Alyssa Miller

Behind the B-25 photo shoot

April 17, 2012 by Alyssa Miller, AOPA Online Managing Editor

Mike's pre-dawn aerial shot.

Some events are just, well, so cool and rare that you’ll do whatever it takes to capture the moment and pray that you can at least convey a glimpse of the magic to those who couldn’t be there in person. The timed departure of 20 World War II bombers from the Grimes Gathering of B-25s is one of those events.

We received permission to do an aerial shoot during the takeoff and briefed the intended flight path and altitude with the event organizers the day before the mass departure. We worked with Mad River Air, a flight school on the field, to set up their Cessna 172 as a photo platform for AOPA photographer Mike Fizer and go over the route with the school’s chief pilot, Aaron Coleman, who would fly the mission.

Then, we set our alarm clocks for the 4 a.m. hour.

Admittedly, getting up at 4:40 a.m. wasn’t that bad. As if my shower didn’t wake me up, our hotel fire alarm went off at 5 a.m., ushering us and many veterans and guests visiting for the B-25 gathering outside in the dark (I’ve never seen so many bomber jackets at that hour). I grabbed my work laptop, headset, and purse. AOPA’s videographer Paul Harrop started evaluating what order to evacuate his video equipment, and Mike came out with all of his photo equipment. Thankfully it was a false alarm. But, by that time, we were loaded and ready to head to the airport; then the fire trucks pulled in. Paul directed us through the only narrow exit the fire trucks left open.

Getting ready for B-25 morning photo shootAt 5:30 a.m., we were getting the Cessna 172 ready while the B-25 crews performed their preflight inspections. Mike and Aaron needed to be wheels up by 6 a.m. to not disturb the ceremony set to take place before the B-25s started up. While they orbited the airport, Aaron had to dodge other GA traffic making last-minute approaches to the airport to witness the mass exodus. Paul and I took video and photos on the ground. The organizers sent an escort with us so that we could move to different locations instead of staying corralled with the rest of the media. After hitting one bump before crossing a taxiway, Paul nearly fell off the back of the golf cart…thankfully he regained his balance—and grip. Our friend Collis Wagner thought he was going to have to scrape him off the taxiway.

Paul Harrop

Paul Harrop captures video.

Aaron and Mike orbited the airport for two hours, from dark through sunrise to daylight, until the last B-25 took off. We booked it back to the hotel about five minutes away. I started writing in the car while Paul took side streets to avoid the traffic (dozens of people had lined the airport to watch from the side of the road). Less than two hours after leaving the airport, we had our story and video back to our team at Frederick, and photos for a slide show followed shortly (thankfully, Mike was able to work with the photos I shot from the ground).

Cessna 172

Aaron Coleman is a proud AOPA member.

Then it was back to the airport to finish some more assignments and on to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton for some information gathering about the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. We’ll have the chance Wednesday to briefly interview the five remaining raiders. We hope you’ll enjoy the sights, sounds, and history of the B-25 gathering and Doolittle Tokyo Raider’s seventieth reunion.

Taxiing for takeoff.

17 Responses to “Behind the B-25 photo shoot”

  1. Tim Knueven Says:

    You made My Home town airport in Urbana Ohio look Great! Wish I could have been there! God Bless them all!!!!

  2. Jamie MacKay Says:

    Was “HEAVENLY BODY” in attendance?

  3. Oscar Bowles Says:

    Flew B-25′s in Flying School at Reese AFB, TX
    Great little Aircraft- Wish That I could have been there and taken part.

  4. Carl Gerker Says:

    Thank you veterans, aircraft owners and volunteers for the great showing in Ohio.

  5. Whiskey Bravo Says:

    Ah, yes, the Baker Two Bits was a fabulous aircraft, maybe the best ever! Trained in them in basic at Vance AFB, Class 57 Kilo. But 110 hours next to those dual Wright R-2600′s sure took a toll on one’s hearing, (Today we’d get partial disability compensation!)

  6. Jack Graden Says:

    One very tough aircraft. Flew them in the Pacific, 13th Air Force, 42nd Bomb Group (M)

    “The Crusaders”

  7. Gary Curtis Says:

    My late father worked on B-25′s in Kansas City during the war, and watched many of them fly away after gun tests at the end of the field and a final run-up. I think they also were used to tow gliders; at least I saw the glider, the rope and a roaring airplane as best a five year old could see thru the elm trees on our street.

  8. Fred T. Franz Says:

    What a great show and thanks to all who worked so hard to make it happen.

  9. Bill Smith P.O. Box 516 Malibu CA 90265 Says:

    Twenty-plus years ago, as a TV news reporter flying on a B-25 for a TV news feature, we took off out of Burbank, CA, for a cruise up the California coast. Two airline pilots (Continental, I believe) flew us up the coast, skimming the water in true Doolittle style. Sitting up front in the nose, We were so low I’d have sworn we were getting the prop tips wet.

    The plane definitely lived up to the pilots’ description: the B-25 was simply a machine designed to convert fuel into noise. Wow were they right, so loud I couldn’t hear anything except ROAR! The pilots moved me back to the tail gunner’s spot, the only place where you could hear even a little bit of your headset!

    For our “inflight live shot” for the news, I had to shout my commentary to be even marginally audible. All together, what a great ride! And a confession: during my time up front in the nose skimming the water, I eventually panicked for fear of cartwheeling into the water, and begged to be transfered back to the tail. Had I been flying the Doolittle mission, they’d have tossed me out for lack of guts!

    And I would have deserved it. But what a ride! BILL SMITH

  10. Bill Smith P.O. Box 516 Malibu CA 90265 Says:

    Twenty-plus years ago, as a TV news reporter flying on a B-25 for a TV news feature, we took off out of Burbank, CA, for a cruise up the California coast. Two airline pilots (Continental, I believe) flew us up the coast, skimming the water in true Doolittle style. Sitting up front in the nose, We were so low I’d have sworn we were getting the prop tips wet.

    The plane definitely lived up to the pilots’ description: the B-25 was simply a machine designed to convert fuel into noise. Wow were they right, so loud I couldn’t hear anything except ROAR! The pilots moved me back to the tail gunner’s spot, the only place where you could hear even a little bit of your headset!

    For our “inflight live shot” for the news, I had to shout my commentary to be even marginally audible. All together, what a great ride! And a confession: during my time up front in the nose skimming the water, I eventually panicked for fear of cartwheeling into the water, and begged to be transfered back to the tail. Had I been flying the Doolittle mission, they’d have tossed me out for lack of guts!

    And I would have deserved it. But what a ride! BILL SMITH (And yes, I’ve been an AOPA member for 40-plus years.)

  11. Bill Smith P.O. Box 516 Malibu CA 90265 Says:

    Twenty-plus years ago, as a TV news reporter flying on a B-25 for a TV news feature, we took off out of Burbank, CA, for a cruise up the California coast. Two airline pilots (Continental, I believe) flew us up the coast, skimming the water in true Doolittle style. Sitting up front in the nose, We were so low I’d have sworn we were getting the prop tips wet.

    The plane definitely lived up to the pilots’ description: the B-25 was simply a machine designed to convert fuel into noise. Wow were they right, so loud I couldn’t hear anything except ROAR! The pilots moved me back to the tail gunner’s spot, the only place where you could hear even a little bit of your headset!

    For our “inflight live shot” for the news, I had to shout my commentary to be even marginally audible. All together, what a great ride! And a confession: during my time up front in the nose skimming the water, I eventually panicked for fear of cartwheeling into the water, and begged to be transfered back to the tail. Had I been flying the Doolittle mission, they’d have tossed me out for lack of guts!

    And I would have deserved it. But what a ride! BILL SMITH (And yes, I’ve been an AOPA member for 40-plus years.) Apologies for repeat filing,had trouble with password.

  12. Elaine Bennett Lininger Says:

    What a great event and honor that Grimes Field could be host to such an honorable event. As the daughter of one of the previous airport managers, I am proud of our great community for coming out and sharing and supporting this once in a life-time event. Everyone involved in organizing and participating deserve a huge thank you, and a job well done!

  13. Eric Lorentzen AOPA 160643 Says:

    1976 I and a dozen other fools flew five Mitchells from States to UK via the Azores to film Hanover Street with a young Harrison ford in the U.K. I’ll testify to the noise hazard but Bose noise canceling headset did alleviate the worst. Still have had tenitis ever since!
    There is a BBC documentary filmed of the ferry flight: Mitchells Do Fly in IMC if anyone cares.

  14. Alyssa Says:

    Jamie, “Heavenly Body” did not attend the gathering.

  15. Jon B Says:

    The B-25 has been my favorite aircraft ever since I saw the movie “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” at a California drive-in theater as a kid in 1944 (I think it was, the war was still on).
    It was the looks of the thing that got me…as an 8 year old, nothing else mattered and that impression has stuck with me.
    The sound of those engines is unique, but was unaware that cockpit crews suffered hearing damage because of engine noise. Too bad today’s noise-cancelling headsets wern’t available in WWII. Might have avoided some cases of tinitis. Know how annoying that can be as I have it from my days as an Army radio operator!
    In 1982 when I was working at a major airport in Maryland there was a gathering of B-25s and a fly-over of Wash. D.C. to commerate the 40th anniversary of the Tokyo mission. I believe several of the same acft here participated. Got to meet Jimmy Doolittle. Great thrill. But was shocked to learn how short he was…well I’m 6’4″ so everyone seems short to me, but he was. I even tried to squeeze into the cockpit of one of the 25s. I had a helluve time. Seemed to back my head on everything…but have to admit that I loved doing it!!! Later on in looking at wartime photos of B-25 crews standing next to the acft I noticed that many of them weren’t all that tall. They sure looked bigger than life when I saw the same pictures as a kid! That’s what boyhood hero worship will do for you I guess!
    Aircraft design has evolved tremendously since 1937 when the B-25 was concieved on the drawing board, but look of this airplane still has a strong appeal. Old-fashoned….yes, but it still is beautiful, especially to this overgrown 8 year-old!
    Since I was born about the same time as the B-25 and DC-3, I hope they (we) are around for many more years. I’ve certainly aged and changed, but those two remain as beautiful as the day they were born!
    Just had to rant on…hope you won’t mind!
    Jon B

  16. Glyn Laird, MSgt, USAF (Retired) Says:

    Fifty-five years ago, I served as a Flight Mechanic on B-25s at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Working and flying on the old Baker Two-Bits was one of the most enjoyable times in my life. On occasion, the Aircraft Commander would let me fly the bird – what a thrill that was! Those experiences lead me to earn an Airline Transport Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates.

    Later on in my Air Force career, I had the honor of flying with Colonel Bill Bower, who was the pilot-in-command of one of the B-25s off the Hornet – number twelve I think. Colonel Bower is/was one of the finest officers with whom I served in my twenty-three-years in the Air Force.

    Thank you for this story. It caused me to recall fond memories of when I was much younger.

    We owe these American Patriots a great debt. One which can never be paid!

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