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EAA Launches Campaign to Restore B-25

By Hal Bryan

July 25, 2017 - As we welcome the world’s only two flying B-29s, along with scores of their vintage and modern counterparts, it’s obvious why we’ve dubbed 2017 “The Year of the Bomber.” It’s only fitting, then, that we chose this year to officially launch a bomber project of our own: the complete restoration of our North American B-25 Mitchell.

EAA’s B-25 served in multiple theaters during World War II, but is best known for its role in the historic Doolittle Raid, the 75th anniversary of which we’re commemorating at AirVenture on Wednesday, July 26.  EAA’s B-25 was built in late 1943 and served out the war in low-key administrative and training roles. After the war, it passed through a series of owners and was modified for use as an executive transport.

In 1970, the airplane was featured in the film Catch-22. Our B-25 actually played two roles, a VIP transport and a bomber named Berlin Express. After the film in 1971, a warbird collector, Dr. William Sherman Cooper, bought the airplane. When he died a year later, the B-25 was donated to EAA.

EAA staff and volunteers restored the airplane in 1975, and it flew it for several years until it was damaged after a gear failure on landing. At that point, it underwent a cosmetic restoration and spent the next few decades on display in the EAA Aviation Museum. Then, in January 2015, a group of volunteers, led by EAA Chapter 237 from Blaine, Minnesota, began a second restoration, under the direction of EAA’s manager of aircraft maintenance, John Hopkins.

The volunteer crew has been working on the B-25 regularly ever since, stripping paint, repairing or fabricating parts, and replacing all of the airplane’s glass. Before long, people from other chapters began volunteering, traveling from all over the country to spend weekends working on a piece of history. The ultimate goal is to not only get the B-25 flying again, but also to send it on tour, offering flight experiences like we do with our B-17 and Ford Tri-Motor.

While the restoration progress has been impressive, there’s still a long way to go, and the project now actively needs financial support. A fundraising event was held on Tuesday night, featuring presentations by Melinda Liu, whose father was named an honorary Doolittle Raider for his assistance helping the original crews escape after landing in China, and Jeff Thatcher, son of Raider David J. Thatcher.

Ken Strmiska, EAA’s vice president of philanthropy and donor relations, said the goal of this fundraising campaign is to raise $400,000 by December, which would put the project on track to be finished by spring of 2018.

“This project really embodies the spirit of EAA,” Ken said. “We’ve already benefited from people giving thousands of hours of their time toward the restoration, and now they are giving their financial contributions to get Berlin Express back in the air.”

For more information, or if you’d like to contribute to this project, you can see the airplane on Boeing Plaza this week, or learn more online at www.EAA.org/B-25

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