On March 11, 1939, the U.S. Army Air Corps requested bids from aviation companies interested in competing for a large contract to design and build a new medium bomber. Lt. General James H. Doolittle's Tokyo Raiders flew sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers from the aircraft carrier "Hornet" to attack the Japanese home islands on April 18, 1942. The U. S. Army Air Forces, U. S. Navy, and five Allied nations operated the Mitchell during World War II. North American Aviation Inc. built 9,817 until production ended in 1945.
Wingspan: 20.3 meters (67 feet 7 inches)
Length: 15.9 meters (52 feet 11 inches)
Height: 4.9 meters (16 feet 4 inches)
Weight: Empty, 8,766 kg (19,480 lb)
Gross, 15,750 kg (35,000 lb)
Engines: (2) Curtiss-Wright R-2600-13, 1,700 horsepower
On March 11, 1939, the U.S. Army Air Corps requested bids from aviation companies interested in competing for a large contract to design and build a new medium bomber. Six months later, the Air Corps selected two bidders. They chose the Glenn L. Martin Company of Baltimore to produce the B-26 Marauder, then one of the most advanced and ambitious airplane designs in the world. To reduce the risk that unforeseen technical problems could delay the Marauder, the Air Corps staff also selected a design that promised robust but not extraordinary performance: the North American B-25.
Early in the project, North American Vice President and chief engineer, John Leland "Lee" Atwood suggested 'Mitchell' as the official name for the B-25. This was a tribute to General William "Billy" Mitchell. The U.S. Army court martialed Mitchell in 1925 for his vehement, public advocacy of air power. The B-25 Mitchell drew heavily on the NA-40, an earlier North American design. The general layout and engine type remained unchanged but designers tweaked the B-25 by lowering the wing and revising the cockpit to side-by-side seating.
The origin of the distinctive twin vertical fin and rudder layout on the B-25 remains obscure but may simply have been a designer's whim. Whatever the original intent, it made the Mitchell rock solid and controllable if an engine quit. This occurred frequently in combat. Depending on weight, the airplane could maintain altitude or even climb on a single engine but asymmetrical drag caused the B-25 to yaw into the dead motor. Two fins and rudders increased the pilot's ability to maintain control. Duplicate fins and rudders also added redundancy to a critical flight control (particularly in multi-engine aircraft) should enemy fire disable or destroy either vertical tail unit.
By 1940, most of American society believed war was inevitable and a feeling of urgency enveloped Air Corps planners. They directed North American to produce the B-25 based solely on calculated performance without first testing a pre-production prototype. This risky step sped delivery of 130 Mitchells to front line squadrons before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Both the B-25 and B-26 initially operated in the Pacific. In May 1943, Air Corps pilots and flight crew based in England flew their first combat missions in B-26 Marauders. Thereafter, this became the mainstay medium bomber in European operations. Deliveries of the B-25 Mitchell remained focused on the Pacific theater but the airplane also flew combat missions over Europe and the Mediterranean.
In the four months after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese scored one resounding victory after another. They appeared unstoppable. Then on April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle led sixteen B-25B Mitchell bombers on the famous raid against Japan and the offensive momentum began to shift in favor of America. The B-25 made this raid possible. It was the only bomber able to takeoff from an aircraft carrier with a useful bombload and fly the required distance.
Men and Mitchells for Doolittle's raid came from the first operational B-25 unit, the 17th Bombardment Group. Crews trained for several months and mechanics modified the B-25s to reduce weight and increase fuel capacity. A Japanese picket ship spotted Vice Admiral William F. Halsey's carrier task force bearing Doolittle's raiders before the ships could close to optimum range to launch the bombers. Doolittle chose to continue the mission and sixteen aircraft launched from the carrier Hornet and bombed Tokyo, Kobe, and Nagoya. Fifteen Mitchells ran out of fuel and crashed; one diverted to a safe landing at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. Eleven crews bailed out and two crash-landed with their bombers. Three men died, seven were injured, and the Japanese captured eight. The attack inflicted minimal damage but it was a stunning psychological blow to the Japanese. At home, America went wild and morale soared for the first time since Pearl Harbor.
Throughout the war, the demands of combat flying proved that the B-25 was easy to fly and maintain. Crews liked it and by war's end, the Mitchell had served in the 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th U.S. Air Forces. The U.S. Navy flew more than 700 B-25s they designated the PBJ. Our wartime allies also flew the Mitchell. The Dutch operated more than 300 and under the great wartime aid program called Lend-Lease, the United States delivered various models of the B-25 to the following nations:
USSR - 870
Brazil - 29
Great Britain - 910
Mexico - 3
After the war, many countries received B-25s through various foreign-aid programs:
Argentina - 3
Brazil - 64+
Chile - 12
China - 100+
Colombia - 3
Cuba - 4
Dominican Republic - 1
Peru - 8
Uruguay - 16+
Venezuela - 14+
The North American plant at Kansas City, Kansas, built the National Air and Space Museum's B-25J-20-NC and delivered it to the United States Army Air Forces on November 14, 1944. The Army Air Forces assigned the Serial Number 44-29887 to this Mitchell. The bomber never saw combat but for the next seven years it flew at these bases and airfields:
November 1944 - To 586th AAF [Army Air Field] Base Unit (Ferrying Squadron, Air Transport Command), Lunken AP, Cincinnati, Ohio. [AP - aerial port for embarking and disembarking military aircraft]
December 1945 - To 1103rd AAF Base Unit (Caribbean Division, Air Transport Command), Morrison AAF, West Palm Beach, Florida.
July 1946 - To 4119th AAF Base Unit (Air Materiel Command, or AMC), Brookley AAF, Alabama.
November 1946 - Third Air Force Air Depot, AMC, Seattle MAP, Washington.
January 1951, the United States Air Force assigned the bomber to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
In July 1953, the shooting war in Korea ended but the Cold War continued. U.S. Air Force staff directed the Hayes Aircraft Company in Birmingham, Alabama, to modify 380 B-25J aircraft, including 44-29887, for "specialized, advanced pilot training." More specific information about the new mission is not known but Hayes made the following modifications to each airplane:
a. Removed all armament and armor plate.
b. Modernized the lighting setup for the instrument panel.
c. Improved the oxygen system, radio, and interphone system.
d. Improved fire detection and fire extinguishing equipment.
e. Replaced original three-piece windshield with one-piece, wrap-around panel of safety glass, installed windshield wiper and deicing system.
f. Installed more soundproofing insulation and added interior trim and upholstery.
g. Enlarged front entrance hatch inside nose wheel well, added escape hatches.
h. On some airplanes, replaced "s-type" exhaust stacks with partial collector ring exhaust on upper 7 cylinders of each engine.
i. Added two passenger seats ahead of the bomb bay and five seats behind.
j. Lengthened the flight deck aft to the bomb bay.
k. Installed emergency mechanical release for main landing gear.
The company worked on these Mitchells from November 1953 to December 1954 and the Air Force redesignated each modified airplane a TB-25N.
After Hayes finished working on 44-22897, the U.S. Air Force reassigned the airplane to Wright-Patterson AFB, then to Eglin AFB, Florida. In November 1957, the government declared the Mitchell obsolete and sold it to Les Bowman Engineering, Long Beach, California, for $2777.
The Long Beach company registered the bomber with the Civil Aviation Authority (now the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA) as N10564. Louis Parsons, owner of Parsons Airpark in Carpinteria, California, bought the airplane in December 1957 and contracted with AiResearch Aviation in Los Angeles to modify the airplane to conduct fire bombing missions. In August 1958, AiResearch installed tanks holding 1209 gallons of the fire-fighting chemical borate and Parsons flew this "borate bomber" for several fire seasons. Parsons painted "E91" on this Mitchell.
In late July 1960 four B-25 bombers crashed while dropping borate on forest fires near Magic Mountain in southern California. Two crewmen died in each crash. This string of tragedies led the United States Forest Service (USFS) to ban the B-25 from fire bombing operations. Companies fighting fires with the B-25 protested and the USFS decided to study the type more closely. They selected N10564 for a series of flight tests conducted at Edwards AFB, California, in February 1962. The results confirmed the initial decision and B-25 fire-fighting operations never resumed.
Parsons sold the B-25 to Hemet Valley Flying Service in Hemet Valley, California, in May 1965. The new owner removed both engines and installed them in a Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat. The Mitchell received new engines and Tallmantz Aviation of Santa Ana, California, bought it in October 1968. This bomber joined thirteen other rundown and nearly forgotten B-25s the Tallmantz company gathered from across the U.S. Tallmantz already owned three bombers that they flew as camera ships. They refurbished a total of eighteen Mitchells to airworthy condition and modified them to a "Hollywood" wartime configuration complete with functioning bomb bay doors, semi-original gun turrets, and squadron markings.
Early in 1969 eighteen B-25s flew to Guaymas, Mexico. This was the first squadron of Mitchell bombers to take to the air since World War II. The mission: to film Paramount Picture's movie adaptation of Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22. Studio effects artists painted the tail code "6Y" in white and a dancing girl on the left nose of the NASM B-25J. She wore a red bikini and blue skirt and her name, Luscious Lulu, appeared in red with white highlights. The camera pans briefly across this Mitchell as the movie opens. Paramount planned to film for six weeks but the production required three months to shoot and the bombers flew a total of about 1,500 hours. They appear on screen for twelve minutes.
Catch-22 opens with a mass takeoff of sixteen B-25s and all the stunt pilots involved considered this scene the most dangerous sequence to film. Four takes were required but no accidents occurred. The only fatality during the entire production happened when a cameraman fell from the tail of a Mitchell at altitude. Paramount released Catch-22 in June 1970 to sour reviews and the movie fared poorly at the box office.
This cinematic dud profoundly influenced the numbers of surviving B-25s. Sixteen of the eighteen bombers used in the film still fly and one of these airplanes remains in covered storage and protected from the elements in the NASM aeronautical collection.
Tallmantz sold most of the B-25 collection and DAVU Aviation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, bought the NASM Mitchell in January 1971. Title to the bomber transferred to Wings of Yesterday but the airplane remained in Santa Fe. Almost eight years later, Dr. John F. Marshall bought it and flew the B-25 to Williston Airport, near Ocala, Florida, in November 1979. Marshall painted "Carol Jean" beneath the left cockpit in honor of his wife.
Marshall continued to fly the bomber and it appeared regularly at airshows across the nation. Like many operators of World War II aircraft, Marshall campaigned the airshow circuit to educate as well as to entertain the public. "It's amazing to me that people don't know their history," he said. "Don't get me wrong. We have a heck of a lot of fun with the plane, but the main purpose of the Carol Jean is to teach people their heritage and instill patriotism."
Three rows of black bomb stencils painted beneath the left side of the cockpit document Carol Jean's career as an airshow queen. The location and date of each show appears inside each bomb symbol. During World War II, many bomber crews used the same symbology to record their combat missions.
In 1985 Marshall read of NASM's interest in acquiring a B-25 and decided that the bomber was ready for permanent retirement. Two days before he delivered the Mitchell to the Museum, Marshall determined to end his chapter in the history of this airplane with a sensational finale. In the afternoon of Saturday, November 16, 1985, with several friends as crew, Marshall buzzed low over the University of Florida football stadium during a home game against Kentucky. Seventy-two thousand fans witnessed "Carol Jean" pass the length of the field just above the light poles.
Al Alsobrook, vice president for university relations, compared Marshall's pass in the B-25 to a similar buzz job carried out years earlier by a military jet pilot. "All I remember [about the jet]," he said," is that I was scared quicker and it was over quicker." The flight stirred complaints to the Federal Aviation Administration. "My phone rang for 2 ½ hours," said Fred Williams, an FAA airworthiness inspector. "There were many, many people who were irate."
Marshall said there was "no malicious intent. . . It was a perfect day. We made several passes [away from the stadium] and the airplane felt good. We felt good, and it all fell together. . . It was a last hurrah - the airplane is going to the Smithsonian. She had a home in Florida, and we wanted to say goodbye."
On Monday, November 18, 1985, Marshall landed at Dulles Airport and taxied "Carol Jean" into Smithsonian custody.
Wingspan: 20.3 m (67 ft 7 in)
Length: 15.9 m (52 ft 11 in)
Height: 4.9 m (16 ft 4 in)
Weight: Empty, 8,766 kg (19,480 lb)
Gross, 15,750 kg (35,000 lb)
Engines: (2) Curtiss-Wright R-2600-13, 1,700 hp each
Reference and Further Reading:
Avery, Norm L. "B-25 Mitchell, The Magnificent Medium." St. Paul, Minn.: Phalanx Publishing, 1992.
Hickey, Lawrence J. "Warpath Across the Pacific: The Illustrated History of the 345th Bombardment Group During World War II." Boulder, Colo.: International Research and Publishing Corp., 1986.
Thompson, Scott A. "B-25 Mitchell in Civil Service." Elk Grove, Calif.: Aero Vintage Books, 1997.
"Catch-22." Paramount Pictures, 121 minutes, Mike Nichols, Director, screenplay by Buck Henry. Produced by John Calley and Martin Ransohoff, starring Alan Arkin, Art Garfunkel, Martin Balsam, and Martin Sheen. Videotape.