So I'm traipsing around the outskirts of Phoenix, visiting old airfields, and as I pull up to Falcon Field I notice a B-25 on the ramp. Nicely painted, the Mitchell bomber was surrounded by a small group of people, and I noticed the sign "RIDES." I stopped and asked the volunteers when it would be taking off. "In about 10 minutes. We have one empty seat in the back. Do you want to go? We take plastic...."
Of course you know the answer to that silly question. :-)
I was one of four passengers and one crewmember packed into the waist section of the B-25H. That's the "solid nose" version of the B-25, with extra fixed machine guns and a big honkin' 75mm cannon at the front end! (At the time, this was the only flyable H model B-25 in the world.) Another two passengers rode in the cockpit behind the pilot and copilot. We buckled-up in non-vintage seats for takeoff. A small observation window in the floor under our seats offered an interesting view. Ours was the only flight of the day, so we had to sit and idle quite a while to warm up the engines. The plane shook quite a bit at idle, and I'll admit that the sporadic backfiring of the huge radial engines was a bit disconcerting. But when the engines were revved up they smoothed right out, and I was impressed by the rapid acceleration as we made our takeoff roll.
Once airborne with wheels in the well, we were allowed to unbuckle, stand up and move around. We grouped around the two waist gun positions and enjoyed the view as we departed Mesa for the mountains to the north. One at a time we were allowed to walk, then crawl, into the tail end of the plane and sit in the tail gunner position. We could look forward over the top of the bomb bay and see the passengers and crew up front. The view of the mountains, lakes, and dams was impressive. I couldn't resist posing with one of the M-2s.
Half an hour passes quickly when you're soaking in the sight, sound, and smell of a vintage aircraft flight. The landing was smooth, and soon we were climbing back down the ladder from the belly hatch.
For more information on the Barbie III, check out Warbirds Unlimited Foundation, Inc., and if you're ever at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona, look for it on the ramp!
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