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VIDEO: Flight aboard B-25 in sky above Colorado Springs brings past to life

September 13, 2017 Updated: September 14, 2017 at 1:11 pm
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A B-25 Mitchell, front, and a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fly over northern El Paso County with 14, 115-foot Pikes Peak in the background as the warbirds fly to Denver to promote the Pikes Peak Regional Airshow Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 at the Colorado Springs Airport. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

"You guys all good back there?" co-pilot Scott Klaers asks, twisting around in the tight cockpit to look at passengers in the cramped midsection of the B-25 Mitchell bomber.

Despite some trepidation, we flash a thumbs-up and grins.

Inoperable Browning .50-caliber machine guns stick out the windows beside, behind and in front of a few select flyers, as we leave Colorado Springs, ascend about 9,000 feet above sea level and skip to Denver at 190 mph.

No in-flight movie is needed. Real-life action inside and outside the vintage warbird provides the best entertainment.

The guttural roar of the dual engines, the pungent smell of oil and fuel, and the shuddering and sputtering of the six-seater built in 1944 by Rosie and her Riveters bring images of World War II to mind.

But the jar to the senses is just a small taste of what original airmen experienced in the medium-range bomber that participated in missions to Europe, the Pacific and other areas of conflict.

"It's hard enough for us to fly them today - I can't imagine those guys going off every day to look for the bad guys and getting in a big dogfight," said Alan Wojciak, owner of a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane. "I have a deep respect for the guys who had to do this for real."

Pilot Bill Klaers looks out the cockpit of his B-25 Mitchell after landing in Centennial Airport in Denver to promote the Pikes Peak Regional Airshow Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 at the Colorado Springs Airport. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Pilot Bill Klaers looks out the cockpit of his B-25 Mitchell after landing in Centennial Airport in Denver to promote the Pikes Peak Regional Airshow Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 at the Colorado Springs Airport. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

The historic planes aren't about current-day pilots, says William Klaers, who owns and pilots the B-25 bomber used in a demonstration trip Wednesday.

"They are about the people who flew them during the war," he said. "We fly them to honor the warbirds' guys and all they did for our country. They're all passing away, and we need to keep remembering (their contributions)."

The public will get a chance to hear and see Klaers' B-25, Wojciak's P-47 and other bygone and contemporary aircraft during the Pikes Peak Regional Airshow, Sept. 23-24 at the Colorado Springs Airport.

Titled "Thunderbirds & Warbirds," the show commemorates the 70-year-old founding of the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 18, 1947, with a performance by the Air Force Thunderbirds.

The event also will celebrate this year's 100th anniversary of the activation of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson.

Opening ceremonies will be at 11:50 a.m. each day, with the Wings of Blue Parachute Team jumping from a classic World War II B-17 bomber at noon.

Also scheduled are aerobatics by various performers, bomber and fighter flybys and a heritage flight featuring a P-38 Lightning and A-10 Thunderbolt II. The latter will salute the late Col. Francis "Frank" Royal, a war pilot who survived intense air battles and died in Colorado Springs in November 2016 at the age of 101.

Thunderbird performances are at 2:45 p.m., followed by an autograph session at 4 p.m.

The cost is $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and $15 in advance for military and children, and $20 at the door. To get tickets, go to PPRAirShow.org.

A B-25 Mitchell, front, and a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fly over northern El Paso County with 14, 115-foot Pikes Peak in the background as the warbirds fly to Denver to promote the Pikes Peak Regional Airshow Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 at the Colorado Springs Airport. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
A B-25 Mitchell, front, and a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fly over northern El Paso County with 14, 115-foot Pikes Peak in the background as the warbirds fly to Denver to promote the Pikes Peak Regional Airshow Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 at the Colorado Springs Airport. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Proceeds benefit three local museums: The Fort Carson 4th Infantry Museum, The National Museum of World War II Aviation, and The Peterson Air Force Base Air and Space Museum.

Richard Janitell, who will be flying his T-6 Texan, a single-engine trainer used during World War II and pressed into service during the Korean and Vietnam wars, said he frequently thinks about the young men who often lied about their age to enlist at 16 and fight in past wars.

"You're looking death right in the face, seeing firing from the guns and hearing bullets coming in your side," Janitell said. "I think about that a lot. I think about where the hell we'd be if it weren't for these people. We'd be speaking a different language. People don't understand when we say that was the greatest generation, the people who gave their lives so we could be free."

Klaers said his B-25 and other bombers are narrow, noisy, hot in summer and cold in winter, nonpressurized and uninsulated. In one word: miserable.

"It's an honor and a privilege to keep these airplanes going," said Wojciak, who with Klaers owns WestPac Restorations, an aircraft and restoration business in Colorado Springs. "We baby them and try to preserve them. You can see them sitting in a museum, or you can see what they looked like, sounded like and smelled like in the air."

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