Within an hour, the Maid is turning around and heading back down the runway for a low-flying flight around Missoula with a cargo full of media members. The plane will be on display through July 31 at the Museum of Mountain Flying as part of the Flying Legends of Victory Tour, and the public will be able to arrange flights Friday through Sunday.
Before becoming a flying museum piece, the Maid in the Shade survived 15 bombing runs through enemy skies over Italy and Yugoslavia during the war. On one of those flights, four planes went out and only this one came back. It took 28 years for the plane to be restored to operational status, although co-pilot David Baker says part of what took so long was political wrangling over who would end up with the plane. In 2009, the Maid in the Shade once again took to the skies in the hands of the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.
The most noticeable thing as the plane prepares for takeoff is the noise, which is equivalent to standing in a barn full of old outboard motors and rattletrap truck engines, all revving to life at once. “They purr like kittens once they get going,” Quy says.
As the Maid taxis out, every pop, bounce and shudder can be felt. Part of that could be the thin aluminum walls, which crew chief Bob Taylor says are around 1/16th of an inch thick. It offered little protection against the clouds of flak fired into the sky by enemy cannons on the ground below. On bombing runs, B-25s would fly at 12,000 to 15,000 feet, often unescorted and protected from enemy fighters only by their own defenses. There were six machine guns along the nose of the plane, two in a glass domed turret above the cockpit, one on each side of plane at the waist and two more extending from its tail.
During the Maid's fighting days it was crewed by six men. There were two pilots in the front, along with a crew chief who operated the turret guns when necessary. In the back of the plane rode the tail gunner and a waste gunner who also served as radio man (they could only get into position once the B-25 was airborne by crawling across the top of the bomb bay). The bombardier doubled as a navigator and rode in the nose turret, a glass-encased dome that is accessed from the cockpit by crawling through a coffin-sized metal tunnel. The turret offers a panoramic vista and comfortable seat, though this was perhaps difficult to enjoy at the temperatures of 50-below that Baker says men sometimes dealt with at bombing altitudes.
For today, however, the Maid flies closer to 1,000 feet, circling tightly over Missoula and passing lower than the peaks of Mounts Sentinel and Jumbo, with the city in sharp detail through the glass of the nose gunners turret. After flying through Hellgate Canyon, the plane circles over the long ridge of Mount Jumbo and heads back toward the airport. One more mission completed.
To book a flight this weekend on the Maid in the Shade, call the ride coordinator at 480-322-5503. Rides are $395/$650. Tours are free, but a $5 donation is suggested.
The Power of Prayer
I flew on this warbird a couple of summers ago. It was an incredible experience!
I have been here for 2 lunches, 2 dinners and for a few drinks with…
Hey kinney...I realize as a MSU Alum it is difficult being able to find your…