CODY, Wyo. — A vintage B-25 named “Grumpy” lumbered though the northwest Wyoming skies on Monday, drawing a large crowd to the tarmac where the old bomber sat on display between flights.
A relic of World War II, the plane was a hit with visitors, who climbed a short ladder into the bomber’s fuselage and snapped photos while posing beside its massive three-bladed propellers.
Pilot John Sessions, an aviator since the 1980s, talked briefly of the plane’s aerial temperament, calling it both fast and graceful for an aircraft its age.
“It’s much more nimble than the heavy bombers, the B-17 and B-24, but with no assist,” Sessions said. “If you need rudder, you better put a strong leg into it. If you need aileron or elevator, you better have some upper body.”
Session said the plane rose to fame during the Doolittle Raid in April 1942. The raid was the first air assault attempted by the U.S. on the Japanese home islands. All the aircraft involved in the raid were lost, but the mission itself boosted U.S. morale.
The bomber went on to become the most versatile aircraft in the war. It saw action in every theater of combat, both in the Pacific and Europe. As the war progressed and heavier bombers came into style, the B-25 was used primarily to support troops on the ground.
“It’s a great airplane to fly,” Sessions said. “The hardest part is learning to taxi. It’s a little odd. The nose wheel is free castering, so the only way to turn it is through differential breaking on the mains, or differential power on the props.”
Out on the tarmac, the old bomber attracted a large and steady crowd. Visitors took turns climbing into the belly of the plane to explore the tight confines of the gunner’s nose and the cockpit.
World War II veterans, who indulged in what once was a familiar sight during the war, will receive honorary rides on the old bomber throughout the week.
An image of Grumpy from “Sleeping Beauty” fame was painted on the fuselage. The engines dripped oil, but it didn’t trouble Sessions.
“Radial engines that don’t drip oil are probably without oil, and that’s a dangerous thing,” he said. “They’re made to weep. Our consumption rate is 1 gallon of oil per hour out of each engine. If the oil use goes above that appreciably, it’s a warning that something may be wrong with the engines.”
The plane also uses 140 gallons of fuel per hour. But it’s replacing parts on the vintage aircraft that’s the biggest challenge of all.
“Some people are still making consumables — brakes, rings for the pistons, stuff like that,” he said. “Every now and then you run into something nobody makes and nobody has any extra of.”
The flight crew relies on the Internet to track down parts for repair.
“If you absolutely can’t find something you need, you can rebuild the old one in a good machine shop, or rebuild a new one to the specs of the original,” he said.