hanger into the bright sunshine and there before me was a gleaming natural
metal B-17 G in perfect condition. Her name was Yankee Lady, and she was every
inch one beautiful dame. The ground crew had the starter carts hooked up, and
they were about to start up those four radial engines.
I found out very
quickly that for a mere $400 one could have a ride in her for about a
half-hour. Luckily I did not have to make a decision over the cost, as the
fight was fully booked. I looked longingly as she rolled down the runway and
lifted into the air. I was saddened by not being able to take that ride, but
felt incredible joy at seeing a sight that could have been 60 years ago. I said
The next time I
was in Ann Arbor was for my daughter’s graduation. There were family events and
I had no expectations of returning to the Museum. But some free time was
available and my dad, a WW-2 Marine Raider, said he would love to see it. With
little urging, off we went. (Pictures
from the second visit can be seen here)
I walked right
up to the flight desk only to be disappointed for the second time. The B-17 was
undergoing maintenance for the following weekend’s flights. There she was with
the cowl off and fresh paint in the interior. But they did let me crawl over,
under and through. When warned about some fresh paint (Dana Bell said it looked
like Bronze Green), I didn’t care if I got covered in it. Yet again I left the
museum uttering … “Someday….”.
This Spring my
wife and I planned to visit our daughter over Memorial Day weekend. I was not
going to miss out this time around. I got on the phone to the Museum, and asked
if I could reserve a seat on Yankee Lady. Bad things come in three, and this
was the third time for disappointment. Not only would Yankee lady not be at
the Museum, but to add insult to injury, she was going to be in the New York
area, not very far from where I live, at Farmingdale, Long Island at the
American Airpower Museum.
A sense that
“Someday” would never happen set in when I heard there would be no B-17 when I
would be there. There was a moment of silence on the phone, and then the woman
at the Museum spoke again; “But the B-25 will be available for rides, would you
like to reserve a place on it?” I must have sounded like I was reading Molly
Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I kept repeating, Yes,
We arranged for
the reservation, no payment needed at that time. It was to be $375 for the
half-hour. I then jokingly asked if anyone gets to ride in the “greenhouse”.
She simple said “Yes”. Arrangements for seating would be made just before
flight time. Needless to say visions of being up front filled my head for
We arrived at
the museum about an hour and a half before flight time. They were just setting
up the desk for the flight. I paid my money, I said “$375 for a half-hour,
correct?” The response was; “Maybe a little longer”. What did she mean? I
then asked about the bombardier’s seat. There was a shrugging of shoulders. I
then played my “chutzpah” card. I said I was taking pictures for an
international modeling web site. She turned to me and told me “OK, the nose is
yours”. They wrote it in the flight log. Steven Eisenman – Nose.
I then went out
to the tarmac and took my first look around. There sat Yankee Warrior – a
natural metal B-25 D-35. So much smaller than the B-17, but oh so pretty. When
I mentioned to one of the ground crew that I had intended to fly in the B-17 he
responded with “Why would you want to ride in a big old Cadillac when you can
get a ride in a Ferrari”. I then met our Pilot Tony Hurst and our most
attractive Co-Pilot Eleanore Stager (so call me a sexist pig!).
I did the
walk-around. Under the cowlings were the restored Wright R-2600 Cyclone
engines. I then stuck my head up in the aft entrance. Inside it was small,
confining and cramped and it was amazing to think that there was a turret and
waist guns jammed in that space. The aircraft is nothing more than a bomb bay
with the cockpit forward and defensive armament aft. If you have to go from one
end to the other, you have to pull yourself over the top of the bomb bay.
Definitely a “gut” could inhibit your movement.
Next I was up
through the front entrance with the cockpit just above and in front. Then I saw
it, the tunnel. The only way to get to the nose was to slide through a tunnel
about nine feet long and about two feet in diameter. I wasn’t going to let my
claustrophobia stop me now.
I tried the
tunnel a couple of times to get the feel of it, and then shoved my camera bag
ahead of me as I made my final entrance into the nose. There was a small jump
seat attached to the bulkhead with a homemade cushion on it. All the comforts
of home. The seat belt appeared to be original equipment – a green, heavy,
wide, canvas, webbed belt with not much more than a hook and eye closure. One
of the ground crew slid forward to give me the last minute pre-flight
instruction. Not exactly like the cabin instructions on a passenger aircraft.
He first adjusted the altimeter on the console to my left. He asked if I had the
seat belt on, and then showed me how to remove the side escape hatch in the
event of an emergency belly landing. Right! Me crawl through that little
window. I guess the fear of death could get me through it.
I sat there
watching the ground crew hook up the starter cart. The temperature outside was
barely 70. But inside that greenhouse, the temperature must have been
approaching 100. I was soaking wet by the time the props starting turning. We
were told we could put on the headphones, but not to speak as the mike was
constantly open and our talking might interfere with communications with the
plane slowly began to taxi out to the runway. Earlier there was a hydraulic
fluid leak from the bomb bay and there was talk over the phones about the RPMs
and if a need to abort should occur. It no loner mattered how hot I was, I just
wanted this airplane to take flight. Since Yankee Warrior began flying only in
the Summer of 2003, I guess bugs were still being worked out.
We sat on the
edge of the runway for a few minutes. There was a little Piper next to us, but
we got priority and went around him. Then it started, the engines began to
scream and the plane began to shake and slowly we moved forward. But within
seconds we rose into the air. The sky rose up in front of me. I have never
experienced anything like it. I was out there in front, nothing to block my
view of the sky before me.
We quickly got
to our cruising altitude of about 2,500 to 3,000 feet and our cruising speed of
approximately 200 mph. The greenhouse finally cooled off as air come rushing in
through the gaps around the escape window. Sit back and relax? No way in
hell. I could look in every direction except straight back. There is no way to
fully describe the sensation of watching the countryside pass beneath you and
the sky open up in front of you.
Flying VFR only,
the pilots were dependent on their own observations and the tower for
information about other aircraft in the vicinity. But suddenly and without
warning what looked like a “kit plane” appeared on our starboard wing tip.
Uneasy voices came from the cockpit concerned about how close this little plane
was getting. For a moment I guess the other pilot was picturing himself as a
P-51 escort, or an attacking Bf-109, I’ll never know. Then I saw him peel off
to the rear. Concerned about his location, the pilot and co-pilot asked if
anyone knew where he went. I reported that I saw him peel off to the rear. The
response from the flight deck was: “If you think he peeled off , wait till you
see what we can do!”. Be still my beating heart.
We flew over the
Michigan country side and then the pilots contacted the tower at Hillsdale,
Michigan airport. The conversation was about finding the railroad that ran
parallel to the road and following it. Now I know why the map that the co-pilot
had looked so much like a AAA road map. The town of Hillsdale appeared under
us, and there was talk between the tower and the cockpit about a flyover. Once
we got our bearings, the next thing I knew it seemed we were lining up a target
in front of us.
I now knew that
we were the main attraction at a Memorial Day event at the local Veterans Post.
I could see the crowds on the ground in front of us as we begin to lose
altitude. We made a low pass. I don’t remember looking at the altimeter, but
it must have been at about 500 to a 1,000 feet. Then we came around for another
pass over the crowd. This time it was to be a bombing run, and I heard the
flight deck confirm that the bomb bay doors had been opened. Another low pass
over the crowds, this one seemed a bit faster.
As we pull
around from this pass there was discussion between the cockpit and the ground
about how the crowds are loving it (what’s not to love?). The conversion
between the pilots was about maximum RPMs and this and that with the sole
objective of creating one helluva noisy roar of a fly over. I mean this thing
was just roaring and heading full tilt towards the target. The only sound that I
could make was the same sound Major Kong made as he rode the bomb down in the
movie Dr. Strangelove (Listen).
There at my finger tips was the red cover over the bomb release switch; what an
urge, even knowing nothing was in the bomb bay. As we approached the target I
could not hold back any longer. I pulled the mike down to my mouth and
announced “Bombs Away!”. I could hear a bit of a laugh in my earpiece.
pulled around again, and again the turn put the aircraft at about 60 degrees to
the horizontal. I guess the local radio station was covering the event because
they played the roar of the crowd thorough the headphones. They were absolutely
crazed down there. Cannot blame them for going nuts. All I wanted to do at this
point was join them on the ground and watch us fly over. I’m in the B-25, yet I
didn’t want to be. Forget the crowd, I’m going crazy.
was decided on. This time, to reward the crowd it will be low and slow - full
flaps and landing gear down. At one point I felt like we were floating in. Now
what is the stall speed of a B-25? Again the crowed goes wild. Finally it was
time to call an end to the fun and games. As a final salute to the crowd Yankee
Warrior flies low once again and wiggles her wings.
It was now time
to return home. We headed straight back to Willow Run Airport. The only
excitement came when the tower warned us about a Cessna flying at our altitude
at about 12 O’clock (in front). I looked down just in time to see him pass
about 50 feet under us (it seemed that close). Our crew was excited that we
must have made his day. How often does a private pilot have to dodge a B-25.
That guy must have thought he had entered the “Twilight Zone.”
an hour after we left Willow Run, I could see its runway as we began to make our
descent to return. It was an odd sensation to have an unobstructed view of the
runway before you. Slowly it comes up at you but I did not have any sensation
of an impending crash. We touched down ever so gently. Some of those
commercial pilots should take lessons from the crew of Yankee Warrior. But the
real scare came after we touched down. It seems that the left-right brakes on a
B-25 are independent of one another, and it seems that they were still breaking
them in and getting use to the brakes on Yankee Warrior. For as we taxied after
touching down, the brakes were applied and the aircraft lurched right, then
left, then right again. Being out front, the motion was exaggerated, and I had
the feeling we would wind up off the runway. But they got them evened out and
we pulled up to the Museum hanger exactly where the aircraft had been when I
I climbed out of
the aircraft and stood there just looking up at it when one of the ground crew
walked over to me and said: “That smile on your face will go away in about four
days, so not to worry.” He was so right I had the biggest smile, and it just
would not go away. I received my B-25 Flight Experience certificate and Yankee
Air Force shoulder patch. I then thanked everyone for one of the most fantastic
and memorable days of my life. What can one say after flying bombardier for an
hour in one of the last flying B-25 Ds.
crewman was right, by the fourth day, my face did not break into a big grin
whenever I talked about my experience. But it will be one of the most enjoyable
memories I will ever have , and be with me until the end of time.
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Text & Images Copyright © 2004 by
Steven "Modeldad" Eisenman
Page Created 12 October, 2004
12 October, 2004
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