“Timing is everything” George Hulett said. George is the pilot of the North American B-25J, “Heavenly Body.” My dad and I met him at Half Moon Bay airport the day before the 2008 Pacific Coast Dream Machines. We were helping set things up for the next day’s show, and I was also hoping to interview the pilot. It turned out George and I have a lot in common! Cool! We both fell in love with flying at about 9 years old, our favorite movie is “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo”, and we really love WWII airplanes! We had a great time chatting and I wanted to keep it up, but there were things we all had to do. My dad and I had to eat lunch and continue to help with the show set up, and George had a bomber to look after.
The B-25 gained its fame for the Doolittle Raid on April 18th, 1942 when 16 of them took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) to bomb Japan four months after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Heavenly Body” took off from the carrier USS Ranger to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid in 1992.
(Before my photo flight)
At 2:30, all the fighter pilots getting ready for the photo flight assembled by the B-25. They were deciding which plane would be where and which press photographer would go up in which plane. I couldn’t believe it when George Hulett, the pilot of the B-25, said I could go. He said, “Timing is everything. Sometimes you face bad timing and sometimes there is good timing. Today Evan, you have good timing.” I was sure glad John Maybury let me be his aviation reporter for the Pacifica Riptide!
Before I knew it, I was up in the back of the plane and my dad was handing me the camera and saying, “There are 480 shots in the memory card. Take plenty and have fun!” He wanted to go too, but there was only space for one, and I’m the aviation reporter, not him.
Two really nice photographers, David Peters and Eric Presten, helped me get strapped in and ready for takeoff. They wanted to use the side gun windows to take shots. So I got to be in the tail gunner position. But then we sat for so many minutes, getting more bored all the time, when finally the sound of one Wright "Cyclone" radial engine rumbled to life. The second one fired up and we were moving. We taxied over to the runway and prepared to take off. The pilot revved up the engines and checked the mags. Butterflies filled my stomach as the roar of almost 4,000 horsepower shook the plane. “What if we crash? WHAT IF WE CRASH!!?” a voice demanded inside my head. But since I’m a better be safe than sorry kind of guy, I thought I better keep it safe. But then I realized that this was probably my only chance to fly in one of my dream airplanes. And then the pilot nudged the throttles forward and we roared down the runway – with me facing backwards in the tail gunners position! We leapt into the air and before I knew it, we were speeding along at almost 250mph and climbing.
As we were flying along, all my friends in their Russian Yaks came in behind us. I grabbed the twin .50 caliber machine guns to pretend I was in combat, but I didn’t know how to activate them. So I grabbed my camera and took over 40 amazing shots. After they peeled off, a P-51 Mustang and a Hawker Sea Fury swooped in on our tail. Snap, snap and another 40 shots. I waved at the pilots but no one waves back. Couldn’t they see me? I saw another P-51 and a P-40 Warhawk but they stayed away. Maybe my twin .50’s scared them off!
Time flies (just like us!) as we zoom over the coastside and I daydream of flying a combat mission with the smell of cordite and fear in the air. Suddenly the bomber jerks and we’re swooping down very low. “Oh-No, not a landing!” But then we zoom up and the airport whizzes into view, but in a flash it’s gone again. It was a low level flyby. “Whew!” I sigh. But another low pass marks the end of my flight in the B-25J “Heavenly Body”.
It was a flight I’ll never forget.
Aerial photos and story by Evan Isenstein-Brand. Ground photos and editorial help by Tim Brand
April 26th, 2008