One of the few B-25J aircraft left will be in town for residents to tour and fly in
"Maid in the Shade" will be in Fort Smith this week through July 18 as a part of the Flying Legends Victory Tour.
The B-25J Mitchell was one of the first bombers used by the U.S military. The aircraft got its name after General Billy Mitchell, who is considered the pioneer of strategic bombing.
"Maid in the Shade" flew 15 combat missions. On one of its missions, the aircraft sank eight ships and shot down five planes. The plane served wartime duty with the 319th Bomb Group, 437th Squadron at Serragia Airbase, Corsica.
The aircraft’s low altitude strafe and nimbleness made it suitable for these types of missions. On a mission, the plane typically would have five to six crew members aboard — bombardier, pilot, co-pilot, flight crew chief, and a tail gunner.
"Maid in the Shade" is currently one out of 34 B-25J Mitchells still flying. Jim Dear, flight loadmaster, said B-25J Mitchells that are still around are used for firefighting, spraying bug spray, and as “flying museums."
To honor veterans, the plane has their signatures on the inside. Rosie the Riveters, women who helped manufacture the aircraft, also have their signatures on the inside.
In his time as a volunteer, Dear has seen the exhibit lead to an interest in the avionics field.
“This really works well, educationally, for parents to bring their kids in that they can actually see real-world problems that we have to solve math, engineering, technology, so that's kind of where we're coming from as far as recruitment, and because we see a lot of that where people bring their kids in and then that instills in them an interest in avionics and becoming a pilot,” Dear said.
To check availability, the cost and to reserve a tour of the Maid in the Shade, visit www.azcaf.org/plane/b-25j-mitchell/. The aircraft is on 5300 Airport Blvd. at Tac Air.
Dear explained the donations given to the Commemorative Air Force, the organization that is putting on the Flying Legends Victory Tour, will go toward maintenance of the aircraft.
The Flying Legends Victory Tour has traveled to over 40 towns and cities in both the U.S. and Canada in their 30-plus years.