The WWII B-25 bomber, “Maid in the Shade” is scheduled to be on display and available for rides and tours, September 17 thru 24, at Great Bend Municipal Airport.
Media personnel from several area news outlets, including a reporter from The Great Bend Tribune attended a media flight Monday at noon. Pilots Russ Gilmore and John McGuffin took the group of seven for a ride over the city of Great Bend, circling the vicinity in a tight, 60 degree banking turn. Passengers took turns occupying the front bombardier turret and the rear turret which offered unique views of the city.
Visitors to the Great Bend Airfest can climb into the plane for a first-hand view of what WWII soldiers experienced during bombing runs.
The “Maid in the Shade”, built in 1943, was based in Corsica, Spain, a tiny island in the French Mediterranean. In 1944 it flew 15 missions over Italy, bombing bridges and gunning trains.
Eventually, the B-25 became obsolete, and the “Maid in the Shade” was slated for the scrap heap. Fortunately, it was saved, but it would take 28 years before the plane would be restored and brought back to flying commission. Nose art on the fuselage depicts a woman in shorts and shirt relaxing as if on the beach, the outline of the island of Corsica in the background. On one side, she is brunette, and the other side she’s blonde.
“That’s Celeste,” one of the guys said. “One of our crew in Arizona posed for that, and she’s even better looking than her painting.”
The WWII “Maid in the Shade” is a veteran with 15 combat missions flying out of Corsica during WWII. The plane had a range of 900 miles. It goes over 200 miles per hour, and carries over 150 gallons of fuel. It gets 6 mpg, and has a range of about 900 miles. That’s about $1 a mile by today’s prices, and that’s just for fuel. It holds 32 gallons of oil, and goes through about 1 gallon per hour. The restoration to bring her back to flying condition took 28 years.
In May, 2009, “Maid in the Shade” was ready for her new mission--educating the public. It is now one of several vintage military planes maintained and operated as part of a flying museum and memorial by the all-volunteer non-profit Commemorative Air Force, according to Donna Brown, director of the CAF Arizona Wing Aviation Museum located in Mesa, Arizona at Falcon Field Airport.
“The mission of the Wing is to keep alive the memory of the dedication and sacrifice made by our military aviators who have given so much throughout our history to ensure our freedoms,” she said. “The facility operates both a flying and a static exhibit museum.”
Visitors to the Great Bend Airfest can view the plane up close Friday through Sunday. For an even closer look, a small donation will get you inside the plane where you will have a chance to marvel at the tight quarters and the views out of the front and rear gunners seats. Flights will also be available starting at $395. Reservations can be made by calling 480-322-5503 or visiting the bomber.
The CAF relies on private donations and history flights to fund its work, Gilmore said. It was on display last weekend in Scott City Showdown on the Plains BBQ Challenge and Air Show.
“We averaged about two flights a day,” Gilmore said. For many, it will be a chance to check off another item on their “bucket list”.