Maid in the Shade, a B-25 Mitchell bomber that flew 15 combat missions during World War II, turns as it flies over Shilshole Marina after taking off from the Flying Heritage Collection on Monday in Everett. ( Andy Bronson / The Herald )

Fully restored B-25 bomber at Paine Field this weekend

EVERETT — Paine Field has a special visitor this weekend: Maid in the Shade, a B-25 Mitchell bomber that flew 15 combat missions during World War II.

The sight of the airplane on the tarmac outside the Flying Heritage Collection took Bob Drew back to 1945, when he was a U.S. fighter pilot in the Philippines. While he primarily flew the powerful P-38 fighter, he would regularly pilot his squadron’s B-25 to pick up spare parts or shuttle VIPs.

“It is a great flying airplane,” the Edmonds man said. “It’s easy to handle, had good flying qualities and reliable engines.”

“And tremendous firepower,” he added. “You could carry everything and the kitchen sink.”

Drew’s praise is not idle words. After the war, Drew served several more years as a fighter pilot before joining Douglas Aircraft as a test pilot on military aircraft in the early 1950s. After retiring, he raced airplanes.

“The only thing I didn’t like about the B-25 was if you’re in the cockpit, you’re right in line with the propellers,” he said, pointing at the bomber’s twin engines. “If you start throwing blades, you’re in trouble.”

The B-25 was a medium bomber, much smaller than Boeing’s better known heavy bombers, the B-17 and B-29. Despite its compact size, the B-25 bristled with weapons — machine guns, bombs, rockets, even a cannon on some models. Able to rain destruction from low altitudes, the Mitchell was used by Allied forces from Europe to the Pacific.

The 91-year-old Drew climbed into the plane’s cramped interior and sat down in the jump seat immediately behind the pilot and co-pilot. Maid in the Shade’s twin Wright Cyclone engines kicked to life. After a short taxi to Paine Field’s main runway, the B-25 raced into the wind and leaped into the air.

The plane, which is maintained and operated by the Commemorative Air Force’s Airbase Arizona, soared over Mukilteo and Edmonds. The waterfront communities spread out beneath the bomber’s glass-enclosed nose, where the bombardier would aim its deadly deliveries.

“My home is down there,” Drew shouted, his words all but drowned out by the engines’ roar.

The sun glinted off Puget Sound’s calm surface, which was crisscrossed by ships’ wakes. The plane banked and the water fell away from view.

Back on the ground, Drew posed for pictures with the airplane.

For him, the flight was mostly about nostalgia, he said. “So many things in life go by and you’re never able to connect to them again.”

It’s not cheap to keep the B-25 and other vintage planes in the air, said Mike Mueller, a volunteer with the Commemorative Air Force’s Airbase Arizona. Like Drew, he is also a docent at the Flying Heritage Collection at Paine Field.

“Depending on the airplane, we spend eight to 10 hours on maintenance for every flying hour,” Mueller said.

And each flying hour costs as much as $2,000 for fuel, maintenance and other support.

Keeping these planes in the air is a way to honor the men and women who built and flew them, and to connect people with history, he said.

Maid in the Shade is one of only a handful of fully restored vintage airplanes that saw combat. It was assigned to the 437th Squadron, 319 Bomb Group of the U.S. Army Air Force. It flew 15 combat missions in November and December 1944, attacking railroad bridges and other ground targets in Italy and the former Yugoslavia.

After rotating out of combat, it was used as a utility plane until the late 1950s. It was later sold and spent the 1960s and part of the 1970s bombing bugs for agricultural operations. Next, it passed through several private collectors’ hands before being donated to the Commemorative Air Force in 1981.

CAF volunteers spent nearly 30 years restoring the airplane to its original condition. It finally took off again in spring 2009.

“When this plane came to us, it was in pieces,” Mueller said. “Basically, we brought it back to life.”

Maid in the Shade was one of thousands of B-25s that rolled out of North American Aviation’s Kansas City plant in 1944. Between 1940 and 1945, the company, which later became part of Boeing, produced 9,816 B-25 bombers at its Kansas and California plants.

The B-25 cemented its place in American history on April 18, 1942, in a daring mission that became known as the Doolittle Raid after Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, who planned and led the attack. America was still reeling from Japan’s attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and other U.S. outposts. Doolittle, already a well-known aviator, proposed taking the fight to Japan’s homeland.

No American bombers could reach Japan, so 16 B-25s were stripped down and loaded with extra fuel to double their range. That gave the land-based bombers enough endurance to reach Tokyo — but only if they took off from an aircraft carrier. The B-25s designers had never envisioned the bomber rumbling down a carrier’s pitching deck.

Nonetheless, the modified Mitchells were lashed to the deck of the USS Hornet, which steamed into the Pacific toward Tokyo. A run in with a Japanese patrol boat forced the bombers to launch 170 nautical miles farther east than planned.

Doolittle’s B-25 took off first. It rumbled down the Hornet’s deck at full speed, lifting off with little room to spare. The bombers attacked military and industrial targets in Tokyo and other major cities. Due to launching early, none reached their destinations in China. Instead, crews bailed out as their fuel ran out. One plane did land in Siberia. Despite the dangers, 69 of the 80 raiders made it back to Allied lines.

The raid caused little actual damage, but it shook Japanese leaders’ confidence and brought hope to Americans fearful of a Japanese invasion.

Several dozen B-25s are still flying today, including two at Paine Field: “Grumpy,” a B-25D at the Historic Flight Foundation, and an unnamed B-25J owned by the Flying Heritage Collection.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

The story has been modified to correct the number of B-25s at Paine Field that are in flying condition.

Catch a ride on Maid in the Shade

Rides on the B-25 are available Friday through Sunday.

Tickets: Flight Deck — $650; Radio Room Seat — $395.

To schedule: Call 480-322-5503 or email B25RC@azcaf.org.

Walk through: The plane is on display from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Flying Heritage Collection now through Sunday. Visitors can climb through it for $5.

If you miss it in Everett, the B-25 will be at Tacoma Narrows Airport Aug. 8-15.

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