Flying Over Tuscaloosa in the B-25 ‘Panchito’ Bomber [PHOTOS]
Nearly 75 years after the B-25 Bomber flew bombing missions to Japan, the plane touched down in Tuscaloosa in preparation for its appearance in this weekend's air show.
As a media member, I was given the opportunity to take to the skies in this beautiful aircraft thanks to the DAV Flight Team. This outreach program was developed to help increase awareness for our country's veterans and spread a message of care and compassion. That's something each of the five media members on the flight got a better understanding of before we took off.
Lynn May, the DAV team's event coordinator, spent some time sharing that message with us before they honored local veteran Matt Austin. The team presented the Wisconsin native with the "Strength & Courage...Then & Now" Award on the runway. Austin completed two tours in Iraq and now works in the Office of Veteran Services at The University of Alabama, and it was a privilege to climb aboard the plane alongside him.
After running through a checklist of things we shouldn't touch (anything red!) and being told that the pilot's duty was to save himself in the event of emergency, we climbed up a metal ladder into the heart of the plane and took our seats underneath a turret gun mounted on the roof. That window to the skies would be our primary view until we took off.
Sitting behind the two pilots and Austin in the cockpit, the plane rumbled to life as the pre-flight checks were made. You couldn't help but think back to all of the brave men and women of the Greatest Generation loading up for a flight across the Pacific, uncertain about what awaited them. Talk about a humbling moment in my life.
Once we got airborne and received the hand signal to take off our seat belt and shoulder straps, it was our chance to climb through the small opening under the cockpit that took you into the gunner's seat. This 10-foot long crawlspace would make a claustrophobic person sweat just looking down at it.
I took the plunge first.
As you can see, the crawl was worth the view on the other side. What an amazing way to look down over Tuscaloosa! I enjoyed it so much that I actually climbed back through a second time after everyone else was finished. Sitting behind those gun handles, directly above original ammo boxes from World War II, was something that I'll never forget.
The plane landed surprisingly smoothly, but that 20 minutes seem to escape us in a hurry. I can only imagine that time moved much slower for the crew when this plane flew missions following the attack on Pearl Harbor. 73 years later, I'm just grateful to have seen this piece of American history in person.
If you want to have a look at the plane yourself, it will be on display throughout the weekend at the Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show. And if you'd like to learn more about the DAV Flight Team and their mission, visit their website.
Enjoy this photo gallery from the flight.