One lesson I learned years ago is how warm and welcoming the aviation community is, and, I experienced that again today, as did the crowd at Andrews Air Force Base who turned out for the Joint Services Open House & Air Show.
The aerial show was spectacular and included performances by aerobatic Hall of Famer Sean Tucker, the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, and the Navy’s world reknown Blue Angels, but that’s not why I went.
I went to Andrews to meet Panchito, a 68-year-old bomber. Panchito is a B-25J and Nicholas Katzenbach was shot down in an earlier version of the B-25, a B-25C. I’ve read all about B-25s and their famous Doolittle Raid over Japan, but I’d never seen a B-25 in person.
When I arrived at the air show, Sean Tucker was dazzling the crowd with his barrel rolls, loops, and dives. My visit was already off to a good start. With dozens of aircrafts on the tarmac I asked someone in a golf cart which way the B-25 was and I ended up getting a lift. Lucky for me as Panchito was at the other end of the field.
Seeing a B-25 in person is quite different than seeing one in pictures. B-25s are a medium sized twin-engine bomber used during WWII. While it seems large from the outside (with a wingspan of nearly 68 feet), inside it seems miniscule.
Yes, that’s right I got to climb inside this warbird thanks to Larry Kelley who heads up Panchito’s flight team. He knew who Nicholas Katzenbach was, but didn’t realize he was shot down in a B-25. With that, the welcome mat was extended and a narrow staircase was pulled down from the front of the plane. Here’s some unsolicited advice, don’t wear a dress and don’t wear sandals. I wore both. None-the-less I made it up the narrow ladder and giant steps with guidance from Larry.
While the bomber looks large from outside, inside is another story. It seemed cramped to me and I’m a foot shorter than Katzenbach. The cockpit was tight, with the pilot and co-pilots’ seats closer than I thought. The body of the plane isn’t wide and to get to the gunner position one has to crawl into the nose, I didn’t do that.
Behind the cockpit was a section that Larry told me would have been outfitted for the navigator in the B-25C (Larry knew all the slight modifications between the B-25C and B-25J). Even more remarkable, he had a copy of the original B-25C Maintenance Manual complete with diagrams, photographs, and text. In the manual we were able to see the type of folding navigator table and stool that Katzenbach would have used. Just when I thought chapter two was done, I now need to go back and infuse some of this amazing information I gleaned today. I literally was on cloud nine. While I beamed, Panchito’s metallic skin shined under the sunlight.
It should also be noted that while the Panchito crew shares this warbird with the public they do so for a good cause; Disabled American Veterans (DAV). The Panchito crew offers rides and raises money so DAV can provide free services to our nation’s veterans, assisting them in obtaining medical care and benefits they’ve earned and deserved. For more information, visit: www.dav.org
Thanks again and happy flying!