August 16, 2007
B-25 Mitchell Flight Experience

On media day for the Camarillo Airshow, members of the press and sponsors of the show are presented with an opportunity to fly along in various aircraft. The staff for the Camarillo show selected a good variety for the media flights. Having grown up in Milwaukee, not far from Mitchell Field and being distantly related to one of the crewmen on the Doolittle Raid, my choice was obvious.

B-25 Mitchell "Executive Sweet"

While some of the other aircraft on the ramp were being moved, I took some pictures of this historic bomber from the ground. This B-25 was built by North American in 1944 and is a TB-25N. The TB-25 was a trainer version to allow crew members to train in the type. This one has been put into the B-25J configuration. It is owned and maintained by the American Aeronautical Foundation. The aircraft is based at Camarillo Airport.

We were given a quick pre-flight briefing about where to sit for take-off and landing, where we could go in the aircraft, etc. Basically, we had free access to everywhere in the aircraft once we got airborne with the only restrictions of how many people in the nose and in the tail at a time. We strapped in and got ready for engine start and take-off. Anyone who has stood near a B-25 knows how loud those Wright Cyclone Radial engines are. I was basically sitting right between them as our crew went through their pre-flight checklist.

The crew performs the pre-flight checklist.

As the engines roared to life, it was obvious that talking on this flight was not an option! Not only could you hear them, but you could feel the power through the airframe as the props churned the air, ready to give flight. The noise and vibration were something I expected, and in some ways, it was exhilarating. As they engines warmed up, I took it all in, feeling the history. I know thousands of young men flew in these during WWII. It was because of them that we were able to experience this flight today, and I was humbled and grateful. We taxied out to the runway and took off. Once the crew raised the gear and gained a little altitude, we were cleared to get up from our seats and move around.

Crawling through the tunnel to the nose

To get to the nose of the aircraft, you have to crawl through a tunnel from underneath the cockpit. It's a bit of a squeeze, even for an average sized guy like me. This is where the bombardier would be for missions. He was also the gunner for the front of the aircraft. In addition to firing the .50 caliber machine gun, he would also operate the bombsight. This one is the famed Norden bombsight.

The rear sight on the .50 caliber machine gun

The famous Norden bombsight.

View from the front "greenhouse" of the B-25.

One of the Wright Cyclone radial engines.

I left the nose of the airplane to give someone else a chance to see the view while I headed towards the back. To get over the bomb bay, you have to go over it, unlike the B-17 and B-24 that have a walkway in the middle. The crawl space is actually bigger in this aircraft than in the B-25s that were operational. It's a bit of a squeeze to get through.

The crawlspace over the bomb bay. The B-25 is not a place for the claustrophobic.

As I made my way aft, we approached the Pacific Ocean and headed south along the coast. I looked out the porthole window on the side of the airplane and watched the ocean below and the coast to our left. I thought about the crews of the Doolittle raid, coming in from the ocean toward the coast of Japan and uncertainty. Seeing the boats in the water added to those thoughts. The Japanese had picket boats in the waters to watch for enemy ships and aircraft.

Malibu coastline.

Our shadow in the water.

I made my way back to the tail gunner's position to experience the tail gunner's perspective. The view is pretty amazing back there. There is very little to obstruct your view. The rear gunner controlled 2 .50 caliber machine guns using a computing gun sight The seat is remarkably similar to a bicycle seat.

The rear gunner's gun sight.

What a view as we turn back northward!

The rear gunner's twin .50 caliber machine guns.

As I sat back and enjoyed the view, I could see us approaching Point Mugu Naval Air Station. I spotted a bogie on our tail, low and fast. He was climbing towards us. Had that been a Messerschmitt or a Zero, it would have been my job to try and blast it out of the sky. As the bogie grew closer, I recognized the shape of an F-18 Hornet. The amusing part was that the F-18 had a red star on the tail. This was an aggressor aircraft fron Navy Squadron VX-30 "Bloodhounds". He passed by down our right side. It looked like he was flying by to say hello. Good thing too, we would have been no match for a modern Naval fighter.

Point Mugu NAS (Naval Air Station).

Our bogie, an F-18 Hornet. Notice the red star and the BH on the tail. The BH is for the Bloodhounds, the nickname of VX-30, based at Point Mugu.

Ventura Harbor and Harbor Town.

Our flight was on the leg home. I made my way to the middle of the airplane and watched out the porthole window with one of the crew. Everyone aboard seemed lost in their own thoughts, myself included. What an awesome experience! While it was fun and exciting, I couldn't help but think about the many young men who fought from these planes. While we had a nice leisurely time of it, 60 plus years ago, those young men were fighting and dying in airplanes like this one. My hat goes off to those brave young men.

The CAF ramp at Camarillo airport. Just to the right  of te CAF ramp is the home to Executive Sweet, next to the green and brown airplane.

Camarillo tower.

As we passed the tower and turned into the pattern, I felt a rush of air and the landing gear starting to drop down. That was my cue to return to my seat and get my seatbelt on. I sat back and enjoyed what was left of our time in the sky. We landed at Camarillo and taxied to the parking spot for Executive Sweet. I want to thank the crew of Executive Sweet for a great experience! I also want to thank all of the folks at the American Aeronautical Foundation for making this airplane available for the media flight. One last thanks goes out to all the people of the EAA and their friends that put on the show.

Our pilot and copilot for the flight. Thanks guys!

"Executive Sweet" performing at the show a couple of days later.

Back to Articles/Photo Essays section

Back to Air-to-Air section