Maid in the Shade

Venerable bomber thrills fans

For pilots, Maid in the Shade has a way about her. Veteran flyers and aviation fledglings both couldn’t hide their grins after spending just a few minutes in the air with the venerable Second World War bomber.

For pilots, Maid in the Shade has a way about her.

Veteran flyers and aviation fledglings both couldn’t hide their grins after spending just a few minutes in the air with the venerable Second World War bomber.

The B-25 Mitchell bomber landed at Red Deer Airport on Friday morning as part of a summer-long North American tour by the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force and as a fundraiser for the local Harvard Historical Aviation Society.

Camrose’s Blain Fowler, 71, first took to the air in 1961 on an air cadet flying training scholarship.

“My dad was a pilot in the air force during the (Second World War). So it’s in my blood,” said Fowler, who is publisher of The Camrose Booster. “My earliest memory is of an airplane.”

A member of the Commemorative Air Force, he has owned a number of vintage planes, including an F-4 Corsair, a fighter plane that could hit 714 km/h (446 mph).

For Friday’s flight, Fowler took a seat up front, but passed on a perch in the Plexiglas nose. A little too claustrophobic, he explained.

In the back section of the fuselage, Carstairs’s Glenn Bishell and Calgary’s Brian Byl, pilots both, chuckled at the banging, coughing and smoke-spewing of the twin 1,700-horsepower Wright Cyclone engines as they were revved up for takeoff.

The 25-minute flight was a loud, shaky thrill ride. Pilot Spike McLane wasn’t afraid to put the twin-engined bomber through its paces and the seven passengers got a thrill as the bomber tilted and turned sharply over the countryside near Sylvan Lake.

Fast in its day, the plane could fly close to 480 km/h (300 mph) and carry upwards of 1,350 kg (3,000 pounds) of bombs.

After 25 minutes the plane was back on the ground with a reassuring bump.

“It was awesome,” said Byl, 59, who had flown his own gleaming silver Cessna 195 to Red Deer to make his B-25 connecting flight. “I checked that off the bucket list.”

It was not his first time in vintage aircraft. He flew in a B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine bomber three years ago.

The thrill isn’t gone, he said.

“It doesn’t get old at all.

His philosophy: “Get up while you still can when they’re still flying.”

Fowler has flown in a B-25 before, but wasn’t about to pass up a chance for a repeat ride.

“It was just an opportunity to do it again that I couldn’t pass up,” he said.

“To hear those R-2600 Wrights stoke up is just enough to give me goose bumps, I’ll tell you what,” he laughed.

He did not come away disappointed.

“It was a great experience. I loved the smell of the exhaust and the sound of the engines — just everything.”

Calgarian Dwayne Sparks, 49, only got his flying licence in April and was thrilled with his backseat bomber experience.

“That was awesome,” said the Cessna pilot, who was hooked on flying after taking a seat in an open cockpit Tiger Moth while holidaying in New Zealand a couple of years ago.

For Bishell, the B-25 brought back some fond memories. As an air cadet in 1954, he and 1,500 other youngsters studied the bomber and all of its systems as part of their training.

“It was a great flight and unique for me.”

He got his ultralight licence in 1995 and his recreation flying licence followed in 2003, when he was 65 years old.

His instructor was so happy at teaching her first senior to fly she bought him a bottle of scotch, he recalled with a laugh.

Joe Maier, 60, got a seat as a Father’s Day present from his wife.

“I’ve always been interested in old warplanes,” said the Camrose heavy duty mechanic, who became a licensed pilot in 1984.

“I loved it,” he said after the flight. “If I could afford it, I’d buy one.”

Tony Lindhout flew in the plane from Edmonton’s Villeneuve Airport to Red Deer, about a 30-minute journey.

“It was just phenomenal,” said Lindhout, a retired Red Deer planner. “It’s unbelievable being in an old warbird like this and to try and understand what it used to be like flying one of these during the Second World War.”

Maid’s co-pilot Jerry Briggs said the plane rolled off a Kansas assembly line and joined the United States Army Air Forces in 1944 and flew 15 missions out of Corsica to bombing targets in Italy.

The plane has the scars to prove it too. He points out a small patch that was used to fix battle damage to the fuselage.

Flying the plane is an experience even for those who know it well.

“It’s very agile and it’s very fast,” he said. “It’s a great plane to fly.”

The B-25 was donated to the Commemorative Air Force in 1981 and 27 years were spent restoring it to its present condition.

Jodi Smith, president of the Harvard Historical Aviation Society, said the money raised from the weekend visit will go towards their new workshop and towards a major project to restore a donated Tiger Moth biplane trainer to flying condition this year.

The B-25 is open for viewing 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Sunday. Tours cost $5 per person, with the proceeds going to the Commemorative Air Force.

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