B-25J Mitchell

The Cadillac of airplanes

The B-25 of the Flying Bulls. If she wasn't an original, you'd have to call her “retro”. Everything about her is round and between her tail units stirs the good spirit of old times. How a wreck in the arizona desert became a silvery showpiece of aeronautics.

Similar to human beings, there are planes that lead a more or less anonymous existence among their own, patiently waiting in the loop. And then there are planes that have a rich history and that fly off into an unknown future, despite many thousand hours of flying time. One such exceptional plane with a life history that should be a movie script is the North American B-25J Mitchell, which joined the collection of planes of the Flying Bulls in 1995 as a jewel in the crown. This plane has found a home in the large Hangar-7, which shines brightly every evening, unless the plane circles lazily in the air above one of the spectacular air shows throughout Europe. The B-25J Mitchell is a gentle giant with a length of sixteen meters and a wingspan of twenty meters, which had been built at the very end of World War II.

It is five meters high, measured from the tire to the top of the roof; the engine capacity is 42 liters each. The fuel tanks hold 3,600 liters, enough to fly 1,800 kilometers at a maximum speed of 580 km/h. The impressive silver bird did not see action in combat due to its late production: It only emerged from the assembly hangar at North American Aviation in Fairfax, Kansas City, with the serial number 44-86893A on 5 August 1945, i.e. one day prior to the bombing of Hiroshima and the imminent end of World War II. Given that it missed combat action, the “Fairfax Ghost,” as it was called then, went directly into research as a test vehicle for electronic developments in Fort Dix, New Jersey. It advanced rapidly, first to crew trainer, then to radar trainer in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Michigan, but the B-25 planes were declared surplus by the Air Force in 1958, and were sent to the desert near Tucson, Arizona, into early retirement. A private individual bought the plane there a year later for $ 1,900, restored it and registered it as a firefighting plane. However, there are no records to show that the plane was ever used for fighting a forest fire. The B-25 was mothballed once again in the Arizona desert. It remained there unappreciated for thirteen years, other than maybe by a few flying enthusiasts. John Stokes, a Californian, released the plane from its exile in 1977, moved it to Chino, California, and sold it back to its original home in Kansas City within the year. The “Kansas City Warbirds” exhibited the plane at air shows. It took seven years of restoration until the plane was airworthy again, now under the name “Spirit of Kansas City”.

The lack of financial resources and public interest shattered the plans for a B-25 museum early in the Nineties, and the plane had to be sold to Illinois. A Texan, an acquaintance of Sigi Angerer, the current chief pilot of the “Flying Bulls”, learned about the plane there. Eventually, the Flying Bulls had the plane totally restored in Breckenridge, Texas, which took two and a half years and used 25,000 hours of labor. Finally, the plane flew to Austria in September 1997, piloted by the American pilots Neil Anderson and Nelson Ezell, assisted by Angerer and Karl Koidl. The long flight from the New World to the safe harbor in the Alps via Newfoundland, Iceland and Norway was difficult, given the particularly poor weather conditions. There was no Hangar-7 when the plane arrived in Europe - it was not completed until 2003.

The B-25, often abandoned and yet well traveled, found a final home here, where many visitors can admire this plane. There was a reunion with one of its previous pilots, James W. Foreman, on 17 May 2005: Susan Noeller, Mr. Foreman's daughter, sent an e-mail from Kansas to inquire whether her father (now retired) could once again sit in the cockpit of the plane, which he had piloted in the Fifties as a flying instructor. The Flying Bulls were happy to oblige and Mr. Foreman could not only sit in the cockpit of “his” beloved B-25, but he actually piloted the plane on a short flight. No doubt this was a significant moment for pilot and plane. If a DC-6 were a car, it would probably be adorned by the Rolls Royce “Spirit of Ecstasy” on the hood. And the B-25? Sigi Angerer describes it as a “Cadillac” among planes. The B-25 generates measured ecstasy among its visitors by the full-throated roar of its engines and its elegant maneuverability.

Sigi Angerer's Logbook

“How we obtained the B - 25”

It was at the end of a wonderful day of flying; Didi flew my Piper, he was precise, as always, so he knew much about planes, and he said: “I would like to have a P-38 and a B-25!” in the same tone of voice as ordering an ice cream sundae. Given that I was used to unusual requests, I just said: “I'll take care of it,” but I did not ask whether he wanted whipped cream on that sundae. We had leads on both planes within a few days and started to negotiate the prices.

We bought the B-25 and transferred it to Breckenridge; the P-38 is the subject of another entry in my log. As a result, we made a side trip on our next flight to the US to inspect our new purchases. The plane was in terrible shape by European standards: The interior looked more like an aged fishing boat, but the plane was ready to fly. We started our preparations to be certified for this type of plane. The old lady did not leave us in the lurch, and Karl Koidl and I soon had enough training hours to pass the examination for certification. 3 years later: No B-25 in history has ever been in better shape inside or out than our N-6123C. Finally, the big day came in September of 1997: We started with full tanks and fully loaded with spare parts, heading northeast. Refueling stops in Canada and Labrador were uneventful - Frobisher Bay had fuel only in barrels with a manual pump, self-service.

The low over the ocean gave me some headaches: The rain was heavy, even in the cockpit, because many of the small windows leaked. Whenever clouds parted, I could see waves down below that were as tall as a house with white spuming spray blowing horizontally, and I was happier to stay in the clouds. The cloud cover lifted two hours later and we had an outstanding view of the Norwegian coast, where we landed in Stavanger, with a good deal of fuel to spare. The plane was in perfect shape, and 2000l of fuel and six sandwiches later, we flew on towards Salzburg. We could see the Austrian Alps from far away, well before we landed in Salzburg in the dark.

We could not land in Innsbruck, as originally planned, after 8:00 p.m. But I did not mind that at all, as this gave Didi a chance to be the first to climb into our new purchase. Given that we Styrians had always dreamed of flying the B-25 through the Mürz Valley, our next flight quite naturally took us from Leoben, Bruck and St. Marein to Mürzzuschlag. Now that was an ice cream sundae with lots of whipped cream!

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