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When Berlin Express Came to Rockford

Aircraft enthusiasts found the perfect thing to do in Rockford back in September 2021. Heck, even if they didn’t have an aircraft obsession, they loved the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

From Friday, September 17, through Sunday, September 19, EAA’s WWII-era North American B-25 Mitchell bomber named Berlin Express was hosted by Chronos Aviation and EAA Chapter 22 at the Chicago Rockford International Airport (KRFD.) Not only were families able to get up close and personal with this fully restored airplane, they could take a ride in it too. There were 5,000 people who came out to the event.

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Many volunteer hands helped with the event. Many people in the area had never seen a B-25 bomber in person, so it turned into a great opportunity for families to come out and share some history with their children and grandchildren. Chapter 22 was proud to honor a number of veterans at the event, as well as inspiring a new generation of aviation enthusiasts. It was powerful to see some of the grandpas showing their grandchildren the inside of the airplane, where bombs were kept, where the gunner and the pilot sat, etc. There was an honor guard present, and veteran and advocate Nick Parnello brought his vividly patriotic “Glory Truck,” a vehicle he uses in his mission of honoring veterans and supporting those in need. The Navy Club, Ship No. 1 hosted a steak banquet for air show performers and weekend volunteers.

The B-25 is best known as the type of aircraft that launched from the deck of the USS Hornet to accomplish the historic Doolittle Raid on Japan in 1942.

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“This plane is about 75/76 years old, been totally refurbished. It’s got a little history behind it. It was actually in the movie Catch 22,” said Rockford EAA Chapter 22 president and tour chairman Jeff Bonaguro, EAA 838557. “So we are actually showing off a plane that made history in all theaters of the war. You don’t see many of them around anymore especially the bombers.”

Fast forward to January 14, 2022, and executives from EAA flew down from Oshkosh in a Piper Aztec to say “thank you” for the support during the tour stop. They gratefully presented a framed and crew-autographed photo of Berlin Express to the Rockford Navy Club Ship No. 1 and EAA Chapter 22. Representing EAA was Sean Elliott, vice president of advocacy and safety; Jeff Toline, director of aircraft operations; and Paul Zenner, air tours program coordinator. Commander Robert Lamay represented the Navy Club, Chapter 22 was represented by Chapter President Jeff Bonaguro, and George Fagerstrom and Ken Seay were on hand to represent the local American Legion and VFW posts, respectively.

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