VER­SA­TILE MEDIUM BOMBER: FHCAM’S B-25J

Flight Journal - - AIR APACHES -

Paul G. Allen’s Fly­ing Her­itage & Com­bat Ar­mor Mu­seum (FHCAM), at Paine Field in Everett, Wash­ing­ton, hails it­self as the world’s “finest col­lec­tion of vin­tage planes and tanks in the world.” FHCAM’s col­lec­tion is rapidly grow­ing, so it is now build­ing a third hangar to ac­com­mo­date all its ar­ti­facts. Planned for an open­ing in fall 2018, this hangar will add 30,000 square feet of ex­hibit space to the mu­seum. And one of the show­pieces on dis­play will be a North Amer­i­can B-25J Mitchell, United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Se­rial Num­ber 44-30254. Ac­cepted by the USAAF on De­cem­ber 28, 1944 in Kansas City, Kansas, FHCAM’s Mitchell was de­liv­ered to the Air Trans­port Com­mand in Mo­bile, Alabama, and was then trans­ferred to the Air Ma­teriel Com­mand at South Plains, Texas, on March 30, 1945. In July 1945, 44-30254 was moved to Robins Air Force Base, Ge­or­gia. It was then moved to Cul­ver City, Cal­i­for­nia, in June 1951 for mod­i­fi­ca­tions by the Air­craft Divi­sion of Hughes Tool Com­pany for use as a radar fighter con­trol trainer. It was one of 117 Mitchells mod­i­fied. The newly des­ig­nated “TB-25K” was given to the Royal Cana­dian Air Force (RCAF) on Novem­ber 4, 1951 un­der the Mu­tual De­fense As­sis­tance Act, and the RCAF des­ig­nated the air­craft an “Mk 3AI” and as­signed it se­rial num­ber 5211. The air­craft trained fighter air­in­ter­cep­tion ob­servers over the next decade at North Bay, On­tario, and Win­nipeg, Man­i­toba. In the early 1960s, Cas­cade Drilling Com­pany of Calgary, Al­berta, bought FHCAM’s Mitchell and con­verted it to a fire-bomber, re­port­edly the first to be con­verted in Canada. Due to a num­ber of B-25 crashes in the United States, how­ever, a U.S. Fire Ser­vice rul­ing ex­cluded the B-25 from con­tracts af­ter 1962. So Cas­cade sold the air­craft to Air Spray Ltd., of Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta, in 1964. The plane was sold in 1967 to two Air Spray pi­lots. They formed North­west­ern Air Lease Ltd., and FHCAM’s B-25 fought fires in the western prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries of Canada. G&M Air Lease Ltd., of St. Al­bert, Al­berta, bought the B-25 in 1981 and con­tin­ued to use it as a fire-bomber un­til that com­pany sold it in 1995 to Jeff Thomas of Vin­tage Wings in Ar­ling­ton, Wash­ing­ton. FHCAM pur­chased 44-30254 in late 1998 and moved her to Aero Trader in Chino, Cal­i­for­nia. Aero Trader, well known for its B-25 bomber restora­tions, be­gan work in May 1999 on 44-30254. Af­ter com­plet­ing a thor­ough and ac­cu­rate restora­tion in 2011, the bomber flew to its new home at Paine Field in June of that year. FHCAM’s Mitchell wears the paint scheme of “810” of the 490th Bomb Squadron. “810”

was USAAF se­rial num­ber 43-27810, which served in the China-Burma-In­dia Theater dur­ing World War II. Lt. Robert Han­son and his crew of five were lost in “810” on May 30, 1945, on its 116th com­bat mis­sion, while straf­ing Xincheng Bridge in China. To honor Han­son and his crew, FHCAM’s staff de­cided to paint the B-25 as it would have been on the day it was lost, with 115 bombs (one for each mis­sion) on its nose. It also car­ries the dis­tinc­tive in­signia of the 490th Bomb Squadron: a fear­some skull and a set of Army Air Corps pi­lot wings in a white­and-black cir­cle. Eu­gene Clay de­signed the em­blem in the 1930s, and it was painted on the nose of a Lock­heed Hud­son fer­ried into the Pa­cific by the 490th’s first com­man­der, Col. James A. Philpott. The image was used on 490th air­craft through­out the war but was never of­fi­cially ac­cepted by the USAAF. The B-25J is es­sen­tially a com­bi­na­tion of the bom­bardier nose sec­tion of the C/D model and the deeper fuse­lage of the H model. The most pro­duced ver­sion of the Mitchell, the J model had ei­ther a glass nose or a solid nose with eight ma­chine guns. The FHCAM B-25 ap­pears to have been fac­tory equipped with the glass bom­bardier nose. In ad­di­tion, FHCAM’s Mitchell has a gun cam­era mounted in the cock­pit by the copi­lot’s head as well as an as­tro­com­pass on the copi­lot’s side of the cock­pit (since the copi­lot also served as the nav­i­ga­tor). FHCAM’s B-25J 44-30254 now flies in peace as part of FHCAM’s ex­pand­ing fleet, hon­or­ing those veter­ans who paid the ul­ti­mate price. It can be seen in the skies over Wash­ing­ton this year at FHCAM’s Pa­cific Theater Day on June 23 and at SkyFair on July 21.— Lt. Col. Robert “Cricket” Ren­ner, USAF (Re­tired)

The Fly­ing Her­itage & Com­bat Ar­mor Mu­seum’s painstak­ingly re­stored B-25J is fin­ished in the col­ors of “810” of the 490th Bomb Squadron, which served in the China-Burma-In­dia Theater. Flown by Lt. Robert Hansen, he and his crew were lost in May 1945. (Photo by John Dibbs/Fly­ing Her­itage & Com­bat Ar­mor Mu­seum)

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