ALPENA - With a roar of its twin engines, a blast of smoke from its landing gear and the glint of the sun on its metal surface, a piece of World War II history touched down Sunday at the Alpena County Regional Airport.
Three weeks before its appearance in Wings over Alpena, a B-25 Mitchell Bomber landed at the airport. It currently is owned by a flying enthusiast, and saw action in World War II. These planes were made in greater numbers than any other American twin-engine combat aircraft, and played a central role in the April 18, 1942, air raid on Tokyo.
Now, the medium bomber serves a different purpose, owner Larry Kelley said. The Alabama native bought the plane from a museum owner looking to sell, and flies it as part of an outreach program for Disabled American Veterans. The nonprofit charity uses the plane, along with a trailer as information booth, to educate the public of its mission helping disabled veterans and their families have a better life.
It's this reason Kelley's team picked Wings Over Alpena, he said. Alpena is the farthest north in Michigan the team has come, and their goal is to reach new audiences in new areas.
"It does you no good to tell the same message to the same people over and over and over again," he said.
So he and the organization contacted Wings Over Alpena organizers and asked to be a part of the show, Kelley said. Like 99 percent of the show organizers he asks, their answer was yes.
Thanks to some generous corporate donors to DAV, having the B-25 in Wings Over Alpena will only cost the air show the cost of the plane's fuel, Phil Agius, air show finance director, said. This is unlike other plane crews, who typically charge a performance fee.
The B-25, making its first appearance in Wings over Alpena, is one of several combat planes lined up for the show, including a few military jets, Agius said. There also will be a few surprises in the sky.
After taxiing to an apron along the runway, the B-25 crew let a small crowd of onlookers get closer to the silver bird. Suspended in its belly are five dummy bombs, some covered with the signatures of World War II veterans who flew or served on B-25s during the war, Kelley said. After hearing their story, he gives them a chance to sign.
Paul Nuwer is one of the pilots on the crew, and talked about what it's like to fly the 70-year-old craft.
"It handles nice, but it does show its roots," he said. "It's a slide rule-designed airplane. There's not a lot of control harmony."
At the same time, the plane lacks most of the quirks that others have, Nuwer said.
Andy White, Wings Over Alpena chairman, said he's glad to have the plane as part of the show.
"It's an awesome opportunity to have this at the show," he said. "It's a great piece of history, being a light bomber."
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5688.