Airplane GEEK

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Flying the B-25

By John Mahany, EAA Lifetime 290768

The Delaware Aviation Museum (DAM) in Georgetown, Delaware, offers second-in-command (SIC) ratings, orientation flights, and a B-25 ground school to offset the cost of maintaining and exhibiting their aircraft, Panchito. When they decided to raffle off three B-25 SIC ratings, I immediately entered the drawing. Unfortunately, like most, I was not a winner. Then, the museum decided to make the SIC type rating training available to anyone who was interested, qualified, and could afford the price.

They sent me an application, which asked for my pilot credentials, flight time, along with shirt and pant sizes, height, and weight, to make me a custom-fit military flight suit! Cool! I completed the application and picked a class date from those scheduled for 2021. They processed my application and sent me my flight along with an official, 182-page spiral-bound B-25 training manual. This would take some time to go through.

flying the b 25 Airplane GEEK Flying the B-25

I started reviewing the material, and let me just say that like similar airplanes of that era, the 1940s, it’s quite different from what we have now. It’s mostly a hydraulically operated airplane, for example. In other words, unlike most modern airplanes, in the B-25 the landing gear, wing flaps, cowl flaps, brakes, bomb bay doors, and carburetor air filter doors are all operated hydraulically.

The B-25 manual had a pre-course study guide that had to be completed and returned before the start of training. So, I started working on that. Then, a wrinkle. It turns out the president was planning on going to his Delaware residence during the weekend I was planning to fly the B-25, and the FAA had implemented a VIP TFR, directly affecting us, so our training was postponed for one week.

Finally, I left on August 18, and made my way to what is now the Delaware Coastal Airport (KGED). I spotted a sign on the side of a hangar, and parked my car. Someone inside heard me and opened the door. I told the gentleman who opened the door, “I’m here for the training class to fly the B-25, Panchito.” He replied, “Oh, it’s in Reading, Pennsylvania.” What?? Now I’m really concerned!

flying the b 25 1 Airplane GEEK Flying the B-25

As he explained, Panchito had been flown to the Reading, Pennsylvania, air show in early June, and suffered an engine failure. It landed safely, but it had taken more than two months to repair it and replace the engine. Quite a process. They hoped/expected that it would be repaired and able to return to Georgetown for the SIC training. Then enter Hurricane Henri, IFR/MVFR weather, and President Biden’s VIP TFR. What a combination.

We finally started class at 0730 on Friday, August 20, as scheduled. There were five of us and four instructors, all of whom volunteer for the museum. They have a wealth of operational experience with the B-25. And they told us right at the start of class what the status of things was. The B-25 is on the ground in Reading, and by that time, repairs completed, everything was done except for a final test flight that had to be completed. But, of course, the weather is IFR, so they are waiting for the weather to improve for the test flight. It finally improved late Friday afternoon. Just enough. Test flight completed, they flew it down to Georgetown. The instructors in class were getting real-time updates on flightaware.com.

flying the b 25 2 Airplane GEEK Flying the B-25

We continued with the ground school, starting with a brief history of the B-25 and Panchito, and then reviewing the systems. They included time for breaks, and we had a working lunch, which they provided. We finally finished by about 18:00. Then, over to the hangar to see the airplane — finally!

Then we went back to the terminal building, got out our laptops, went online, and took the 65-question, multiple-choice written test. We all passed. Then off to dinner!

Saturday morning, because of the lingering effects of Hurricane Henri, the weather was still IFR. So, we took advantage of the downtime, and did a walk-around with the instructors. That was excellent. Then, carefully climbing up through the hatch on the small three-step ladder (it’s small and designed for the 19- and 20-year olds who flew this) into the airplane and maneuvering into the small cockpit, we were able to look around and go through the checklist.

After lunch, the weather finally improved somewhat by about 3 p.m. The ceiling had finally lifted enough and we could fly! We were each going to get 1.5 hours of flight time. We needed ceilings higher than 5,500 feet to do the air work, which is done at 5,000 feet. So, they started moving airplanes around and carefully pulled Panchito out of the hangar. The first two classmates got in and they started up, taxied out, and took off! We watched. I love the sound of those Wright-Cyclone R2600-29A, 14-cylinder radial engines! I’m told that the B-25 is the loudest of the WWII bombers, even louder than the B-17 and B-24.

flying the b 25 3 Airplane GEEK Flying the B-25

About three hours later, they returned and landed. Two successful SIC checkrides completed! A colleague, Kevin, and I would go on Sunday morning. The forecast was for VFR. Sunday morning, the sky was finally clearing up! We arrived by 0800 and started by pulling the propeller blades through. This is HARD work! This is done to prevent ‘hydraulic lock’ with radial engines, where oil drains and collects in the bottom cylinder, and if an engine is started with this condition, then it can seriously damage the engine. So, it takes two of us on each blade, and we push/pull nine blades through.

We did a walk-around, and then the fuel truck arrived. Using a large industrial-type ladder, we climbed up onto the wing and took turns fueling it over the wing. Four tanks, two on each side, front, and rear. A total capacity of 670 gallons — no, we did not top it off. Then we got our flight suits on and climbed in. There were two students, myself and classmate, Kevin, and two instructors, Syd and Sabrina. Syd in the right seat, as co-pilot/instructor/check pilot/flight engineer, and Sabrina in the back of the flight deck on a jump seat, monitoring things. Two rated/qualified pilots are required in the event of an emergency. Kevin was set to fly first, while I sat in the small jump seat behind/between the pilots’ seats. Barely enough legroom. We started up and taxied slowly to the runway.

The B-25 is a challenge to taxi. The nosewheel is free castering, and the brakes are very sensitive and heat up quickly. It’s all about touch and feel with the brakes. It takes a lot of practice. The instructor, Syd, got us started and was very patient.  

flying the b 25 4 Airplane GEEK Flying the B-25

We got to the runway, checklists completed. Kevin started to add power, then the instructor, Syd, took over the power. Kevin then put both hands on the yoke, and Syd pushed the throttles forward, increasing the power to 39.5 inches MP and 2600 RPM. The takeoff profile is quite different. Rotate at 95, then climb quickly to about 40 feet, pitch over, level off, and accelerate to 145 knots while applying forward pressure to maintain level flight, then pitch up and climb out at 145.

Kevin climbed to 5,000 feet for maneuvers like steep turns and stalls, and practice go-arounds, then some single-engine work. The airplane is a handful. There’s no automation (autopilot) for flying or hydraulic assist for the flight controls. But it is very responsive, with twin rudders. Each engine produces 1,500 hp at full power, using 100LL, while originally, using 100/130 avgas, each engine produced 1,700 hp. We were operating at a weight of about 24,000 pounds. Then it was back to the pattern for takeoffs and full-stop landings. Final approach attitude is distinctly nose down, and airspeed is 135 knots, minimum. Only full-stop landings, then taxi back.

We were at Salisbury, Maryland (KSBY), 22 nautical miles southeast of KGED, and Kevin and I changed seats. Watching Kevin, I knew what to expect, but this airplane is a handful. Taxiing required alternating full rudder deflection, and carefully ‘walking’ the throttles, with small power adjustments, only plus/minus 100-200 rpm at a time on each side, as needed, attempting to follow the taxiway centerline. I really did a series of gentle ‘S’ turns. Always anticipating the nose wheel. It’s work!

After taking off, on climb-out we turned east to stay VFR and climbed to 5,000 feet and went through the same sequence of maneuvers that are required for the FAR 61.55(b) SIC type rating.

flying the b 25 5 Airplane GEEK Flying the B-25

In between various maneuvers, Syd would tell me, ‘Ok, now turn ‘left’ or ‘right’ to 090 or 180’ or some other heading to remain VFR or find a hole through or between some build-ups. And because rain showers and lightning were approaching, from the northwest, after some discussion between Syd and Sabrina, we changed our plan and quickly returned to KSBY and landed, before the weather moved in. We then taxied and parked at an FBO, and got out of the airplane, to wait out the weather.

About 20 minutes later, after the weather moved through, we got back in, started up, and took off. Then it was a short 30-minute flight back to Georgetown at 2,000 feet. We entered the pattern for runway 4 and landed. After exiting the runway, I slowly, carefully taxied back most of the way to the ramp, and then the instructor, Syd, took over and parked us, and we shut down. Checkride completed, and satisfactory performance despite it all! We both passed!! Yes! Wahoo! And another type rating for me!

I must tell you that it is both an honor and a privilege to be able to fly an airplane as historically significant as the B-25. I am very grateful for the opportunity presented by the Delaware Aviation Museum to have been able to fly this airplane! And a big thank you to our instructors — Sabrina, Syd, Paul, and Cal, who did an excellent job. It was an excellent course!

EAA offers various flight experiences in our B-25, Berlin Express, as well. For more information, go to FlyTheB25.org.

flying the b 25 6 Airplane GEEK Flying the B-25


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