May 27, 2013 Updated: May 27, 2013 at 7:25 pm
Vincent Brunetti always wanted to re-paint the ugly, brown B-25 Mitchell bomber he manned in World War II.
He hated the color: Brown. What a horrible hue. If it wouldn't weigh down the plane, he might have volunteered to repaint it himself.
But he loved almost everything else about that bird.
"Still smells good," Brunetti said, grinning. "She was a noisy one."
A slightly spiffier B-25 bomber roared to life Monday at the National Museum of World War II Aviation - part of a fleet of World War II-era planes set to fly over Falcon Stadium on Wednesday during the Air Force Academy graduation.
People from across the state flocked to the museum for the first chance to view the aircraft, which will remain on display through Wednesday.
Most of the vintage planes weren't supposed to be here this week. The academy normally hosts the Air Force Thunderbirds every year - an F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration team that performs at the end of the graduation ceremony.
The squad canceled most of its appearances this year, however, due to automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, that took effect March 1.
Noting the absence, museum officials and representatives from the Texas Flying Legends Museum of Houston offered several World War II-era planes to take the Thunderbirds' place - offering a bit of history for the Air Force's newest officers. The planes flew before the Air Force became a service branch in 1947. The Air Force Academy wouldn't graduate its first class until 1959.
The planes - including a P-51D Mustang, a P47D Thunderbolt and a FG1D Corsair - were part of the Army Air Corps. "These airplanes are really the academy's roots," said Bill Klaers, the museum's president.
A handful of World War II veterans mingled among crowd, including Brunetti - an Army Air Corps soldier who flew in the B-25 Mitchell's top turret during the last couple years of the war.
Back then, Brunetti said, B-25 crew members expected to last eight to 12 missions before being killed, shot down or taken prisoner of war. He flew seven missions, all out of Britain.
"Brings back memories," Brunetti said, pausing. "And there's memories you don't want to remember."
A few minutes later, the propellers on a refurbished B-25 - one nicknamed "Betty's Dream," - spun furiously, pushing the aircraft off the tarmac and onto the runway.
And as the airplane took flight, children, their parents and veterans of a few more recent wars offered their applause.
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