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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. 

Not 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. 

I first 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 to myself…”Someday…” 

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….”. 



Airborne at Last


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, Yes, 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 weeks. 

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 tower. 

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.   

Yankee Warrior 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.



Another flyover 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.” 

About 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 first boarded. 

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. 

The ground 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
Last Updated 12 October, 2004

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