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Famed WWII bomber joins modern attack plane for Olympic Air Show

Military air power – past and present – will be in the skies and on display during the 13th annual Olympic Air Show. Hosted by the Olympic Flight Museum, the show soars over Olympia Regional Airport Saturday and Sunday.

The B-25J Mitchell Maid In The Shade will visit the area for the first time. The medium bomber is part of the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. Headlining the aerobatic portion of the show will be the U.S. Air Force A-10 West Demonstration Team showing off the ground support capabilities of this slow-flying but potent aircraft.

“We do an excellent job of balancing heritage aircraft with the latest military aircraft,” said Teri Thorning, executive director of the Olympic Flight Museum and show coordinator. “It’s a good way to see the advances in aircraft technology when you look at the cockpit, the shapes and the engines. That’s also appealing to families who visit the show for Father’s Day because both grandpa and grandkids have something to share.”

Of the Arizona Wing’s planes, Maid in the Shade is the only one with a combat record. In late 1944 during World War II, the B-25 flew from the Serraggia Airbase on Corsica. It flew 15 missions over Italy with the 57th Bomb Wing, 391st Bomb Group, 437th Squadron. After the war, the plane was used as an agricultural sprayer before being acquired by a series of private collectors.

The bomber, one of almost 10,000 B-52s built, was donated to the Commemorative Air Force in 1981. It took 28 years of work, often interrupted by work on other planes, before Maid in the Shade was ready for show performances two years ago.

“When we got the plane, you wouldn’t not have recognized it,” said Spike McClane, one of the plane’s pilots. “Now, it’s a new plane to the air show circuit.

McClane and a crew flew the plane to Dayton, Ohio, last year for a reunion of crew members who took part in Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo and other Japanese cities in April 1942 during World War II. There were 17 other B-25s at the reunion, he said.

The B-25 will not take part in the flying portion of the show, but the public can tour the plane on the ground for an additional $5. Show attendees can purchase rides on the B-25 for $395.

A B-17, Sentimental Journey, was scheduled to appear at the show but troubles with one engine make that unlikely. The plane was returning to its Mesa, Ariz., base for repairs.

“We always err on the side of safety,” said Allen Arnold, a CAF representative in Olympia for the show.

The decision was made in light of the Monday crash of the B-17 Liberty Belle in Illinois. That plane had made an appearance in Seattle in April. The mid-section of the plane was destroyed by fire.

“It’s always sad to lose one of these planes,” McClane said.

More than 12,700 B-17s were built. Sentimental Journey is one of about 50 B-17s still in existence.

The appearance by the Air Force’s A-10 team “will be the latest and greatest military jet component of the show,” Thorning said.

This will be the fourth consecutive year the Olympia show has hosted a demonstration team. Each year, Olympia organizers compete with more than 350 other air shows to land a team. Thorning said she sought out the A-10 group because it has been almost 15 years since an A-10 has been to Olympia as part of a show.

“I felt it was time to take a closer look at that aircraft and feature it alongside the heritage aircraft we host,” she said.

The A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II is a sturdy attack plane designed to support ground troops. Its top speed of 420 mph is comparable to the WWII-era P-51 Mustang that also will perform during the show. “That’s the only low-level P-51 aerobatic demonstration in the region,” Thorning said.

The team will send two planes. One will be used to demonstrate the maneuvers the plane would use in a combat scenario. The other one will serve as backup but also be used as a ground display to allow visitors to take pictures and meet the crew.

Other featured performers include:

 • Granley Family Airshows has performances by Bud and Ross Granley of Bellevue flying a Russian-made Yak 55 and Yak 18. Both men are past pilots with the Canadian Air Force and United Airlines.

 • Will Allen, called the “Flying Tenor,” will sing the national anthem while performing acrobatics in his Decathlon plane.

 • The show will include flying demonstrations by the museum’s helicopters, AH-1S Cobra, OH-6A Cayuse and UH-1H Huey. Also on hand will be a UH-1N from Fairchild Air Force Base outside of Spokane and a UH-60 Blackhawk from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“There are about 50 aircraft taking part, including museum aircraft,” Thorning said.

The show also features WWII, Korea and Vietnam re-enactors and encampments. And this year’s event also offers a larger food court next to the museum hangar with additional seating.

AN HONOR TO FLY IN MAID IN THE SHADE

There are no creature comforts aboard World War II-era Maid in the Shade, just a deep sense of history.

The plane, a B-25J Mitchell bomber, is a featured aircraft at this year’s Olympic Air Show.

Growing up, I was fascinated by World War II. So I leaped at the chance this week to take a ride aboard a piece of flying history.

As I climbed into the forward section, it was obvious there were no frills. I hopped into a fold-down seat, buckled in and watched as pilot Spike McClane and crew ran through the preflight checklist. Above me was the Plexiglas of the top gun turret.

McClane fired up the two engines, a low whine followed by a few stutters and then a plane-shaking rumbling. Occasional pops from the exhaust sounded like fireworks on the Fourth of July. The smell of burnt fuel quickly filled the plane.

I was glad to have accepted the offered earplugs.

I was surprised at how short a takeoff run we needed. I should not have been. This was the same type of bomber that flew off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo during World War II.

The plane swayed to and fro as we bucked wind currents while gaining altitude.

When I had the chance to stand up and look out a side cockpit window, Olympia and Puget Sound spread out beneath us.

But this was less about sightseeing and all about the plane.

When I looked around, it was clear not everything was original as volunteers spent 28 years rebuilding it to its 1944 appearance. A GPS unit and an emergency locator transmitter were modern-day additions.

I touched the metal skin, thinking about just how little there was between the morning sky and me. I looked at dozens of rivets, realizing they (and much of the plane) were 15 years older than I am.

As we circled over Capitol Campus, I tried to imagine what the plane’s crews experienced during 15 combat missions over Italy. But our flight lasted only minutes, not hours, and no one was shooting at us.

On the ground, I asked McClane what it was like to fly this piece of history.

“It gives tribute to World War II veterans and keeps alive the cost those veterans incurred while fighting for our freedom,” he said. “It’s a real honor to fly this plane.”

For a short time, I had the chance to share that feeling, that history.

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