...Mitchells do fly I.M.C.
August 31, 2012 6:22 PM   Subscribe

B-25 "...Mitchells do fly I.M.C." a Channel 4 UK documentary by Anthony Howarth and Carolyn Hicks detailing the effort of John “Jeff” Hawke to transport five WW II North American B-25 Mitchell bombers from the United States to England for use in the filming of “Hanover Street” in 1978.

John "Jeff" Hawke, a former Flight lieutenant in the RAF and had a long career as pilot for movies, airshows and flying aircraft across the Atlantic, not always legally. In 1991 he disappeared over the Adriatic in a rented Piper Aztec, his body was later recovered by Italian authorities. He has no official biography but you can still hear stories about him from old pilots at airshows and in aviation forums.

The aircraft:

Laden Maiden," Pilot Erik Lorentzen & Co-Pilot Bernhard Haddican.
Serial#:44-30925 A USAF TB-25N navigation trainer retired from service in 1958, sold for scrap and registered for civilian use in 1960. It was remodeled as a B-25J and painted as both the “ABOMBinable Snow Man” and the “Laden Maiden” in 1968 for the film “Catch-22.” After being sold several times it arrived in the UK in 1978 and was repainted as both “Gorgeous George-Ann” and “Thar She Blows” for the filming of “Hanover Street.” Placed in storage at numerous airports arount the UK the aircraft eventually deteriorated. In 2005 the airplane was sold to the Brussels Air Museum and transferred to Belgium where it is presently undergoing restoration.

"Doolittle Raider," Pilot John "Jeff" Hawke & Co-Pilot Bill Parish.
Serial#:44-29121 A USAF TB-25J trainer retired from service in 1958, sold for scrap and registered for civilian use in 1959. Converted to B-25J and painted as a “Doolittle Raider” in 1967 for the Doolittle Raid 25th Anniversary. It appeared in “Hanover Street” as “Brenda’s Boys” and “Miami Clipper.” In 1979 the plane was flown to Spain for the production of “Cuba.” It was damaged during filming and abandoned in Malaga Spain. Acquired by the Museo del Aire in Madrid it was restored for static display and given the livery of the Spanish Air Force and remains on exhibit at the Cuatro Vientos airbase museum in Spain.

"Always Dangerous," Pilot David Tallichet & Co-pilot Lester Addy.
Serial#:44-29366 A USAAF B-25J bomber built in Sept. 1944 by North American Aviation at their Kansas City factory. Throughout its military service it served as a training aircraft and was reequipped as a TB-25N in 1954. It was retired from service in 1958. In 1960 it was sold as surplus for $2000 and converted to a fire bomber by Sonora Flying Service of Columbia, CA. Purchased again in 1968 the firefighting equipment was removed it was refitted as a B-25J and flew as “Hot Pants” in “Catch 22.” It flew as “Marvelous Miriam” during the filming of “Hanover Street.” In 1982 it was acquired by the Royal Air Force Museum and now resides in their Bomber Command Hall in Hendon.

"Tokyo Express," Pilot Vern Ohmert & Co-Pilot Bill Baldwin.
Serial#:44-86701 A USAF TB-25N trainer retired from service in and sold as surplus in 1958. It was used for crop dusting until 1968. The plane was converted to a B-25J and flew as “Annzas” and an “M&M Enterprises” transport in “Catch-22.” Purchased by David Tallichet 1972 it was painted as the “Tokyo Express” for use at air shows. Appearing as “Amazing Andrea” in “Hanover Street” it was abandoned in France after filming completed. In 1979 the Musee de l'Air, in Paris took possession and placed the aircraft in storage. It was destroyed in a hanger fire at the museum in 1990.

"The Sliver Plane," Pilot Mike Write & Co-Pilot Bill Muzala.
Serial#:44-30210 A USAF TB-25N trainer retired from service in 1958, sold for scrap and registered for civilian use in 1960. Used as a fire bomber until it was purchased by David Tallichet in 1975. Converted to a B-25J it flew as “Big Bad Bonnie” in “Hanover Street.” Flown at various airshows for several years by Jeff Hawke it was abandon in France in 1983 after an engine failure. It returned to the US in 1986 and was placed on Display at March Air Force Base until 1990. It is now in storage awaiting restoration in Chino, CA.
posted by the_artificer (16 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome. My great-uncle was a top turret gunner/flight engineer on a Mitchell in the Pacific theatre in WWII. I remember being told 2 stories when I was young, both regarding training exercises (I was 8 or 9 at the time, so Uncle Marvin kept it PG). One was how they would fill the bomb bay with 55 gallon drums, fly out over the ocean, open the bomb bay doors, and let the drums go. The pilot would then put the aircraft in a steep bank, and the object was for him to fill the drums full of holes with the turret cannon before they hit the water.

The other was a story I listened to with wide-eyed amazement at the time, about how his crew trained to launch that big ol' aircraft off the deck of an aircraft carrier. Uncle Marvin wasn't a part of Doolittle's raid, but they were trained to repeat it if necessary.
posted by rhythim at 6:48 PM on August 31, 2012

WWII airplane posts always welcome on the Blue in my book.

Also, what a world of characters when you dig into those pilots....
posted by C.A.S. at 7:46 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I always like reading about WWII aircraft, especially the bombers. The thing that is noted less-frequently is that the bombing runs (especially for Americans in daylight raids) could be bloodbaths. Stephen Ambrose wrote about it in Wild Blue (problems with 'scholarship' not withstanding).

There is a reason that the number of required to go home was dropped from 35 missions to 25...
posted by dfm500 at 8:38 PM on August 31, 2012

There is a reason that the number of required to go home was dropped from 35 missions to 25...

I wonder what the timetable on this is. My grandfather did two tours in a B-24.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:59 PM on August 31, 2012

I think that the change was around 1943-44, but I confess that I don't have the dates offhand. I remember reading about it in the Ambrose book (which was about B-24 crews).
posted by dfm500 at 10:52 PM on August 31, 2012

That was really great. A particular shout out to the music - Carolyn Hicks, well done. Every song was great, but the sequence that starts with cranky banter at 49:57 and then goes into a gorgeous flight descent with Albatross by Fleetwood Mac on the wing (discovered via Shazam) was sublime. Thanks.
posted by Skarbold at 11:20 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

My grandfather worked for North American. It seems like they had their hand in just about every aspect of American war making back then. My dad is really proud of it, and I guess I am too, but it's also kind of chilling.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:20 AM on September 1, 2012

The story of Jeff Hawke's demise is...interesting. His plane crashed in the Adriatic during a pretty obviously clandestine flight (flying from Cannes over Italy and towards the Balkans, rather than towards his stated destination at La Ferté Allais - which is near Paris -), transponder switched off and at very low altitude to evade radar. Apparently landed in Italy before taking off towards Croatia. And this in late 1991, just as the breakup of Yugoslavia was getting really messy. Coupled with his documented earlier gun running activities all of this leads one to think that he may have been carrying something rather illicit. But the Piper Aztec isn't a large plane, it's unsuitable for large-scale gun-smuggling. What small cargo may have been so valuable to go through all that trouble? Shoulder-launched anti-aircraft or anti-tank missiles, perhaps?

The whole thing is fishy enough to wonder whether the accident really was an accident...
posted by Skeptic at 2:49 AM on September 1, 2012

I wonder how many B-25's are still flight worthy. Some WWII era planes are still relatively common, while some are down to very small numbers. It's tragic how many we're just scrapped or abandoned, buy I guess as they were right at the cusp of jet technology at the end of the war, in 1946, a bunch of prop planes didn't seem to have any value. The pinnacle of prop plane ascendancy was amazingly short. We went from biplanes to jets in around 20 years -incredible when you think about it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:11 AM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the US I think there are about 38 B-25s still FAA certified for flight. There's a handful more being restored to flight. They are rare but occasionally you see one for sale. These days a B-25 is expensive to fly(around $800 per hour in fuel) and maintain so most just end up as static displays. Earlier this year 20 B-25s flew into Grimes Field in Ohio for the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.

I've always loved airplanes and the B-25 holds a special place for me. When I was 8 my mother took me to an airshow on my birthday and the first time I ever flew in an airplane was in a B-25. One of these day I would love to go down to Chino, CA for flight training and get a B-25 type rating added to my pilot's license.
posted by the_artificer at 8:56 AM on September 1, 2012

Tallmantz Aviation — founded in 1961 by veteran Hollywood pilots and aerial filmakers Paul Mantz (filmography) and Frank Tallman (filmography) [previously] — flew three modified B-25 cameraships: B-25H N1203, B-25N N1042B, and B-25N N9451Z.
posted by cenoxo at 11:25 AM on September 1, 2012

I used to work with a guy who serviced B-25's during the war. That was a man who knew a lot about mechanical systems. Very interesting to listen to.
posted by MtDewd at 1:05 PM on September 1, 2012

In the US I think there are about 38 B-25s still FAA certified for flight.

A couple of weeks ago during SeaFair, I saw one fly over Capitol Hill here in Seattle.
posted by y2karl at 7:35 PM on September 2, 2012

I think that was Grumpy, The only B-25D still flying.
posted by the_artificer at 7:53 PM on September 2, 2012

The plane I saw was mostly silver.

And, now, after consulting this page, I think it might have been the Sexy Sue -- which is not a B-25 but rather an A-26.

Which is a propeller driven twin engine light bomber of another tail configuration.
posted by y2karl at 9:29 PM on September 2, 2012

And, indeed, it was.
posted by y2karl at 9:32 PM on September 2, 2012

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