WWII bomber stops at Durango airport

Texas group exhibits handiwork across U.S.

Maid in the Shade, a restored B-25, taxis at the Durango-La Plata County Airport. The bomber, built in 1944, was restored and is flown by the Commemorative Air Force Arizona Wing Museum in Mesa. The plane saw action in Europe during World War II. Maid in the Shade is flown around the nation as a moving museum. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Maid in the Shade, a restored B-25, taxis at the Durango-La Plata County Airport. The bomber, built in 1944, was restored and is flown by the Commemorative Air Force Arizona Wing Museum in Mesa. The plane saw action in Europe during World War II. Maid in the Shade is flown around the nation as a moving museum.

When Norman “Spike” McLane stopped Monday in Durango on his way to Greeley, he gave some rides in his vintage airplane – a restored B-25 bomber that saw action in Italy during World War II.

The B-25, named Maid in the Shade, is part of the collection of military aircraft restored to flying condition by the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force in Mesa.

The Commemorative Air Force regularly restores military aircraft and sends them around the country on exhibition. Greeley was the next stop for McLane.

Bob Winski, president of Durango-based Chapter 997 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, said rides in Maid in the Shade cost $325 for any of four rear seats and $650 for one of three front seats, including the position occupied by the nose gunner in combat.

Winski, who owns a home-repair business, is restoring a 1975 Grumman TR-2 civilian trainer that he acquired disassembled on the Front Range.

He hopes to fly his craft to the 2013 Experimental Aircraft Association show in Oshkosh, Wis. Winski said the 100,000 visitors the show attracts annually make Oshkosh the busiest airport in the world for one week.

Durango insurance agent Bill Swartzman, a private pilot, was at the airport early to get a glimpse of the B-25.

“I want to see it come in,” Swartzman said. “I’m enthusiastic.”

The Maid in the Shade rolled off the assembly line at North American Aviation in Kansas City in June 1944 and was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force late that year. Its crew flew 15 combat missions in Italy, mainly bombing railroad bridges.

The plane passed through the hands of many owners after the war, including a company that used it for pesticide spraying. In 1981, it was donated to the Commemorative Air Force.

The B-25 didn’t fly again until 2009 because its restoration had to mesh with work on other vintage military planes. All labor comes from volunteers, as are pilots.

Robert Stenevik, Commemorative Air Force vice president for operations, maintenance and safety, said by telephone that the organization has 55 wings in 27 states and around 8,000 members.

A handful of the 156 aircraft owned by the Commemorative Air Force are in restoration, Stenevik said. The great majority are World War II planes, with a few pre-war and a few post-war aircraft.

“We have the only flying B-29 in the world and one of only two flying B-24s,” Stenevik said. “We have two B-17s.”

The Commemorative Air Force is headquartered in Midland, Texas.

The two-engine B-25 is 53-feet long with a wing span of 67.5 feet. During its military days, the plane, which had a top speed of 275 mph, a range of 1,350 miles and a crew of six, carried 3,000 pounds of bombs and was armed with 11 .50-caliber machine guns.

daler@durangoherald.com

Maid in the Shade crew members of wipe down engines after arriving Monday afternoon at the Durango La Plata County Airport. The plane performed a low-level flight over Durango before departing. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Maid in the Shade crew members of wipe down engines after arriving Monday afternoon at the Durango La Plata County Airport. The plane performed a low-level flight over Durango before departing.

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