Michael Johnson/Livingston County News
A B-25 Mitchell bomber takes its place at Geneseo Airfield on Big Tree Lane, Genseo, as it gets ready for this weekend's airshow.
B-25 flight like ‘stepping back in time’
John Makinson has had many aviation adventures in his decades of flying.
He’s flown bush planes in the Canadian Arctic and the wild’s of Alaska — possibly the only place you can fly a plane with wheels, skis or floats all in one day — where he’s landed and taken off from glaciers and landing strips not much longer than a football field.
But none of those experiences compare to the thrill Makinson, 50, gets from flying a B-25H Mitchell bomber with veterans on board.
“That’s what makes it for me. You see them come alive, especially the pilots. It makes them a kid again,” said Makinson, who piloted a World War II-era B-25H Mitchell bomber to the Geneseo Airfield, 3489 Big Tree Lane, last week ahead of this weekend’s airshow. “And if they were a gunner, or a waist gunner, they sit down and lock in like they’ve stepped back 70 years.”
“There’s a lot of history here,” he said. “You’ve got to give our respects to those who serve. Without them, our world would be very different.”
The B-25, painted to resemble “Barbie III,” was the first plane to arrive for the airshow, “The Greatest Show on Turf,” when it flew in the day before the Fourth of July.
It will be one of four B-25s to be featured at the airshow. “It’s a pretty fun number. I expect we’ll see some good formations,” said Austin Wadsworth, president of the 1941 Historical Aircraft Group and National Warplane Museum, which is presenting the airshow. “There’ll be a lot of noise and a lot of fun.”
The B-25 was made famous after April1942’s daring Doolittle Raid in which Jimmy Doolittle led a group of 16 B-25s in a long-distance attack on Tokyo, the United States’ first retaliatory strike after entering the war. The B-25s were launched from an aircraft carrier, at the time, the heaviest planes to have done so.
Soon, the B-25 was a symbol of American air power.
Today, about 25 B-25s have been preserved in flying condition. But none quite like the plane parked alongside the hanger at the Geneseo airfield, which is the last H-model flying in the world and the only one equipped with a 75mm cannon.
The 75mm gun was derived from a field modification by troops in North Africa who needed something powerful that could stop German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s tanks.
“Bullets from the .50 caliber would just bounce off,” Makinson explained. “Well, enough beers later and someone took a 75mm from an old Sherman tank and mounted it in the nose of the B-25.”
The B-25 flown by Makinson was manufactured in Englewood, Calif., in 1941 — one of 1,000 H models to be built. It served stateside until 1947 when it was declared surplus and bought by Bendix Corp., which used it as a test plane for a decade. The plane passed through several owners and was purchased in the early 1980s by a group that gave it a full restoration, including the cannon.
History Flight Inc., which promotes American aviation and its importance during World War II, purchased the plane in June 2009.
Makinson, chief pilot for History Flight, has been with the organization for five years.
“It’s like stepping back in history. It is a unique experience and a privilege to fly the only B25H,” he said. “With the comes an awesome responsibility and stewardship.”
Makinson said he has been interested in aviation ever since he was a kid. His interested turned to World War II era aircraft after hauling freight in places as varied as Alaska and the Caribbean. Many of the planes he used were old warbirds that saw combat and were still flying.
“They knew how to build stuff back then,” Makinson said. “This is just old-school technology, built with a slide rule and common sense.”
- FLIGHTS AVAILABLE: History Flight will also be bringing an N2S Stearman biplane and an AT-6 Texan trainer to the airshow. Rides will be available in all three planes for a separate charge. The flights, which begin Friday, help raise money to search for America’s missing in action from World War II. Flights can be reserved online at www.historyflight.com.
A quick guide to Geneseo Airshow
- WHAT: Geneseo Airshow, popularly known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
- WHERE: Geneseo Airfield, 3489 Big Tree Lane (off Route 63), Geneseo.
- WHEN: July 12 (aircraft arrival day) and July 13 and 14 (airshow days).
- IF YOU GO: Gates open at 6 a.m. Friday, aircraft arrival day. Admission is $10 for adults, free children younger than 12 years old. On Saturday and Sunday, gates open at 6 a.m., with the actual airshow beginning at 10 a.m. each day and continuing through the afternoon. Discounted tickets for the airshow are available at Wegmans for $17. Tickets at the gate will be $20. Museum and members and children younger than 12 years old are admitted free.
- HIGHLIGHTS: This year’s show will feature four B-25 Mitchell bombers and the Canadian Warplane Heritage’s Avro Lancaster. Fighters tentatively scheduled are a P-51 Mustang and P-40 Warhawk. This will be the first appearance of Charlie Lynch’s Grumman TBM Avenger. Rounding out the flying lineup will be Canadian Harvards, Stearman, Rob Holland’s Ultimate Airshows Aerobatic act, Great War Flying Museum act and the Liberty Jump Team. Manfred Radius will return with his sailplane act, set to music. In addition to the 70 or more aircraft scheduled to appear, there will be World War II re-enactors, aerobatic acts, classic cars, and an abundance of food and beverages.
- OTHER EVENTS: The weekend includes a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. A steak dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday night (cost is $15) will be followed by the museum’s annual USO Show in the hangar from 7 to 11 p.m. The Solomon Douglas Swintet and several dance groups will perform. tickets Are $15.
- INFO: www.1941hag.org