Devil Dog sits alone on the runway, waiting for clearance to take off. From the outside, the airplane is a blue-and-gold terror, the nose bristling with machine guns, the twin 1,700 horsepower, air-cooled engines rumbling as it waits to go.
Inside the aged B-25, prop wash blows through the cockpit’s open windows. It is loud, and everything within the hot, cramped fuselage seems to be vibrating. Even the instrument panel.
Finally, amid the racket, pilot Mark Frederick raises his right arm and gives a thumbs-up. He pushes the throttles. The engine noise goes to earsplitting. And Devil Dog gallops down the runway at 100 mph, pressing occupants into their seats as it gently lifts off the ground.
On Friday, the venerable World War II bomber is scheduled to join an air armada flying over Washington to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe, and to honor the conflict’s veterans.
Fifty-six World War II bombers, fighters, dive bombers and trainers are set to roar over the Lincoln Memorial, the National World War II Memorial and the Capitol, starting at 12:10 p.m., according to organizers.
The planes — P-51, P-40 and P-38 fighters, as well as B-17, B-25, and B-29 bombers, among others — will fly in 15 separate formations at 90-second intervals.
The Arsenal of Democracy Flyover, which is dependent on good weather, will start at the American Legion Memorial Bridge, which connects Fairfax and Montgomery counties, and proceed down the Potomac River to Washington.
A wreath-laying ceremony is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the World War II Memorial and will culminate with the flyover. Hundreds of veterans are expected. Former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright and national security adviser Susan E. Rice will speak.
On Wednesday, many of the airplanes were preparing for the flyover at airports in Culpeper and Manassas, Va.
At the Culpeper Regional Airport, as other planes clattered down the runway, took off and circled overhead, the crew of the Texas-based Devil Dog gathered around the aircraft and spoke about the legendary B-25.
“There’s nothing like it, nothing like the sound,” Beth Jenkins, one of the plane’s pilots, said as she stood beside the bomber in a tan jumpsuit. “It’s a very distinctive sound . . . a sound all its own.”
Frederick, another pilot, said: “It’s a wonderful airplane. It’s easy to fly. I keep thinking about the guys that used to fly those things. I’ve had them come up and tell me some of their stories. Makes the hair on your neck stand up sometimes.”
Devil Dog, which was built in 1944 or 1945 by North American Aviation, has two big 14-cylinder radial engines.
But the fuselage is made of thin aluminum. The “control surfaces,” which help steer the plane, are fabric. And the controls operate via an intricate series of metal cables, pulleys, and hydraulics.
It takes two people to fly it.
“Our mission — we’re all volunteers — is to keep this history,” Jenkins said. “The freedoms we have today [come] from a lot of these airplanes and a lot of these men who flew them.”
The B-25, a medium-range bomber, is most famous for its role in the daring Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942. In that attack, 16 of them took off in foul weather from the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier to make the first American bombing run over Japan during the war.
The raiders, who left from the USS Hornet, were led by Army Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle.
Takeoff, in the middle of the stormy Pacific Ocean, was harrowing.
“When I released the brakes we quivered forward, the wind grabbing at the wings,” one of the pilots, Capt. Ted W. Lawson, wrote in his classic 1943 account, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”
“The Hornet’s deck bucked wildly. A sheet of spray rushed back at us. I never felt the takeoff. One moment, the end of the . . . flight deck was rushing at us alarmingly fast. The next split-second I glanced down . . . and it was water.”
On Wednesday, Frederick and Jenkins briefed a small group of visitors who were taking a flight on Devil Dog on a warm spring morning in rural Virginia.
“This airplane was not built for comfort,” Frederick said. “It’s a weapon, so there are sharp corners inside.” The machine guns, though, were inoperable.
He explained how to escape, should the plane have to make an emergency landing with its wheels down or with its wheels up.
Should the plane crash-land at the airport, he cautioned passengers about the fire trucks.
“Watch those guys,” he said. “They’re looking at the airplane on fire. They are not looking for you, and they will run smooth over you to get to the fire.”
Somebody handed out orange earplugs.
Air sickness bags were available inside. “If you’re not able to get to one of those, open your shirt and do it down your shirt,” Jenkins said. “Make sure your shirt’s tucked in.”
“Otherwise, it just makes a big mess,” Frederick said.
The plane would take off and head northwest, he said: “We have to stay away from D.C. I don’t want to get intercepted.”
Crew and passengers climbed aboard through two hatches in the plane’s belly.
In the cockpit, Frederick took the left-hand seat. Jenkins flew on the right. A small American flag was stuck in a bulkhead behind her.
“All right, get ready to fire,” Frederick said.
The No. 2 engine, on the right, coughed, sputtered and settled into a steady rhythm. Then came the sound of the left-hand engine.
Frederick taxied to the end of the runway, ran up the engines and then throttled back to wait for clearance to take off. The propellers were a blur. A faint odor of combustion drifted inside.
Takeoff was barely felt. But the conditions were far different from those Lawson experienced lifting off from the Hornet. As the bomber got airborne, the Virginia farm country spread out below and the Blue Ridge Mountains sat in a slight haze.
A computer registered an altitude of 2,270 feet and a ground speed of 210 mph.
Devil Dog flew as smoothly as an airliner, and the view out the tail-gunner’s window was one of green countryside sliding away.
The flight lasted about 20 minutes. The airplane landed with a screech of its tires. And as people got out, crew chief Bobby Ripps pointed out some scribbling on the inside of the bomb bay doors.
They were signatures of men who had flown in the B-25 during the war. They probably came from reunions down through the years where the Devil Dog had appeared, Ripps said.
Some of the signatures were in the shaky script of old men.
“Lt. Rodney Higgins,” read one. “Iwo Jima, Okinawa 1944-1945.”
“Joe Gimbor,” read another. “Radio Radar Gunner, Jim Thorpe, Pa.”
“Sgt. Jack Kirkpatrick, radar radio 26 missions . . . Staff Sgt. Harvey Deardorff, Clark, N.J radio radar 26 missions . . . T/Sgt. Harry Lee, Washington Pa., bombardier/navigator 11/’43- 9/’45.”
A crew member noted that they were unlikely to get any new signatures.
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