Sitting inside of a B-25J Mitchell medium bomber as its engines roar is a surreal experience. Your body shakes to its core as the smell of fuel and the deafening sound of the propellers surround you.

And then, the B-25J, which flew 15 combat missions during World War II, takes off above Falcon Field. And you’re flying in a piece of history, a piece of history in the puzzle that makes up the darkest time in modern history.

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Photos by Jesse A. Millard

On Wednesday, the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa welcomed back its B-25J, “Maid in the Shade,” and its B-17, “Sentimental Journey,” from the summer long U.S and Canada Flying Legends of Victory Tour.

The museum, which boasts many aircraft from the U.S. and other nations across many eras, invited members of the media to fly in its B-25 bomber after its return home. In Elementary and Middle School I was a World War II buff to say the least, and this opportunity made me as giddy and impressed as I was then about history.

My grandfather was a Navy Veteran during the war, and all of my grandparents had interesting stories to tell about those times. I read, watched and listened to everything I could get my hands on about the War, and the history leading up to and after World War II.

The B-25J, "Maid in the Shade" at Falcon Fields before takeoff. (Photo by Jesse A. Millard)
The B-25J, “Maid in the Shade” at Falcon Fields before takeoff. (Photo by Jesse A. Millard)

This flight was a dream come true. I had seen World War II era planes in years prior, and was very excited to see the planes at the Commemorative Air Force Museum, and of course, to fly in the B-25.

This specific B-25 flew 13 thirteen combat missions over Italy, and another two combat missions over what was Yugoslavia at the time. It was then turned into a “bug sprayer” before eventually sitting around for a number of years and was later donated to the Commemorative Air Force.

The plane is a thing of beauty, but it is no commercial airliner. Inside of the plane, the quarters are cramped. It becomes immediately apparent you’re flying in a restored warplane. What it was meant for is not loss on you once you enter either. There is limited space inside, and machine gun ports are still there with inoperable guns pointing outward.

When the plane took off my stomach didn’t do its normal lurch, as it would normally do during a commercial flight. I had to look outward to realize that, yes, we were flying. I was in awe though, as we flew above Arizona’s deserts.

We were allowed to move between two points in the front of the plane: in the jump seat behind the pilots and through a tunnel leading up to the nose of the plane where the bombardier would have sat.

The ride was bumpy, and exhilarating as we moved through the skies, but our pilots, Dave Baker, who was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam war, and Pete Scholl, who flew in the Air Force for about 13 years, did a heck of a job for flying a plane that was made in 1944.

Inside of the nose of the B-25J as it flew over the Easter part of the Valley. The nose of the plane is where the bombardier would have been during a flight. (Photo by Jesse A. Millard)

Moving to the nose of the plane was an experience I couldn’t believe. I’m 6’4″ and crawling on my back through the tunnel that leads to the nose was frightening as it gave me just a small hint of what it must have been like to fly in one of those planes during a combat mission.

Everything was moving around, the whole plane was shaking and terrifyingly loud. Bravery doesn’t say enough about what it must have took to fly in one of these planes during a combat mission.

And the landing, it was something. The engines went silent for a moment, as the plane started to slow down. My body went tense as I wondered when we would touch the ground. When we did I took a sig of relief, as I felt adrenaline pumping through my body.

I had never experienced a flight like that, and it was nothing short of spectacular.

The Commemorative Air Force museum offers several flights in historical aircraft, and it’s truly amazing to fly in such a historical machine. You get to witness and be inside of an actual piece of history, and that in and of itself is an honor to take part in.

The B-25 is most famous for its part in the Doolittle Raid, which was the U.S. retaliation against Japan after Pearl Harbor. And seeing how we’re approaching the 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor, which plunged the nation into war, flying in a B-25 seems today seems appropriate.

These bombers flew in every theater during World War II, and now only 34 are still flying today.

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Photos by Jesse A. Millard

The museum on the ground also has many different planes, from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. They have a C-47, that has flown many top secret combat missions during World War II, and a MIG aircraft they believe was flown by the North Koreans in 1951.

Arizona is home to many beautiful things, and pieces of history, and without a doubt the Commemorative Air Force Museum is one of those places, with true pieces of history that are flyable and on display.