Thursday, August 7, 2014

The B25 Mitchell Bomber in Victoria, BC

Record-breaking temperatures made standing around on heat-attracting runway tarmac unbearable. But that didn’t stop me from going back for more – three times, in fact. Although I didn’t get what I truly hoped for, it was all still worth it.

The B25J Mitchell bomber, named ‘Maid in the Shade,’ touched down at Victoria International Airport, Victoria Flying Club, at 10am on a Monday morning. Although I am just an amateur aviation buff, I was itching to go see it. It was a rarity for this piece of history to grace our West Coast Island and it instantly became a local media sensation. Local TV, newspapers and radio stations were buzzing – Facebook and Twitter, if you had ‘friended/followed’ the Victoria Flying Club, were both on fire with pictures and stories from those who visited it. I knew it would be here until the following Monday, so I at least had until the weekend to go see it. I couldn’t wait!

A twin-engine bomber for the Allied Air Forces in World War II, the most heavily armed airplane in the world was used for bombing, photo reconnaissance, submarine patrol, and even as a fighter – as you can see from the patched-up bullet holes from so many years ago (yes, the circular patches under the girl's 'behind'). (For more details visit the website of the Commemorative Air Force)

A 40-minute flight sitting in the waist or middle of the plane cost approximately $400, whereas a spot in the cockpit cost approximately $600. A mom like me with three men to feed and laundry soap to constantly buy doesn’t have spare change like that for airplane rides – no matter how ‘once in a lifetime’ event it would be. I would have to settle for an inside tour for $5.

So the following Thursday my husband and one of my sons and I headed out to the airport. Although they thought seeing an old plane would be neat, I was clearly the more excited of us three. Once there, I hustled through the parking lot and bounded through the terminal out to the tarmac. And there she was – all 9,210 kilograms of her - sparkling in the hot summer sun. I elbowed my way through the crowd of other eager admirers. I guess I shouldn’t have been so pushy – many were war veterans there to admire and reminisce. Don’t worry – no one got hurt in my selfish quest.

We took turns climbing the ladders each to the cockpit and to the waist area of the plane. In the cockpit I took a few ‘selfies,’ such a contrast of times and generations to be using a ‘phone’ as a ‘camera’ to take a photo to post to the ‘internet’ while surrounded by equipment and fuselage dating back to the 40’s.

I held a 50 caliber waist gun, and I itched to crawl through the fuselage to the bombardier’s compartment in the ‘nose’ of the plane. I touched the shell of a bomb in the bomb bay of the craft. During recent years past crew had also visited the plane, their signatures of name, rank and years served in the plane graced the inside doors of the bay.
I snapped a few more photos with my two men, talked with some of the flight crew, and then it was time to head home and sit under a sprinkler.

As we drove away my heart was still with the plane – I wanted to see it fly, and better yet, I wanted a ride.

I knew there was a flight scheduled for the next morning, so the next day I went back. Through the parking lot I again hustled, through the Victoria Flying Club’s terminal I again bounded, and through the crowd outside I once again elbowed. I was able to get MORE photos, this time with less people around, and then….they hooked up the plane to a towing vehicle.

One of the crew from the day before recognized me. “You’re here again?”

I blushed, the kind of girly blush I save for getting what I want, and replied that I was hoping to see it take-off. At this point I had also secretly conjured up a fantasy of a spot coming ‘available’ on one of their flights and that I could just ‘jump on,’ free-of-charge. But I didn’t tell him that.

To my dismay the nice flight crewman said it wasn’t going up but was just being towed to the fuelling station. In my excitement the day before, I must have misheard flight schedules.

My shoulders slumped and my heart sank. As I trudged away dragging my purse on the runway tarmac behind me, the nice flight crewman said it would be heading up at 11am the NEXT morning. I would later find out that my friend had been fortunate to be able to get a ride on that flight, so I figure I’d come watch it take off AND take photos of him and the plane.

So again, for the third time that weekend, I zipped down the Pat Bay Highway, zig-zaging my way through traffic. Through the parking lot I hustled, through the terminal I bounded, and through the crowd I elbowed. This time I REALLY, REALLY badly hoped I could just, you know, ‘hop on.’ There HAD to be a spot available for a girl like me with only two bucks and a coupon for a free coffee from Tim Horton’s in her purse (I was willing to give-up my department store reward points for a flight, even if I sat in the bomb bay).

I waved goodbye to my friend as he climbed aboard, took more photos, and even filmed a VERY up-close-and-personal start-up and taxi out of the plane (see below for video). After the plane lifted off, a fantastic and very exciting sight I had to restrain myself from jumping and cheering for, the SAME crewman from the previous two days saw me. He commented, AGAIN, about it being my third time out there (I started to worry he might call Transport Canada about my stalking tendencies). I turned on the blush, batted my eyelashes, and sidled up to him explaining I was back because I really wanted to see it fly.

Then with a deep breath, I asked the unthinkable.

“So, I hear the plane is heading to Boundary Bay Airport tomorrow.” He nodded in confirmation, looking at me quizzically. (Boundary Bay Airport is in Ladner, BC, barely a stone’s throw of a flight from here to there. Getting back home would be only a ferry ride away). I went on. “So, uh, I was wondering – could I hitch a ride over with you guys?”

Bold of me, yes, but it was worth a shot.

He paused as if entertaining my request and my hope soared. But then he explained, with many big aviator-like words I can’t remember, that as much as he wished he could grant me my request, that it just wasn’t possible. Rules are rules, laws were laws, and it just wasn’t that simple as for the folks going up in their paid flights (it was all something to do with Air Force regulations, Transport Canada rules…yadda, yadda, yadda). He apologized again and we chatted some more. Then, with my purse dragging yet again on the tarmac behind me, I went home. For good.

Even though I never got a ride, every day was a different experience – one that many of the folks who DID go for a ride would never have. I am thrilled and honoured to have seen such a piece of history, yet sad that my charm is obviously losing its touch.

As for now, I’m saving up my pennies for the next time it’s here and I'll also work on my charm – ‘a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do’ and all that….

To watch my video of the B25 starting up and taxiing out, I hope you'll stop by my Youtube channel. (turn up the volume!)

Thanks for reading this LONG story :)

No comments:

Post a Comment