WALLA WALLA -- When a pair of World War II veterans got together Monday, their meeting really took off.
One was Eugene Fletcher, a Walla Walla resident who flew 33 combat missions in a B-17 bomber. The second was the "Maid in the Shade," a restored B-25 warbird which will be on display through Sunday.
When Fletcher arrived at the airport to see the bomber when it landed that afternoon, it didn't take long for the flight crew to invite him to climb aboard as part of the media flight. The 89-year old gladly accepted the offer and was soon winging into the blue with a big smile on his face.
"It's a beautiful plane," Fletcher said before climbing aboard. "It just looks like speed from the word go."
Fletcher's flight was one of the first "Maid in the Shade" will be making this week as it visits Walla Walla to allow aviation enthusiasts and history buffs to get a close-up look at one of the types of aircraft that fought from the war's start until its finish.
Built in 1943 in Kansas City, Kan., the Mitchell B-25 was flown to Serraggia on the island of Corsica where it flew 18 combat missions to Italy and Yugoslavia. After the war's end, the airplane flew coastal watch patrols, was used as a crop duster and finally sold as surplus for $1,800, said pilot Spike McLane. At that point it was about one step away from being chopped into scrap metal when it was donated to the Commemorative Air Force Arizona Wing Aviation Museum.
Restoring the airplane to flying condition took 28 years of labor, much of it by volunteer workers and World War II veterans, McLane said. The work was completed in 2009 and the bomber has been flying since then as one of the CAF's fleet, which is based at Falcon Field in Mesa, Ariz.
"It's an actual veteran that got shot up," said Gene Adkins, the flight crew's loadmaster. "We've had to patch up holes in it."
Powered by two Wright Cyclone 1,700-horsepower engines, "Maid in the Shade" cruises at about 200 mph, burning about 150 gallons of aviation gasoline an hour. Along with a load of bombs, the aircraft carried 12 .50-caliber machine guns, five of which faced forward and were controlled by the pilot to strafe ground targets.
"This kind of served like an A-10 Warthog in its day," McLane said.
Andy Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8318.
The B-25 bomber, "Maid in the Shade" will be on display from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Sunday. The entrance is on Fairchild Avenue at Walla Walla Regional Airport.
Entrance is free, but tours of the aircraft at $5 for adults and $3 for children age 5 through 12 years of age. Children under age 5 are free.
Flights on the aircraft are available for $395 per person and reservations can be made by calling (480) 322-5503.