A Beautiful Morning in a Beautiful Airplane
As you know, our B-25, Champaign Gal, is now fully operational. Led by Randy Kemp, the B-25 was signed off for flight in late summer-- and fly it has! It has added more than 35 hours to its total time and has been a frequent sight in the skies across Champaign County and western Ohio. The flights have been normal, as normal as flying a sixty year old airplane can be, and have been used as training flights for David and Eric Shiffer, as they progress toward their type rating in the airplane.
A typical such day of flight was Wednesday October 5. The morning was perfect as the airplane was pulled out of the museum hangar and towed to Grimes Airfield’s fuel pumps. The tanks were topped off and then our B-25 was pushed away from the pumps. The crew consisted of Eric Shiffer, Bill Clarke (who was the instructor pilot), and Eric Kendig, acting as observer. Champaign Aviation Museum volunteers Carl Billhardt rode in front, while Dale Davis, Bill Heater, Carole and Robert Buchwalter rode in the waist gun bay.
A thorough briefing was made, then the engines were pulled through. Even such a seemingly simple task must be done carefully. Eric Kendig instructed us to be careful and to be sure we did not try to push through a hydraulic condition on the engine. Eric and Bill gave us a safety briefing (don’t touch anything red!) and then did the walk around. There is a forward and aft crew ladder and to maintain CG limits, the forward crew boarded first, then the four of us climbed in the waist gun compartment.
The B-25 is a medium bomber and is an aggressive design and it is lean (translation: “tight”) both fore and aft. From the waist gun compartment, it is possible to look over the bomb bay and into the cockpit…and on this sunny, warm October day, while it was a little stuffy in the rear, it was probably much warmer forward in the “greenhouse”.
Engine start came at 1000 hours. And when you come to our museum to fly in our B-25, bring hearing protection! This airplane is loud. Imagine a drum line consisting of 2,000 drummers. Then double it! The starter whines, and then seemingly one by one, the cylinders on the Wright R-2600 engines begin to fire off, then they settle into a determined idle. We sat on the ramp to allow cylinder head and oil temperatures to come up, then taxied to runway 02. With a very loud takeoff roll, we were airborne in twenty seconds.
The interior quickly freshened as the wind blew through the airplane and in a few moments we were all quite comfortable. Eric rang the bailout bell but this was only to advise us that we could release seat belts and explore the view out the waist gun windows and the tail gun position—and the view is awesome! We were privileged to view an Ohio harvest from several thousand feet in this wonderful airplane.
The skies were clear and we rolled southwest to the Dayton area. Since this was an instructional flight, Bill instructed and observed Eric Shiffer as he made steep turns, turns about a point, approach to stalls, flew in dirty and clean configurations, and other aspects of flying this magnificent airplane as pilot in command. For us in the rear, the flight was quite comfortable, despite the various maneuvering. The ride was a bit rowdier back in the tailgunner position but even that was not bad. The difference in being in the tailgun position is that the shadows of the gunner’s canopy sweep across that compartment. It is an excellent classroom for demonstrating yaw, pitch, and roll!
As we approached the airport at Dayton, Bill told Eric to make an approach and go around. This is a critical procedure and many skills must be applied simultaneously For example, if a go-around is required, there are limits as to how much throttle can be added at any one time, and these numbers change from various manifold pressures. Such numbers are critical and must be kept foremost in mind, even as the pilot changes the configuration from an airplane that was landing into one that must arrest its descent and start to climb. This difficult task was completed with no problem. Eric then flew around the pattern and made a very nice landing…after which the tower personnel instructed him to taxi in front of the tower so they could get a good look at the Mitchell. We took off again, made one more landing and then headed home for Urbana.
More maneuvers were practiced enroute while we enjoyed the fall colors, the harvest, and the beautiful skies. But, since we were in the gun compartment, even while appreciating the beautiful scenery on the surface, we kept a sharp eye for any marauding Cessnas, Piper Cubs, or Bonanzas over Champaign County--and we can truthfully say that there were no reports of any German fighters west of Columbus that day. Apparently, the Luftwaffe has heard of Champaign Gal!
All too soon the friendly confines of Grimes Field came into view and the airplane was configured for landing. Eric made another smooth touchdown on our runway. Our morning flight had come to an end but it was a wonderful two hours in the air. We taxied back to the Champaign Aviation Museum hangar, the engines were idled for several minutes in order to cool properly, then the Wright R-2600s were shut down. Another flight in the long, and still unfolding, history of this airplane was in the log book.
It was a beautiful morning in a beautiful plane!